A well-planned camera network allows hunters to observe individual bucks throughout the antler-growing season, while tracking their movements during the key days prior to hunting season. Jonathan Turner photo.
Become the totalitarian of your hunting property. Just as George Orwell’s notorious character, Big Brother, tracked his subject’s every move in the classic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, you can keep tabs on your deer with a well-planned game camera network. Follow a few key suggestions.
A single game camera provides a wealth of information, but is limited to one location. Today’s hunters are demanding multiple, compact, highly capable models at increasingly competitive prices. A full-featured, affordable camera gives hunters the option of placing more units in the woods, which provides increased information at multiple locations.
Use enough cameras to cover the critical areas of your hunting property. That may mean one on a relatively simple 20-acre property, or up to a dozen on larger, more complex properties. Let a hunting tract’s size and individual features dictate the number of cameras employed.
Place cameras in key locations along trails between bedding and feeding areas, at natural funnels, next to scrapes, and high-use daytime browsing areas. Such prime spots will produce the most usable images and, therefore, provide the best information about your deer herd. Don’t disturb bedding areas. Instead, place your cameras along the trails leading in and out of these sanctuaries.
Choose specific cameras for specific locations and applications. Wildgame Innovations’ 360 Cam captures images in all directions and is a good choice in locations where deer may appear from anywhere. Photo courtesy of www.wildgameinnovations.com
Stay organized and keep good records. Ralph Cianciarulo, co-host of the popular Archer’s Choice and The Choice television programs on Sportsman Channel, employs a simple system. “We keep all our cameras and supplies organized inside a dedicated Plano Sportsman’s Trunk,” says Cianciarulo, who also tapes a map showing all camera numbers and locations inside the lid. “This helps us plan the least intrusive route while checking them, but also provides a great reference for understanding and mapping the travel habits of individual bucks.”
Once you’ve identified key camera locations, place your cameras with care. Plano Synergy pro, Jonathan Turner, reminds hunters that vegetation can grow quickly. Just because your camera’s frame was clear yesterday doesn’t mean it will be today. “Keep your frames free of vegetation that can be moved by the wind and repeatedly trigger the shutter,” he says. “It’s unnecessary, annoying and drains your batteries.”
Turner offers a similar tip regarding the sun: “Position your cameras to protect them from the sun, which can also trigger some infrared cameras.” This, too, can deplete your batteries and serve as another source of frustration; but the sun can also actually damage a camera’s critical components. “Like point-and-shoot cameras that lack a viewfinder, most game cameras keep the shutter open with no mirror to redirect the sun’s rays. If your game camera is pointed towards the sun for any significant amount of time, you are probably causing damage,” says Turner.
More high-quality game cameras are available over a range of prices and performance features today than ever before. Identify and map your preferred camera locations first, then select the appropriate camera for each location based on your specific needs relative to range, flash type, media type, viewing options and cost.
Great-performing cameras are now available at surprisingly low prices. Wildgame Innovations’ new Terra 5 IR Camera takes 5-MP stills and 30-second videos, has a fast, one-second trigger speed, a 21 pc high-intensity LED infrared flash with 50-foot range, and an MSRP of just $49.99. Photo courtesy of www.wildgameinnovations.com
Each camera has a maximum effective range, usually limited by the flash, which is typically between 40-100 feet. Consider the maximum distance you need to cover at each camera location and make selections accordingly. Some cameras also offer adjustable fields-of-view, as well as multi-directional image capture. Wildgame Innovations’ 360 Cam, for example, is capable of capturing images in a full 360-degrees, making it a great choice for locations where deer may pass in multiple directions.
Today’s game cameras largely employ one of two primary flash types: either a standard (white) LED array, or an “invisible” (black) infrared LED array. A standard LED flash is visible to deer. There is debate among hunters on whether or not traditional white flash cameras spook deer, and there is additional debate concerning whether or not deer can perceive a black, “invisible” flash. Firsthand experience is the best teacher, here, but flash range remains the most important factor. Traditional white LED flashes generally have longer ranges than “invisible” black LEDs. Select a camera with an appropriate range for each set-up and form your own opinions and preferences regarding flash type.
Game cameras capture still images at different resolutions. A 20-megapixel camera may take beautiful, high-resolution images, but those images may come at the expense of reduced SD card capacity and battery life. As a rule, a 5-to-8-megapixel camera will provide extended battery life and take more photos per SD card, while still delivering acceptable image quality for most purposes.
Mineral sites are activity hubs for deer, and, therefore, great locations for game cameras. Photo courtesy of www.evolved.com
Video capability is another consideration. Cameras that take short video clips can provide additional helpful information that isn’t always discernable from cameras limited to shooting stills. Small food plots, mineral sites, and game trail intersections are great locations for video cameras, because they can provide more clues on overall behavior and direction of travel. But be warned: Repeated recording of videos can negatively impact battery life. Wildgame Innovations has solved this dilemma in the CRUSH 20 LightsOutTM Invisible IR Scouting Camera using Flextime +TM Time Lapse Technology, which provides a variety of different user-defined settings to capture still images or videos at predetermined intervals during key game movement periods.
The manner in which captured photos or videos can be viewed is also a critical consideration. While nearly every camera writes images to an SD or Mini SD card, some offer on-board viewing screens and some don’t. The ability to view photos or videos on the camera in the field is a bonus, as the hunter can simply delete unusable images from the camera without ever removing the card. When good images are found, the hunter can take the card home and dump the photos to a computer, or – better yet – quickly transfer the images to a mobile device in the field.
Wildgame Innovations offers two ruggedized and weather endurable devices that make this process easy and worry-free. The Trail Tab provides basic viewing and management capability, while the larger Trail Pad adds an Android operating system, touchscreen and built-in WiFi.
Weather-resistant mobile devices like Wildgame Innovations’ Trail Pad and Trail Tab are handy tools for viewing and managing game camera images in the field. Photo courtesy of www.wildgameinnovations.com
A final viewing option is available on cameras that send images wirelessly via MMS or email using a built-in transmitter or a SIM card from a cellular carrier. These cameras are more expensive and may require a dedicated data plan, but provide real-time monitoring and preclude the need to visit cameras as often. They’re also wonderful for nabbing trespassers, as images are transmitted in as little as 60 seconds. Do your homework before purchasing these models, as there is a wide divergence in compatibility with various mobile devices and providers.
Cost is another important consideration, although great-performing cameras are now available at surprisingly low prices. Wildgame Innovations’ new Terra 5 IR Camera, for example, takes 5-MP stills and 30-second videos, has a fast, one-second trigger speed, a 21 pc high-intensity LED infrared flash with 50-foot range, and an MSRP of just $49.99.
Many hunters place cameras in the early spring in order to monitor deer throughout the full antler-growing cycle, but the weeks leading up to the season opener are most important for observing deer for hunting. Cameras placed in the springtime will require fine-tuning throughout the summer. Don’t assume previously placed cameras will continue to deliver good performance. Trim vegetation, replace batteries and make any other necessary adjustments early enough to avoid altering natural deer behavior in the days leading up to hunting season. Carry pruning shears and a small limb saw during each visit to your camera sites to keep them tuned up. Ameristep sells a handy Pruning Kit that includes both of these key tools in a practical belt sheath for under $20.
Camera type and a bit of common sense will dictate how and when one should visit cameras for maintenance or to retrieve SD cards. Plan visits and specific routes to minimize potential conflicts with deer. Avoid peak activity times like early morning and late evening. Use stealth and take precautions to control scent.
First-generation game cameras were bulky, drained batteries quickly and, frankly, didn’t work that well. Thankfully, those frustrating days are long gone. Scouting cameras have evolved to a level that was unimaginable only a few years ago, and have become standard equipment for anybody who needs to be there… but can’t really be there… just like Big Brother.