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Best Trail Camera Tips for Deer Season

Trail Camera Tips and Tactics for Deer Hunting

Trail cameras have been the sportsman’s favorite scouting tool for decades. What was once only a blurry snapshot of a deer running off, has turned into a highly detailed image that is packed full of valuable scouting data. Everything a hunter could need is right at their fingertips.

Cameras have also become incredibly convenient.  Before, having a trail camera meant running to grab the camera and then proceeding to run to the print shop to have the film developed.  For some individuals, this was a process that took hours, if not days, depending on the convenience of the location. However nowadays, images are viewable on the spot. Not only are they clear and detailed, but they are packed full of data. In fact, cameras can go as far as telling you exactly how big the deer you are going to shoot is, before you even hunt it.

As with all technology, trail cameras are now better than ever.  They are more compact, have higher quality photos, are more discrete, and give out such a significant amount of information that most people don’t even know what to do with it all.

 

However, getting the most out of a trail camera requires more than just buying the latest and greatest.  Instead, it takes careful planning, knowledge, and a management strategy.  That’s why we have put together a list of tips that will help improve your trail camera game.  

 Pick a Quality Camera (not just the fanciest one)

This one is pretty obvious. There can’t be quality trail camera photos without a quality camera.  Using an outdated or poorly designed unit means not only disturbing deer, but also getting disproportioned and low quality images. Not being able to see the image makes it difficult to analyze the image and its data.

Therefore, one of the most important aspects of a productive scouting plan is having a camera that can take high enough quality images.  Unfortunately, this is much more complicated than most people think. For starters, a high number of megapixels does not indicate a high quality camera. In fact, manufactures even inflate megapixels to help inflate sales. Therefore, it’s wise to look at more than just the megapixel count. Instead, look at its capabilities and if those capabilities will fit your individual situation.

For example, find out and compare the following features between cameras before making a purchase:  

  • Motion detection range 
  • Flash capabilities 
  • Type of flash 
  • Recovery time 
  • Number of “true” megapixels 
  • Number of lenses 
  • Age of camera 
  • Mode options (time lapse, video, etc..)

If your camera doesn’t have a fast recovery time; you’ll likely miss seeing critical angles, or even multiple deer in a photo.  If your camera doesn’t have high quality flash, you risk spooking the deer or missing valuable night images. All of these have big impacts on your scouting plan.

Some people get lost comparing and understanding technical features; however, something everyone can do is read reviews, watch reviews, and even try a little trial and error of their own before committing to a purchase.

Ways to do this include: 

  • Looking at real life example photos on social media,  
  • Watching YouTube reviews 
  • Reading reviews across the internet 
  • Trying a friend’s camera out 
  • Test running a camera in store before making that purchase

Remember not all trail cameras are created equal. Therefore, even when hunters aren’t familiar with a camera’s specifications, they can still look at real work examples to help them make a better purchase.

Find the Right Location and Don’t Be Afraid to Move

Location is everything.  From macro-environment to the micro-environment, having the right location tends to be the one of the most critical factors in success.  Whether you are talking about which parcel of land you want to focus your attention to the food plot you will decide to hunt over, success is highly dependent on each location and its ability at the time to support quality deer.  When that field no longer has corn? It’s time to move locations.

Therefore, whether you hunt land in different locations, or during different times of the year, it’s important that you keep an open mind and move your camera when necessary.  If you aren’t seeing deer that you think should be there, then move. You wouldn’t hunt the same spot without seeing deer; therefore, don’t scout the same spot – no matter how convincing the environment might look.

Perhaps you pushed too much scent through the area causing deer to re-route your area.  Maybe the food source was harvested, water dried up, or hunting pressure changed the deer’s pattern.  Then it’s time to move.

How to Find the Right Locations

When deciding on the right location before and after a trail camera move, there are some critical aspects to consider. These can include:

The Conditions of the Land 

  • Is it woodland, prairie, or cropland? Understanding the landscape is important in understanding which areas you should monitor.

The Time of Year  

  • As mentioned, deer patterns and actions change throughout the course of a year.  In fact, the food plot you were monitoring in September might not be the best place to set up your camera during the rut. Instead, you might choose to setup over a scrape, or a funnel. As the season’s change, so should your scouting plan.

Number of Trail Cameras You Have at Your Disposal 

  • If you could only afford one camera in your budget, make it count.  Use it to help you find proper stand placement based on deer size, time of day, and routine.  
  • If you use multiple cameras you can monitor the entire area, multiple deer patterns, and even find your buck’s core areas.

Ability to Move 

  • If possible, move throughout the season. This helps reduce scent in a particular area and reduce pressure on the deer. 

We have an in depth article discussing the best trail camera locations that you can read in full here.

Know Your Settings and What They Do For You

Setting up your trail camera means adjusting its settings to fit you and your situation. Just like with our cell phones and computers, sometimes it is easier to set it and forget it then to actually learn why these settings are there or what they can do for you.  

Our tip is to have a list of tasks you should do before implementing any camera.

  1. When you get your camera, first make sure you insert the right size SD card and the proper batteries. If you are checking your camera, be sure to check the batteries and camera storage. If you don’t plan on returning to this area for a significant amount of time, the bigger the card, the better.   
  2. Next, check for software updates.  This is crucial to assure your camera is operating smoothly and at its highest capability.  
  3. Then you need to adjust the settings for your particular goal.  Trail cameras come with many different modes and settings. For example, you can pick time lapse mode to catch the changing environment from afar.  You can also adjust motion detection and response time to capture a select amount of images when movement appears.  Perhaps video mode will be better for deer analysis and scoring.

In general, be sure to adjust the following settings:

  1. Mode (video, timelapse, etc…) 
  2. Trigger speed 
  3. Flash settings 
  4. Frequency
  5. Test these features. After finding the proper location and placement, be sure to test these settings before leaving the area. Nothing is worse than leaving the camera for a few weeks only to return and find that your photos aren’t angled appropriately, or you happen to have no photos at all.

Reconsider Your Placement

Knowing where to place your camera, means knowing your goals.  Sometimes hunters seem to think it’s a “one size fits all approach”.  However, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are many different angles and scenarios you can use your camera in.

For example, are you looking over a field and want to monitor the number of deer, environment, or other factors? Or do you hope to place it over a salt lick to catch that close up photo?

Knowing which one is right for you depends on a number of factors:

  • Do you want an aerial view of your food plot or a close up shot of that buck? 
  • Do you have multiple cameras to catch multiple angles (close vs aerial)? 
  • Do you want to score that deer? You will need a clear and close image, or video.  
  • Is motion detection important or will you be using time lapse mode? 
  • Is the camera the perfect distance from the target?

Go through each one of these before choosing, and especially leaving, a spot. Keep an open mind.  Perhaps monitoring the environment while you monitor your deer size can help you put together a better scouting plan. Maybe video will suit your needs better. Don’t be afraid to learn the settings, find the right locations, and then change up your placement.

You can find a more detailed guide on properly setting up your trail camera here.

Photo Management

One of the most overlooked features of any trail camera strategy is organization.  In fact, photo management can revolutionize a scouting routine. For example, being able to pattern deer means having a traceable record of deer size, timing, and camera placement. You cannot rely on your own memory for this. You need an organized database where you can literally map trends, track conditions, and even analyze deer size.

Photo management software is a must for properly organizing and analyzing this data.  However, not all photo management software is the same.  Despite there being plenty of options available, there is only one that is developed by researchers to accurately estimate your deer’s size: BuckScore.

BuckScore

One of the best tools for organizing and analyzing trail camera photos is BuckScore.  Instead of traditional tools that simply organize photos based on environmental conditions and/or time, BuckScore can help you organize buck based on its size.  This is incredibly important when determining which bucks to target and which ones to let walk.  It also helps alleviate wasteful data and photos that clutter your computer and don’t let you reach your end goal: shooting that trophy deer.  It’s also incredible exciting to know if that buck you’ve been tracking can join the Pope and Young club.

Take Your Trail Camera More Seriously This Year

Many people simply set it and forget it when it comes to trail cameras.  They add the batteries, insert the SD card and set it out for use.  However they are missing out on the cameras most advanced and beneficial features.  A few adjustments can go a long way in trail camera value.

For example, if you don’t plan on leaving your camera out for a significant amount of time; you might benefit more from video mode then from capturing stills.  Additionally, if you plan on leaving your camera unattended for a few months, it’s in your advantage to not use video or time lapse to save space.

By better managing your data, taking time to find the best spots, and doing your research before you invest; you cannot only improve the quality of your trail camera information, but also improve the success rate of your hunt this fall.

Guidelines for the Perfect Trail Camera Setup

Trail Camera Setup for Scoring Deer with BuckScore®

By: Weston Schrank 

Is there such a thing as a perfect trail camera setup? Every property, every hunter, and every trail camera setup is obviously different, but is there a general guideline that hunters should follow? The simple answer is yes! A perfect trail camera setup would be one that not only gives you exactly what you want in terms of information, but also produces flawless photos and videos. While the perfect trail camera setup might sound too good to be true, or subject to some very opinionated comments, a setup does exist that optimizes the intel received. How? This perfect trail camera setup guideline allows any hunter, anywhere to produce the best trail camera data for identifying and observing bucks.

What is the most valuable information you can receive from a trail camera photo or video?

Is it the time, how many deer, the moon phase, or the weather? While most of those are extremely important, the most valuable thing a trail camera can do is identify an individual buck. A blurry or extremely distant photo of a buck is worthless. Without knowing which buck has been captured, it’s pointless to start correlating the other information (like date, time, weather, etc.). These trail camera tips and setup guidelines will not only allow you to capture more bucks on your trail cameras, but also capture better photos and videos in order to identify and even score individual bucks!

How to Setup a Trail Camera “Correctly”

Now most hunters know how to set up a trail camera. Trail cameras have been around so long that even the most traditional hunters know the ins-and-outs of a game camera. However, with just a tad bit more knowledge, that experience can be turned into expertise. Pay attention to the trail camera tips below, and follow each step of this guideline to setup your trail camera perfectly!

Trail Camera Locations

Don’t worry, I won’t start this trail camera tip off with the old real estate adage “location, location, location”. However, location is very important but it’s not exactly everything. Trail camera location is just the start. I believe that it usually points you in the right direction. Generally, you know the best spots to hang your camera. You may not know the exact tree, but I would presume you know the specific acre or so of ground you would put a camera. Often location is not the hard part, it’s actually the setup and hanging the trail camera that stumps most hunters. Even if you get in within the right acre, the setup direction, height, and distance can be way off from what it actually needs to be at.

For those wishing to dive into a bit more actual “tips” than explanation, my top trail camera locations would revolve around (depending on the time of year):

  • Runs
  • Funnels
  • Food Sources
  • Oak flats
  • Mock scrapes
  • Bait stations/Mineral sites for deer
  • Waterholes

Trail Camera Site Selection

We can narrow down the guideline of trail camera location further into trail camera site selection. Again the problem with the general term “location” is that within the one-acre area you have identified I might find three different sites I would put a camera. For example, the first site I could hang a camera on would be a run coming from a bedding area, the next would be the edge of a plot, and the third might be a giant community scrape just outside of the plot and the run. Generally, site selection for your camera needs to be decided by the highest probability of capturing bucks. In this example, the time of year would obviously decide where the camera would actually go. If it would happen to be October, I would lean strongly towards the mock scrape as there is a good chance any buck within that acre would scent check that scrape.

Trail Camera Distance from Target

When optimizing a trail camera for the best pictures and videos, you will want to pay special attention to the distance you are placing the camera from where you anticipate the deer being. Why is this important? Even the best trail camera photos, 14 MP or higher, have a point where the buck can become blurry. This fact, with the addition of some limited flash ranges, means that you could have several photos or videos that simply capture movement, yet fail to reveal enough detail to identify an individual buck. Following a rule of thumb, 10 yards or less is the ideal ballpark for a perfect trail camera video or picture. Most, if not all, trail cameras have a flash range containing more than 30 ft. They also have enough clarity to identify any buck within 10 yards.

Now you might be wondering, how on earth do I do that with something like an oak flat or food plot? An attraction like bait or a mock scrape can pull bucks into the correct range for a better picture. This is where clearly identifying the goals of the camera placement are important. A trail camera over a food plot on time-lapse will simply be for inventory or “plot watching”, not necessarily identifying individual bucks. If capturing individual buck movement patterns, behavior, and characteristics for identification is your goal then keep following along with these steps.

 For the purposes of this article and general trail camera tips, if you are having difficulty determining distance, go ahead and place a mock scrape. Obviously, this only pertains to hunting season, but mock scrapes have become my favorite tactic for trail cameras over the past couple of years. The two bucks in the video are two of the best reasons I can offer!

Hanging Your Trail Camera

For the best picture or video, you will want to set your trail camera up at the appropriate height. If there is a tree or fence post within the suggested 10 yards or closer to your target area then you are ready to hang your camera. If not, simply driving a T-post or trail camera stake into the ground will allow you to get your camera within the distance you anticipate the bucks to walk.

Putting a trail camera at the right height will eliminate many problems hunters come across at this point in the process. One of the main problems encountered is framing your photo or video. Obviously aiming the camera is the next step, but making sure the camera is somewhere around chest height, or 4-5 ft. is a good start. Also be sure you are not hanging the camera pointing east or west, where the sun could blind the camera.

*Note: if you are placing a trail camera on a run, be sure to aim the camera at a 45-degree angle from the run. This ensures you do not have deer looking directly into the camera and won’t cause you to miss the deer as you might by placing the camera perpendicular to the run.

Next, you will need to make sure your camera angle is correct. This is where the old stick trick comes in. Don’t be ashamed, it is the oldest trick in the book! Just be sure the stick is firmly in place and won’t move with even the worst weather. Step off the distance one more time to make sure you are around the 10-yard mark. Finally, make sure the trail camera is aimed right at your chest while you are standing in the exact place you anticipate deer to stand or walk through.

Trail Camera Settings

When it comes to the perfect trail camera setup, the trail camera’s settings can be the most difficult challenge you deal with. Deciding on the camera mode, burst number, video length, interval, or sensitivity can be overwhelming. Again, each location, site, scenario, and goal can greatly affect the trail camera settings. However, there are certain settings that allow a more optimal chance of capturing an individual buck and from there, identifying and/or scoring the buck.

The best trail camera settings will give you the best overall picture and detail in order to review characteristics, behavior, or key identification features of the buck. While some might think this would be a high-quality photo, I would argue that video is far more advantageous for not only a hunting perspective, but an inventory and scoring perspective as well.

Trail Camera Video…Not Pictures

Think about the potential of what video can reveal. In the example video, you can learn a lot about the behavior of the buck. In the video you can see that “Dub”, the buck with the split G2s, is far more curious and careful than “Leroy”, the chocolate horned buck in the video. You can also tell that “Dub” might have been shot before as he is injured and limping. This intel would go unnoticed with simple pictures. Another advantage, especially when it comes to identifying and scoring bucks, is multiple angles! “Dub” and “Leroy” both offer several angles as they work the scrape and turn their head. This makes it easy to achieve a good angle in order to score the bucks, and identify the key body and antler features like “Dub’s” split G2s.

Note* -Multiple angles also allow you to freeze-frame the video in order to score the buck using BuckScore® at the most accurate angles and reference points.

This trail camera setup should allow you to not only obtain more information on the bucks you are hunting but obtain better, higher quality information that can be used to hunt them. These images can also be used to score your deer! By uploading and running the freeze-frame photo through the BuckScore® program, you will be able to accurately estimate an individual buck’s score!

Why BuckScore®?

Holding two U.S. issued patents, BuckScore® is the only science-proven program that allows you to score pictures of bucks in minutes. The app accurately estimates antler size including spread, beam length, tine length, and circumference all to calculate a Net and Gross score within 3% of the actual score. With BuckScore®, you have one app that organizes, documents, and scores all your big bucks.

BuckScore® Features:

  • Works on any desktop, laptop, tablet, and most smartphones
  • Score trail cam or harvest photos
  • Know every measurement from spread to tine length
  • Score calculated in minutes
  • Manage buck photos across multiple years
  • Edit buck photos in program