Trail cameras have become a must-have in the hunter’s arsenal, patterning deer and allowing hunters to plan for that big buck or trophy game. Many hunters, however, unknowingly spook more quarry with their cams than they ever photograph, so use these five trail cam tactics to set yourself up for your most successful hunt yet.
Keep Stealth on your Side
You don’t tromp out to your hunting stand location like Big Foot banging on pots and pans, so why do that when you’re setting trail cams? A successful setup starts before you even get there. Start with scent control. One of my favored products is Scent Kapture’s line of field spray, laundry detergent, and body wash. As soon as I step out of the truck, I spray down not only clothing but gear as well, including the trail camera’s soft straps. While you don’t necessarily need to wear camouflage or hunting clothing, do be aware of the odors on your attire.
In addition to scent control, keeping stealth on your side means moving quietly and deliberately through the terrain so as not to unnecessarily spook game. Double down by using your trail cam setup time to observe the area, plan the hunt, and observe animal movements.
Bet on the High or Low
Just like gambling, bet your trail camera placement on the over/under. That means mounting the trail camera either above or below the animal’s normal line of sight. No matter what wild technology of black/infrared/James Bond flash your chosen cam uses, you’ve likely gotten plenty of photos of the deer looking right into the lens, in large part because the camera is placed directly at a deer’s eye level. Mount the camera low at the base of the tree and angling up for interesting photos.
An alternate option is to get that camera up higher to keep your scent, flash, and the camera, out of the way. An added benefit to getting that device higher up in a tree means keeping them out of the reach of stick fingers as well. Plus, you’ll find more interesting photos from these alternate camera placements.
Pattern the Big Bucks
Just because you’ve put a camera near your main — or only — hunting location does not mean you’re getting the whole story on deer movement. Though it’s common to place trail cams only over bait, a salt lick, or a single hunting stand, trophy bucks often avoid these unnatural areas. Even with a limited budget, trail cameras have come down enough in price that hunters can pick up one or two additional cameras to rotate around the property. Try to catch that trophy animal that may be avoiding your stand or bait by thinking like a deer. Focus on lesser-traveled trails, catch him moving to and from a bedding area, and keep an eye on both water and alternative food sources. This will give you a better idea of how, when, and where to hunt.
Use Trail Cams Sparingly in Hot Areas
It’s human nature to want to know what’s going on at the hot spots, but beware sticking a trail cam on your best scrapes, rubs, and big-buck hangouts. The last thing you want is the camera flash, your scent, or constant checking of the camera to change that bruin’s routine. Trail cameras are great tools for finding your target animals and areas, but realize there’s a time to leave well enough alone and ditch the camera for better hunt preparations.
If you are targeting your favorite spot, check the cameras only once every few weeks. Better yet, consider using the improved generation of WiFi cams that text or email photos, with great new wireless products coming from Bushnell and Primos. In addition, network cameras like the Cuddeback CuddeLink allow users to view images from up to 16 cameras from one main location instead of checking each separate cam.
Protect the Hunt
Odds are good if you’ve hunted long enough, you’ve had trail cameras either stolen or damaged either by trespassers or ornery critters. If nosey bears are busting up your equipment, consider using a product like Cuddeback’s CuddeSafe, a steel lock-box for the trail cam. They are offered by most companies and can be mounted to the tree with screws or a cable lock, making them a worthwhile investment to protect more expensive cams.
If your troublemakers are of the bi-ped variety, consider keeping one or two trail cameras circulating around easy routes into and out of hunting lands to catch nosey neighbors who venture in to swipe tree stands and trail cams. If your cameras keep coming up missing, consider placing a cheap or broken unit in an obvious location while hiding a second, unreachable camera to catch the vandal in the act. While it’s a sad reality we even have to discuss such a thing when all hunters really want to do is hunt, let the trail cameras do this job for you, so your focus can be on that trophy buck.