How to Use Trail Cameras

night vision trail camera image
This sample image from Bushnell shows what animals can visit your camera at night.

Scouting for animals before the hunt is one of the surest ways to ensure your big hunt will be successful. For centuries we have searched our hunting areas for signs and tracks that deer, moose, or other animals have been in the area.

This age old technique is necessary so the hunter knows exactly where to set up a tree stand or build the blind. The only problem is that being in the woods where you intend to hunt will leave scent and signs of your own for the animals to see-signs that may scare away the very animals you are looking for.

The best way to avoid scaring away the animals is to not be there in the first place. A trail camera is the best way to scout an area and not actually have to be there. Trail cameras have come a long way in the past few years and very few outdoor gadgets have benefited from advancements in technology like they have.

trail cameras for hunting and outdoor use
This Bushnell trail camera can be mounted to a tree or fence post and will record images day or night in all weather conditions.

A trail camera is a digital camera inside a weatherproof or waterproof box that can be mounted to a tree, fence post, or even a telephone pole within your hunting site. The trail camera is then set to take a picture every once a minute to once an hour during times of the day when animals are moving around, or it can be set to take a picture whenever an animal steps into it’s line of sight.

Most trail cameras will record an image either during the day or at night using built in infra-red night vision illuminators. Many cameras can imprint onto the photo the date and time, as well as moon phase when the photo was taken so you can easily identify what animals were in the area and at what time of the day. Pictures can be recorded in color, even in night modes.

Images are saved onto an SD card which is then loaded onto your home PC for playback. The memory cards can also be viewed on other devices such as smart phones or PDA’s which accept the SD format. The number of images that can be recorded is only limited by the size of the card. Cameras such as models made Bushnell can take images in 2, 4 and 6 Megapixels or more to maximize space on the card, and even us HD technology to get the clearest image possible. Some models will record a video with audio so you can not only see what is going on, but also hear the animals grunting or calling.

Another sample image from a Bushnell camera shows what animals can visit during the early morning.

Cameras are usually powered by a set of “AA” batteries which manufacturers claim will last for several months depending on outside temperatures at the time of use.

On many models the actual temperature can be printed on the picture as well. There are many manufacturers of trail cameras such as Bushnell, Moultrie, Scoutguard, Primos, and Leupold as well as many others.

A trip to your local outdoors store will let you see for yourself the many different models that are available. You can also find out more by visiting the manufacturers’ websites to compare models and prices.

When placing trail cameras in your hunting grounds, try to find an area close to places where you have previously seen tracks, scrapes or have a feeder in place. Leave a camera set up for a week or two, then go back, retrieve the card, and view the images. If you don’t see many animals then try moving the camera to another location where there are also some tracks or food plots, such as near apple or oak trees and see what turns up.

Eventually a buck (or moose, bear, pig, turkey, raccoon, etc.) and his family will walk by and their portrait will be recorded for posterity. Use Google Earth or your GPS to mark points of interest which can be used to keep track of camera locations and to trace the routes animals take by comparing their images as they appear from camera to camera.

A trail camera is the best way to view what the animals in your area are doing without disturbing them. Try mounting cameras near bird feeders or your garden to see who or what may be visiting you at night as well. Most camera models are relatively inexpensive and will provide you with a scout 24/7 on your property allowing precious time for other things, like fishing, bird watching, or just relaxing in the cabin.

Copyright 2019 Mike Wilson