Trail Camera Basics

Posted by: PJ Reilly on Sep 9, 2012
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Is it fair to say trail cameras have changed the way we hunt? I think so. They allow us to take an up-close look at the lives of the whitetails we hunt 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Twenty years ago, we found preferred travel corridors and feeding and bedding areas on the lands we hunted by “in-person” observation. That was an imperfect system, to say the least. It was quite common to always be one step behind the bucks we were chasing. And, as we now know through trail-camera monitoring, there probably were giant bucks out there that we never even knew existed. If we didn’t see those deer with our own eyes on our scouting missions, they weren’t out there, as far as we were concerned. And if we didn’t know they were there, we couldn’t develop an attack plan to get within bow range.

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Trail cameras allow bowhunters to scout 24hrs a day, 7 days a week. Without a doubt, the knowledge gained is priceless.

Those days are gone, thankfully. With trail cameras, we can keep close track of the deer we’re hunting. We know what bucks are in the herd. We know when and where they feed. And we can figure out how they get to and from those places – all through the use of trail cameras. Sounds easy doesn’t it? Well, it’s not quite that simple. Spend a few seasons playing with these cameras, and you’ll discover a variety of pitfalls. Short battery life, motion sensors that activate the camera beyond the range of a flash or infrared, improper camera positioning, thieves – the list can go on and on. But, these are just the tip of the iceberg.
If you are new to the trail camera game, or you have a few seasons under your belt, the following tips and tactics can help you get what you want out of your trail cameras this season and for many to come.
 
SPENDING CASH
There’s no question cost is a major factor in deciding which camera to choose, if it’s not the No. 1 factor. You should also consider one other thing about a trail camera’s cost….be prepared to lose your investment the instant you walk away from it. Thieves and vandals are determined to take it, and although there are ways to help secure your cameras, if someone wants to steal or destroy them bad enough, they’ll find a way to do so when you’re not around.
Take for example my close friend who received a mid-priced camera last Christmas from his girlfriend. He put it in the privately owned woods 400 yards behind his house on Christmas day. When he went back to check the card at 10 a.m. Dec. 26, the camera was gone! Theft and vandalism are unfortunate, but they’re reality. Do you feel comfortable losing $600? Or is $100 your ceiling? Only you can decide.

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Today's trail cameras come with a host of features. Decide which ones are right for you before spending the money for those you don't really need or want.

Generally – as the saying goes – you get what you pay for when it comes to trail cameras. Cheap cameras usually are just that. Cheap. They often have less expensive components and usually have fewer functions than the higher-end models. But that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. The trick is to figure out what you want from your cameras and then decide which ones you can afford. If all you want are daytime photos from a camera pointed at a mineral lick, just about any camera on the market is going to do the job. Things get pricey when you want a camera to shoot high-definition video, or you want infrared, night imaging with no visible light to attract potential thieves. The more advanced the camera, the more you can expect to pay.

LIGHTING
One of the first features most hunters weigh when choosing a trail camera is the type of “lighting” that is used for nighttime shots. And let’s be realistic. If you’re putting out a trail camera, you want it to take nighttime photos. That’s often when you get the best pictures of the biggest bucks.
Cameras that employ a flash take good, color photos. But they also tell thieves and vandals exactly where your cameras are. And some hunters believe the flash spooks deer – especially mature deer. You’ll find an equal number of hunters on both sides of that fence.

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The above images are from cameras with night-time "flash" and infrared capabilities. 

Cameras that employ infrared technology capture nighttime images with no color (gray scale) but technically black and white. Some emit a red light that is visible to humans, but supposedly not to deer. There are some newer models that emit no light whatsoever. These are the stealthiest of all the trail cameras. Also, daytime photos aren’t really an issue. Most infrareds and flash cameras will take full-color daytime photos.

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PJ Reilly

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2 Comments on "Trail Camera Basics"

Re: Trail Camera Basics #
I have both high end and low end cameras. I would defiantly spend the money for a "good" camera, u will be shocked of the amount of deer your low end cameras miss.
Posted by bowe bushey on 9/12/2012 2:26:09 PM
Re: Trail Camera Basics #
Wow, what nice deer hunting blog have you, nice posting, Thanks!
Posted by umesh on 11/15/2012 12:13:40 AM

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