In recent years game or trail cameras have improved in operation and usage. While features have increased, prices have become more affordable for the average working guy.
A few years back, most hunters had only one or two cameras to setup in their favorite hunting spot. With good units at economical pricing, hunters now can place several trail cameras in different areas. Although game cameras were designed primarily for hunters, others have begun using the units.
Non-hunters have discovered several uses for these covert cameras. Farmers and ranchers have set up cameras to monitor their livestock and their access points to their land. Also, birdwatchers are using the game cameras to determine the various species of birds coming to their feeders. Homeowners use trails cameras for security purposes.
The first step in choosing a game camera is to determine what features you need.
Hunters will prefer a unit with a black-out flash that is not visible. Home owners may also choose this type of feature. Farmers would benefit from a camera that can be set to take photos in 10- to 30-second intervals.
“Choose a camera with a fast trigger speed,” said Gil Lackey of Nashville, Tenn. “You may miss a shot of an animal or only catch a portion of it with a slow camera.”
There are many different models of trail cams on the market. Prices range from around $80 to $400. For the average hunter, the cameras toward the lower price range should suffice. One criteria for selecting a camera is make sure it is easy to set up.
Battery life can be another factor in selecting a game camera. According to Lackey, units that use the AA size batteries seem to operate longer in the field. In cold weather, battery life will decrease. Some models boast of batteries lasting for six months or more, depending on the battery type used.
Set up and operation
Game cameras are designed to snap a photo when an animal or object breaks the sensor beam. Some cameras have a narrow beam and the photo trigger range may be only about 30 yards. Users will want to place the camera along a known animal trail or near some type of bait or attractant.
“Place the camera at a 30- to 45-degree angle to the trail you expect the animal to walk down,” Lackey said. “This will place the animal in the senor beam a little longer.”
Lackey said the camera height should be determined by the animal size you want to capture. For deer trail, cams should be around three feet high. To better capture turkeys and smaller game, about two feet should work. The direction the camera is facing is also critical in obtaining quality photos.
“Keep the camera from facing directly toward the sun,” said Lackey. “In the fall and winter months, I try to position my cameras to face north.”
By having the sun behind or to either side of the game cam, the photos will have more detail. The animal will be in the light and the photos should be sharper.
Lackey has learned that the red light flashes scare animals for some reason. He said the black flash is not visible to the animals. Also, white flashes do not spook animals as much as some people think. Lackey uses primarily white flashes on his home-brewed game camera units.
Cut back or clear away any limbs, weeds or brush that will move in the wind. The sensors key off movement and any leaves or brush moving will trigger the camera.
Game cameras seem to attract unscrupulous thieves. Cameras placed in open view around fields or roads are sure to be removed by an unwanted person. Locking cables and security boxes are available to help deter theft. But, sometimes the would-be thieves will damage the camera trying to steal it.
Set the camera away from an open trail and make it as inconspicuous as possible. Camouflaged models help the unit blend in if used on trees.
Some hunters place brush around their camera, using natural limbs and leaves. Remember not to obstruct the camera lens and sensor.
Another tip to help ward off thieves is to place the camera higher in a tree. Tilt the unit downward to direct the sensor toward the ground. Most folks are looking for trails cams around waist to neck high. The higher angle give a wider field of view and a different aspect to the photos.
“Set the camera on a stand back inside some brush,” Lackey said. “Most thieves will walk right by it since they are looking for the camera on a tree.”
Some hunters use dummy boxes strapped to a tree to divert the thieves’ attention away from the real camera.
Trail camera users can get creative to enhance the quality of the photos and the variety of wildlife captured. Camera owners can set up their units in non-normal settings to see what types of critters are out there.
Lackey placed a game camera outside his bedroom window to verify if the neighbor’s dog was ruffing up his garbage cans. He lives in a suburb of Nashville and was surprised the culprit was a female coyote.
The neighbor didn’t believe it until Lackey showed him the photos.
“I named that coyote Paris Hilton because she always turned up in front of a camera,” Lackey said.
Many animals move in the rain and rain drops can be a problem on the camera lens. Lackey builds a simple cover to protect the camera from water reaching the lens. He cuts a Tupperware container and paints it green or gray to place over the top of the camera. The plastic cover keeps the water off the lens and does not hamper the operation.
Trail cam users can create paths for animals to cross at a specific point. In one instance, Lackey moved a couple of downed limbs near a tree that had fallen across a small creek. The brush caused a bobcat and other critters to walk down the tree to get across the creek. Lackey had his game cam in position to capture every moment.
One final tip for trail cam users is to keep the lens and sensor clean. Use a soft cloth to wipe off any dirt or smudges that could affect the photos.
While game cameras were specifically designed for hunting and scouting, there are many more uses for the techno gadgets.
Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at ChrJohn7@aol.com.