If there is one thing that I could say that I have become somewhat of a pro at, it would be the art of trail camera-ing (totally just made that word up). Setting, monitoring, and then implementing the information that we’ve gathered from our field photos. Who knows, maybe some day I can be pro-staff for a trail camera company! Hahaha! I am just kidding around, but I would say that when you do something often enough, you become pretty good at it! The task has become my designated job in our outfitting business, and in a way is my husband’s way of throwing a compliment at me. He doesn’t just let anyone do the important jobs like this! Like most tasks that I am assigned, I find a way to get the kids involved, interested and learning some outdoor skills. We’ve tokened this task of mine, “The Cam Plan” and I’m going to share with you some good tips to getting some great images on your trail cams too!
So this is kind of a big deal. You can’t get pictures of the game animals you plan to hunt, if there aren’t any of those game animals around. So when choosing a place to set your camera, think just like hunting. You want to pick a location that your target animal would frequent during certain times of year. This might be a waterhole or reservoir in the summer, or maybe an oak tree grove that might be dropping acorns during the fall season. Be sure to look for evidence and signs of the animal you are pursuing and you are one step closer to a full SD card. The kiddos are awesome at this task, be sure to let them know a basic list of what you are looking for and you can easily have them help you out by making it into a game of, “I Spy”.
Once you have a general idea on a highly frequented location, you’ve got to narrow things down to a more specific high traffic area. Trails! Ask yourself how are these animals coming into the area and how are they leaving? Check for warn down vegetation and pathways, tracks in any muddy areas or soft dirt, and rubbings on trees or fence posts. Look for what seems to be the most used area in that particular location. Remember, the animal has got to travel in front of the camera to trip the trigger. Make sure that you keep your kids reigned in on this part. Don’t let them run ahead of you and over any tracks or paths that might get covered over with the tracks of their little human feet! This is when we play the game of “Follow the Leader” and the leader is always me! LOL!
Now any photographer (good or bad) knows that the sun can be your worst enemy when it comes to taking photos. The same applies for trail cameras. You have got to be sure to not set your camera directly facing into the sun, wether it be sunrise or sunset. Many times we forget this and get blurred out or completely sun glared photos on over half of the images that are captured. I always try my damnedest to point the camera to the north. This helps for reference when you are reviewing pictures later too! If you can’t get the camera pointed to the north then south will do, but never face it to the east or west. When the littles are with me, I like to give the task of figuring out direction to them. This is a good survival skill for them to master anyway. By looking at the sun in the sky we can guess the basic direction we are facing and of course we make up all kinds of different memory rhymes to go along with this…N Never, E Eat, S Shredded, W Wheat.
This can be pretty tough to manipulate, but I always try to make sure the background is as less busy as it possibly can be. Contrast is key to getting a good clear picture of an animal. So do your best to take into account what you have to work with that may make a decent background. The water from a pond, the skyline, an open meadow or dirt area. The less sticks and brush and trees the better, if you can. Give the kids your cellphone and let them take selfies in the direction the trail camera is facing and then decide which background is less busy.
I would say height is the next most important thing to location and this is where I know I gain the edge over Casey’s trail camera images from the cams he sets. I always hang my cameras higher. Like above my head height. Deer are much less likely to notice a camera set this high and therefore are much less likely to spook from the flash or notice the camera at all. Pigs too. Especially those big hogs that might rub a low set camera clear off a tree anyway. Simply move your camera up the tree and angle it down and you’ll improve your odds. Piggy back rides are a good kid tool with this step. Have them jump on your back and make a mark where their head touches! That’s where you hang the camera.
Now when placing these cameras, you have to become one with nature. Or at least do your best to make the camera become one with nature. You really want to try to leave as little scent as possible. I like to spray down the cameras with scent blocking spray as well as our clothing too. Some people go to the extreme of wearing gloves, but I can barely get my kids to sit still, let along not touch everything in the ranger before I even think about putting on gloves of any kind. It is what it is. I do tell them to “hold it” when it comes to going potty in the vicinity of any of our cameras. Set the cams as quickly as possible with as little disturbance as possible. Camouflage it as best you can and get out of dodge!
I am not going to go into black and white suggestions here. I would recommend that you familiarize yourself with your cameras before heading out to the hills, especially if you have kids with you. And even if you think you have the ins and outs of your camera completely figured out, make sure to bring the manual with you just in case. Depending on the cameras capabilities, you will want to pay attention to burst modes and infrared settings, and even sensitivity levels. You really don’t want to end up with a maxed out SD card of pictures of nothing but a branch that was blowing in an afternoon breeze, because your sensitivity levels were off the charts (I speak from experience here).
While I am on this role, make sure the batteries are fully charged and the SD cards are cleared before you go, but also bring extras of both along too, just for added insurance!
This is the most fun part of all of this. I am like a kid on Christmas Eve every time I get to browse through the cards we pull from our cams. It’s pretty exciting to see just what goes on on the properties we manage when we are not around! Make sure you let the kids help out with this part too. Most kiddos are pretty tech savvy now a days and they love to sort through the pics too! I usually have the kids look through them on the iPad, while i cook dinner and when they come across something good, they show me.
So…now you have a general idea of what goes through my mind when setting up a trail camera. I hope these have been helpful! Trail Cams are very useful tools that can help you prepare for any kind of hunt you may be planning. After all, preparation is the key to success. Go out and have fun with it and take your kids too!