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September 1, 2009 Comments (5) Equipment/Reviews, Featured Content, Photos

Tips for Buying and Using a Trail Camera

Setting up a Trail Cam

Black Bear

Black Bear in Florida Everglades


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be able to sit in the woods for a full 24 hour period, just to see what assortment of wildlife passes by? Most avid outdoorsmen have the patience and tenacity to sit in a tree stand or rest against a tree on the forest floor for hours, but rarely would one get the chance to see all that nature has to offer during those busy evening and twilight hours. Somewhere along the way, someone had the foresight to recognize a need for capturing what goes on in the woods when we’re not there; enter the trail camera.

While trail cams come in all different shapes, styles, sizes and prices, they are most commonly attached discreetly to a tree, most commonly along a proven trail – i.e.: a path where deer, bear or other animals are clearly frequenting. The camera is motion-activated and on many models, you can choose the duration between photographs. Another feature may be a camera equipped with night vision capability, allowing you to capture pics of what passes by or even feeds in front of your selected area. These trail cams are great for seeing those that are most active at night, like deer, bear, raccoon, etc. Trail Cams may come with a flash set up or IR capability (infra red may have less effect on spooking the animals) for night photography. When looking for a trail cam with a flash make certain to investigate the effective flash range of that trail cam. The greater the distance from your anticipated target, such as a bait station or entrance to a field will determine the necessary effective flash range. Make sure that there is nothing between your target and the camera that can trigger the photo. I have in the past had swaying branches use up all my pictures, and this was when I was still using real film!

Setting up a Trail Cam

Setting a Trail cam on a game trail


When scouting for an area in which to place the trail camera, hunters will normally look for signs of activity such as a spot where several game trails merge. The weekend hiker should have little trouble finding these locations if those trails are active and in constant use. The entrances to fields or a food source as well as a water supply are great spots to set up. Animals that are eating or drinking are usually very calm and may allow multiple pics to be taken before moving on. One of my favorite pictures is of a black bear in the Florida Everglades that leisurely sat down in front of my trail cam to munch on a doughnut I left for him. I saw a single bear print at the edge of game trail and set the trail cam up there. I have my reservations about leaving food in front of the trail cam to bring in and keep the animals there a bit longer, but if that is your choice, you may consider matching the bait to the animals you are seeking to get pics of. Grain and molasses will bring in bear, hog, and deer, while decaying meat may allow for pictures of coyotes and bobcats.

Small Florida Buck

A small Buck near Fisheating Creek WMA


No matter what make, model or style you choose, there are a few things you can typically expect with the use of a trail cam. My first word of advice is this: don’t get too excited the very first time you go back (usually you would not check on it for a few days at a time since too much action around the site will deter animals from frequenting the area). When you first check your camera you may see the display state that you have 5 or 6 pictures, but the funny thing is this: one is typically of you as you walked away after setting it up and another will be of you as you approach the camera to check it!The first time we set one up in our backyard to try to get some photos of a fox we were sure we’d seen sneaking around, the kids were so excited at the thought that we had so many photos. Once we downloaded them, we saw blurs of birds flying by, the tail of a raccoon that was a bit too fast, and of course a close up of me as I set it up and was cleaning the lens. Good family entertainment, but not what we got the camera forIn the end though, we did get a good look at that wily fox and the kids were thrilled.

Florida Panther

A Florida Panther caught with a trail cam in the Everglades


While perhaps the initial and most frequent use of the trail cam was for hunters to scout potential hunting areas and get a taste of what was living in the area, trail cams today are used by nature lovers and families alike. A great way to get some up-close and personal candid shots of animals we normally wouldn’t be able to get this close to. If you are considering purchasing a trail cam, do your research. There’s no reason to pay any more than you have to, depending on its intended use. You will be paying more for higher resolution of the camera. Should you have any really great shots taken with a trail cam, feel free to submit them to us here and we’ll post them for others to enjoy.

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5 Responses to Tips for Buying and Using a Trail Camera

  1. I love looking at trail camera pics!

  2. Great article on trail cams! They can really make a difference between success and failure in the field. I agree that you will see things on a trail cam that you would not otherwise see in person. For those looking for good outdoors info follow Noah on Twitter. I am!

    • Noah says:

      I’m going to be starting a new photo contest, once I get around to building it just for Trail Cams. Itsw gotten to the point where I even take them on vacations now, just to see what I can see!

  3. We have an army of cams to watch our test sites for our products. Helps us improve and make sure all products work very well before we add them to the catalog.

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