A quality trail camera is one of the best scouting tools for the modern deer hunter. Checking an area out by camera gives you useful information about wildlife densities and daily habits. Motion-activated critter cams are getting more sophisticated these days, but even the best camera won't do you much good if you don't know how and where to set it up properly.
Here are some tips for getting great photos or video from your deer cam:
1. Buy the best trail camera you can afford. Check online reviews and see what other hunters are saying about the features and reliability of different brands.
2. Pick a trail cam location where deer are most likely to be found. An ideal location in summer might be totally empty of deer in the winter. Look for fresh tracks, well-used trails and places where deer might come to drink or browse. Creek banks are a great spot, especially where several trails lead into one area.
3. Ideally, your trail camera should point toward the north. If the location doesn't allow this, try aiming it south. What you want to avoid is an east or west placement, because you'll end up with either a backlit photo or a white, blurry one from the sun's glare when it's near the horizon.
4. Position your camera at a 45 degree angle toward the trail. This will offer the optimum viewing angle for a passing deer to trigger the shutter, and reduce the chance that the animal will spot your cam and be scared off before it gets within photo range.
5. For the best photos of passing deer, position your trail cam at least six feet up a tree, and angle it slightly downward. This will often give you better coverage of an open area, and also keeps the camera out of the animal's direct line of sight. Adjust the camera height and angle as needed to compensate for any slope.
6. Motion-activated cameras can be triggered by long grass or leafy branches moving in the wind. Deer don't like windy nights because they can't hear danger coming, so generally they'll be in a more sheltered area when the wind is up. This is where your camera should be, too. If you place your camera directly facing a field of waist-high grass, be prepared for plenty of false triggers if it's windy. If necessary, do some 'gardening' in the area in front of the camera to remove any branches that might sway in the wind.
7. Understand your camera. Experiment with all the different settings, and make sensible adjustments based on your location. If your camera provides both still and video options, try out both and see which works best for you. The more you know about your trail camera, the more success you will have in getting the shots you want.
8. Take care of your deer cam, and disguise its location. Protect it from rain. Make sure the memory card has plenty of available space, and the batteries are fresh. Clean the lens. You don't need special lens cleaning fluid - a drop or two of water and a lens tissue will do the job. Do whatever you can to make the position of your camera less obvious, both to easily-spooked deer and to human thieves. A number of lockable security boxes and cables are available as camera accessories, and these are certainly worth the investment if your area is prone to camera theft.
9. Trail cameras are fun, so make the most of yours. When you're not scouting an area for deer, lower the camera's height and see what smaller animals stroll in front of it. You'll be surprised at some of the creatures that cooperate by making an appearance. You might even be as lucky as the fellow who got that amazing trail cam photo of a calm, blissfully unaware buck - with a silent cougar stalking just 6 inches behind its tail, anticipating a hearty meal of venison!