If you're like me, you may not have the luxury of hunting private land so you're on public ground competing with lots of fellow hunters for that big buck or bull. Trail cameras are a great way for the working hunter to get in some quality scouting and not have to use up all your valuable vacation time you’re saving for your hunting seasons! Not to mention the feeling you get when you pull a camera card and get to view it for the first time…it’s like Christmas day!
First off, as in regular (on foot) scouting, my opinion would have to be, more is better. By this, I mean having several different cameras running in several different places. I like to have at least 4 to 5 (or more) cameras going starting as soon as the snow allows me to get into the areas I hunt. If you’re like me, you’re itching to be in the woods anyways so it works out great! In the 2010 and 2011 archery seasons, we didn’t hunt anywhere that we didn’t have good camera footage of elk and my wife and I were both successful! This isn’t to say that we wouldn’t have been otherwise, but knowing animals are in a specific area sure increase your odds.
Try and capitalize on the terrain. Knowing different routes game animal’s use, water sources, bedding and feeding areas play a major factor on where I put a camera. This may require a little foot work on your part, but once you figure it out you should see great activity all spring and summer long.
Once you have found an area you want to put your camera, you’ve got to figure out where to hang it. Try and position your camera with a backdrop. The backdrops purpose is to reflect light back at the camera. Your photos will be much better lit and details about your picture subject’s much more clearly. Just remember the sun. I’ve had many pictures not turn out because of sunrise or sunset. Another thing to think about when hanging your camera is the wind. Make sure that your camera is not going to pick up on the afternoon breeze. By this, I mean remove any low hanging branches or anything the wind can move that is in the trigger field of your camera. I’ve had cards filled up with great pictures of branches that were moved by nothing else other than wind. Sometimes this is unavoidable but being proactive in minimizing it will sure help out. Also, take a test photo to verify placement and picture quality. The first time out, I set my camera to take pictures aggressively. This will give you some good verification as to what is coming in and the next time you check in change the picture intervals from say a 60 second wait in between bursts to 3 or even 5 minutes. It’s all up to you!
Keep your Camera Safe:
Another thing to consider is camera security. Hunting public land can be great, but just like back in town, you have the chance of running into some unsavory people that will steal or vandalize your camera. There are also some bad animals out there that will mess a camera up. Bears for one are very curious and they can be heck on a camera. But don’t rule out the others. For instance, we came into a camera site once and the camera was not in its spot. Turns out a cow elk found an extreme interest in my camera and tore it off the tree and proceeded to pack it 20 yards away and then throw it down on the ground! Never trust an elk! Protect your cameras by investing in some security boxes. They’re cheap insurance for your cameras and they give you piece of mind that they’ll be there the next time you come up to check them! Check with your camera manufacturer and find out if they or another company makes a box to fit your model.
“To bait or not to bait?” This would be something that is left entirely up to the person and their State regulations, but where I’m from it is legal to bait for any game animal other that bears and game birds. I think having bait as an option is a great way to keep that animal there for more pictures and get them coming in on a regular basis! So with this being said, if you’re able to use and attractant of some kind, what do you use? I personally don’t use anything but good old fashioned salt. Water softener salt as a matter of fact! It’s cheap! Only 3-5 bucks for 40lbs and it’s about as pure of a salt that a person can buy. I like to put it on an old rotten stump or log and with the spring and summer rains, the salt melts into nothing, but the animals sure know it’s there! Keep in mind that there are many different options on the market for deer, but I have buddies that use the same stuff that is geared towards the Whitetail industry for elk and work great! It’s all in your budget and what you want to experiment with.
As far as checking your cameras, I like to try and check mine at least once a week or every two weeks. And make sure to bring extra batteries! I’ve walked into two camera sites this year alone and had to make a trip back to town to buy batteries! Most cameras’ batteries will last the whole season, but you never know for sure as I found out!
These are just some of my ideas and experiences with trail camera use and just like hunting; I learn something every time I’m in the field.