Buckmasters Magazine

Smile for the Camera

Smile for the Camera

By Bob Humphrey

The bucks might not be grinning, but you will if you follow this trail camera advice.

There’s an inverse correlation between scouting time and hunting time. The more hours you devote to scouting, the less you should have to spend hunting. But first-hand observation provides limited results.

Sign, like tracks, scat, scrapes and rubs tells you where deer have been, but not when. And the only deer you see will be the ones that enter relatively open areas during daylight.

That’s particularly important when you consider that, on average, a white-tailed buck spends about 70 percent of his day bedded. Of the 30 percent he spends on his feet, most of that is at night. That leaves a very limited opportunity — a little over two hours a day — for a hunter to seal the deal.

Trail cameras provide a great way to maximize that window of opportunity. They can be your eyes in the woods when you aren’t there. They show not only where the deer are, but  also when, and which deer. At the very least, they’re incredible time savers. They can help refine your hunting plans to be considerably more productive.


At a minimum, trail cameras will show you what’s out there. Older bucks are the most notorious for being nocturnal, and there are probably some on your property you’d never see without a camera. If you know there are big bucks in an area, it can help you decide where to hunt and provide extra motivation.

Don’t be afraid to start scouting early. In July and August, bucks are still in bachelor groups and stick close to their core areas. They also tend to be a bit less nocturnal, particularly in early August. Set your cameras in high activity areas like crossings and feeding areas. At the very least, you’ll get an idea what this year’s crop looks like.

As summer turns to autumn, step up your camera scouting. You should have a good idea of a buck’s general movement patterns, and you can begin moving cameras around to refine where and when deer use specific areas. You might learn they’re not using a particular area until after dark, or that they’re bedding much closer to a potential stand site than you thought.

You can also learn more about the different personalities of individual bucks. Some wander far and wide, while others stick close to home. Some will be more or less nocturnal than others. A buck might use one core area exclusively, or shift periodically between several.

Early fall is the time to put some boots on the ground and coordinate your camera locations with what you see in the field. Bucks start rubbing when they shed velvet and will begin scraping not long afterward. Put cameras near scrapes and rubs.


In addition to saving time, trail cameras also allow you to reduce your disturbance footprint considerably. You still have to enter an area to place and periodically check cameras, so it’s a balancing act between getting enough information in a timely manner while minimizing your intrusion.

The first thing to consider is the camera itself. Trail cameras can sometimes frighten deer. I have many images of deer staring alertly at the camera. In the case of bucks, I often never got another image of that deer. That could be true for does, also, but it’s hard to tell one doe from another.

The cause could have been camera noise, flash or some combination of the two. Fortunately, most cameras now use infrared (IR) flash to illuminate without alerting the subject, and today’s models are also much quieter.

An even bigger issue might be the person placing the camera. Most hunters are meticulous about scent control when hunting but lax when scouting and placing cameras.

When placing and checking cameras, be just as careful as when you’re heading out to sit in a stand. Shower and wash your clothing with odor-reducing soaps. Wear rubber boots and gloves, and use an odor eliminating spray. Even more important, spray your camera, too.

How often you check your camera comes down to how often you think you need to. Once a week is a fairly safe interval, and it’s best to check during midday, when natural deer movement is at a minimum.

There are cameras available that solve even that problem, allowing you to check pictures with wireless technology. You buy a wireless plan, just like a cell phone, and the camera periodically sends images to your e-mail account so you can keep tabs on the action without leaving home.

Other cameras like the Wildgame Innovations Pulse 10 have optional modules that allow you to wirelessly access your pictures from up to 300 feet away with no additional fees.

There are obvious advantages to this. One is significantly reducing your disturbance of the woods. Another is having nearly real-time information.

Smile for the CameraCAMERA TYPES

Perhaps the most daunting task for those who don’t already have a trail camera is selecting one. Price is often the first consideration. Thanks to technology, cameras keep getting better while prices have remained low, making newer cameras a relative bargain. Still, you get what you pay for.

Cost is usually determined by features, and there are plenty of choices. Decide what you want or need, then see which models fit your budget.

Film cameras are obsolete, so you’ll likely be using digital. Images are stored on a card, usually an SD card. Some cameras are limited to a certain size (8GB being the most common), while others can accept larger cards. You might not need a larger capacity unless you have exceptionally high deer densities or you wait long intervals between checking cameras.

Some cameras have built-in monitors so you can view images in the field. You can also purchase a hand-held viewer that attaches to the camera or reads the card. Or, you can simply buy extra cards and swap them out each time you visit your cameras.

Another variable is resolution. Technological advancements have allowed for much greater resolution at lower costs. Most of the newer models run between 2 and 8 megapixels. Many allow the user to select resolution. Higher resolution cameras give you a clearer picture but can cost more. Those big, clear pictures take up more space on your card, meaning fewer pictures will fit.

Cameras run off some type of battery, usually AAs or Cs. Battery life ratings vary from about six months to a year. Those with longer life cost more, but that cost is often made up with savings in the number of batteries used.

Battery life varies depending on the number of images taken and ambient temperatures. Some models run on optional 6v battery packs and solar panels, which provide longer life.

Trigger speeds also vary between models. Faster speeds take less time to fire once triggered, so you won’t miss part or all of the deer. However, they cost more and use more battery power.

Size is another consideration. The latest trend has been toward mini-cams. They’re smaller, lighter and easier to carry. If you’re riding around on an ATV, size isn’t as much of a factor, but if you have to carry them all by hand, it might be.

Smaller cameras also offer more flexibility for ad-hoc placement. I often carry a mini-cam in my fanny pack when scouting. If I find a potential hotspot, I place the camera then and there, rather than having to return later.

Another big consideration is flash type. As previously noted, white flash can sometimes (although not always) spook game. Newer models use IR flash that is largely undetectable to deer. The more expensive ones have more IR LEDs, which provide more light for clearer night images.

Yet another variable to consider is trigger mode. Originally, trail cameras were triggered strictly by motion, heat or both. Then along came something called a PlotWatcher, which takes time-lapse images at preset intervals. This is particularly useful in large open areas like food plots. You don’t need animals to be within the typically short detection range to trigger the camera. You can monitor a much larger area to see what animals are using it, when they’re using it and where they enter and exit.

Many of this year’s cameras come with time-lapse modes, and some even allow you to select between motion, IR flash and time-lapse for different times of day. More expensive models even shoot video clips with sound.

It should be noted that most trail cameras take JPG photos, even in time-lapse mode, which uses more disc space and battery life, and can take hours to view and assess.

The original PlotWatcher saves video files in half the memory space and uses a quarter of the battery power. It also comes with software that allows you to watch an entire 12 hours of video in a few minutes.

Regular JPG cameras and Plotwatcher models each have their strengths. What’s best for you depends on where you hunt and how you use your cameras.


There are dozens of ways you can use cameras to scout, and you are limited only by site-specific conditions and your own imagination.

Trail cameras can save hours of scouting time and help you plan a more effective hunting strategy. And every time you check your cameras is like unwrapping Christmas presents.

The anticipation is palpable as you plug a card reader into your computer, open the window and peek into the otherwise secretive world of the deer you hunt.

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This article was published in the August 2012 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Subscribe today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.

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