Brad Harvey: Make the most of a scouting camera

August 19, 2013 

Since fishing is out of the question due to flooding upriver, my mind has turned to the archery deer season opening in less than six weeks.

Besides getting in a little time with my bow and practicing shots on a target, I’m also itching to see what’s roaming around my hunting grounds. There’s no better way to find out than by using a trail camera.

Most hunters believe using these gadgets is as easy as strapping it to a tree and walking away. If you’re really lucky, this may work once in a while. But there are many things you can do to increase your chances of going home with clear images to study.

First, knowing your trail camera is a must. With a three-and-a-half month deer season, there’s no excuse for not finding time to get to know your equipment, and your camera is no different than your bow or rifle.

Set it up on a tree or fencepost, and walk past it at various distances.

Every unit on the market is fitted with a wide angle lens. If the unit is placed at the proper distance from where you expect the deer to travel past, it won’t matter if it triggers in the often advertised one second or as many as five. That wide angle lens is going to catch whatever is out there.

The key is to know what the optimum distance is for the camera you own. That’s a pretty easy to figure out just by looking at all of those pictures that were taken of you as you walked by it. How much detail of yourself can you see?

If the images aren’t adequate, you’ll want to keep that in mind when setting it up in the woods later.

Once you’ve played with it a while and have a good understanding of all of its capabilities and limitations, there are several other considerations.

Take a compass. You always want to place your trail camera pointing north or south. If it faces east or west, the rising or setting sun will ruin any chance of seeing what came by it during those times. Let’s not forget that both of these periods of the day are prime time for deer movement, no matter the time of year.

Clear the area in front of the camera of tall, young foliage. These can easily trigger your unit hundreds of times during a single day as it moves in the breeze. Triggering the camera this many times will kill the batteries and give you thousands of pictures of nothing.

Think logically. Want to see what’s passing through a particular deer trail? Be smart about it. Don’t put the camera parallel to the trail so its view is from the side. You’ll usually find tons of pics showing nothing. The deer was there, but your camera’s location missed it. In these situations, aim the camera looking up or down the trail. This will keep the deer in front of the camera for the longest possible time, giving you several images of the animal as it enters or exits the location.

Found some rubs or scrapes? If you want to see what’s tending them, the best vantage point is from up high. Take your climbing stand with you and put the camera about 15 feet up a tree. You can easily aim the camera down toward your target area by using sticks or twigs to shim it from the top. Matching scrapes also is a great way to pinpoint when the rutting period starts. As long as you’re seeing bucks hitting those scrapes, it hasn’t turned on yet. You can bet, however, as soon as you’re no longer getting pictures of them, the rut has officially started.

Is there a perfect tree for a camera? Yes. Any tree that measures between 10 and 15 inches wide at the point where you’ll mount your camera will work best. If you’re putting yours at ground level, a height of 30 to 40 inches is ideal.

Remember, it’s still hunting. Just because the season isn’t in and you’re not toting a firearm or bow doesn’t mean what you’re doing isn’t hunting. Every time you enter the woods to place a camera or retrieve a memory card and swap batteries, treat it as you would if it were November.

Keep a low profile and find the most direct route into and out of the area you’ll be working. Go in scent free and try not to touch anything you don’t have to. Carry a small bottle of scent killer and spray down the outside of the camera once it’s positioned, activated and you’re ready to leave. You’ll want to have a few tissues so you can wipe down the camera lens after you’ve sprayed it.

Don’t dilly dally. Get your work done and get out.

Resist the urge. Hunters are always anxious to see what kind of activity their scouting cameras have recorded, but going in and out to swap memory cards too often can alert deer to increased levels of human activity in the area. As long as your trail cam has fresh batteries and an empty memory card on the day you strap it to a tree, it should be good for several weeks. This means you should give it a minimum of a week before each return trip to swap the card and add new batteries. The longer you let it sit, the better.

Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at or follow on Twitter- @BHarveyOutdoors.

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