Whether you’re after the perfect shot of a big buck or maybe even after bigfoot, a game camera is a necessary piece of kit for both a budding wildlife photographer and those who are looking to get to know the behavior of the game they are hunting better. Maybe you’ve had some limited success with getting the shots that you want and want to improve upon that. Or maybe you are finding success but want to make them slightly better. There’s always room for improvement in any hobby, especially so in the outdoors where the conditions are ever-changing, and the animals you are trying to shoot being sensitive to the slightest adjustment to life.
There are multiple very small, yet very important, changes that can be made to improve your shots. The most modest of innovations can produce the biggest differences in the final results of your photographs and film shots. Let’s take a look at a few simple variations that you can make in order to get the ultimate shot on your trail camera!
Test it out at home first
Before you head out into the sticks you should undertake some home testing first. If you have a garden or yard set it up in a position that has a view over a wide-ranging area. Start at the base of your trail camera and walk backward and leave a marker about every 10 feet until you’ve reached around 60 feet. Put your camera into auto shoot mode and walk slowly, pausing at the markers that you laid down beforehand.
Repeat the process a couple of times but walk at faster speeds. Check the images once you have gone through it and take note of the marker where the best images have appeared. This is your trail camera’s optimum standard focus distance and you should keep this in mind when taking your camera out into the outdoors.
Take a closer look at the shots of you walking at faster speeds or even running to test your trail cameras trigger speed. If these are of good quality then you’ve got yourself a great camera for wildlife photography. Some superb shots of a running deer or flying bird are not out of the question in your future photography endeavors.
If you get some clear fast-moving shots then your trail camera is of use if you set it up with a wide field of view, where you can get shots of the animal moving across a set trajectory. If your shots we’re only clear when you were moving slowly then it’s best to pick a spot where the animal will pause for a moment, such as a feeding ground or a mineral lick. It’s also a great idea to repeat the test at dusk and in the dark. This shall put the optimal nighttime focal point, the range of the flash and the power of the infrared sensors to the test.
Time of year
The behavior of deer and other wildlife changes throughout the year. You need to bear in mind what the deer’s activity will be and where they will be due to the season. Deer are less likely to be on higher ground in the wintertime due to the snow covering their feeding grounds. When salt is laid on the roads it’s a good idea to set up a roadside spot to catch the deer licking the salt from the roadside, particularly at night. Luckily there’s no deer hunting season when it comes to photography – you can shoot photos all year round!
Also bear in mind the white-tailed deer’s annual rut, when the bucks go head to head to determine who gets breeding rights over the does. These normally take place in November over a 2-3 week period. There are some spectacular bustles that can occur in the ensuing fracas. This is particularly good if you can use up your trail camera over a wide scope, meaning you can pick up various stages of the rut, leading to some spectacular shots.
The other great time to use your game camera is in springtime when the deer are giving birth. If you’re able to get some snaps of a fawn taking its first steps then you’re on to a winner. You can get yourself several month’s worth of snaps as the fawns tend to spend the whole of summer by their mother’s side.
Choose your location wisely
Location is everything when it comes to game shooting. If you choose a spot where the deer seldom come then you’ll seldom get photos. Make sure you take into consideration the previously mentioned abilities of your trail camera, whether it is only suitable for slow movements or if it can pick up faster ones. Food plots, mineral sites, bedding areas, and deer trails are all top locations for getting some great shots.
One of the favorite spots of great game hunters is the stretches of ground where the deer like to feed. Often herds will return to the same food sources on a daily basis so if you suss out one of these feeding grounds then make use of it. Whitetail bedding areas are often near their food plot, so be aware that the deer are always likely to be nearby.
It’s also worth setting your trail camera up by a deer trail. They often walk time and time again on the same paths, so when you’re out walking in nature keep a sharp eye out for where the ground has been dug up by them. If you set up by a game trail then be sure to make sure that the degree angle of your trail camera is adjusted correctly. Camera placement counts for everything.
If you pick a spot where the deer come by on a regular basis, then the speed of your game camera’s trigger speed shouldn’t be an issue as they tend to be at ease, taking their time to walk and graze. If you find a precise location that you want the deer to come to then one tip is to leave out salt for them. Deer love to lick salt and will spend a lot of time at the place you seem to be a great shooting location. Pace your trail camera around 20 – 30 feet away from the bait, as this tends to be the optimal range for most trail cameras.
Setting your trail camera
It’s important to set your game camera correctly in order to get the best snaps. There are several factors to take into consideration when setting up such as the trail camera height, the way the camera is facing, the sun and light angles, as well as potential obstacles. One of these factors being slightly wrong can lead to subpar shots and readjustment of your trail camera in the future.
The first thing you should try to get correct is the height of your trail camera. When the trail camera is at the eye level they can notice the infrared sensor light which may spook them. The memory of that deer may mean that they don’t return to that spot if they continue that there is something amiss with that patch of land. A flash can have an even more traverse effect, so bear this in mind if you are going for night shots.
It’s recommended that you place it in an elevated position such as up a tree or to create a tree stand to keep the trail camera’s lights away from the deer. Not only does it keep it away from the deer’s vision it stops the deer from knocking it over or trampling upon it if it is placed upon the ground. Deer are also more likely to smell the trail camera if it’s placed on the ground, the height takes away a good proportion of the smell of the camera. Even more so, a trail camera placed on the ground is more susceptible to a trespasser walking by with sticky fingers noticing it and heading off home with it. Thus, hiding your camera on a tree branch eliminates several potential problems that come with game photography.
Another tip regarding your trail camera setup is to take the daylight into consideration. In the majority of locations, it is best to face your camera in a direction that is not facing the south. If pointing this way it will pick up a lot of glare throughout the day as it is facing the direction that the sun is shining.
Similarly, you need to take the glare of the sunrise in the east and sunset in the west into account. You may find that the glare from these is badly affecting the quality of your photos so you may need to adapt the position of your trail camera if it is. The time of year also should be taken into account when considering this as the sun’s location for rising and setting changes in the winter with the shorter daylight hours.
The last thing to consider in the set up of the position of the trail camera is things that may get in the way. If your trail camera is placed in a tree then overhanging branches may set off your camera’s trigger when they blow in the wind. Similarly, shrubs that are in the landscape, or long wavy grass can also cause you to get all of these unnecessary pictures that only serve to fill up your memory card before you get any great game shots.
Be discreet about it
Now you have your trail camera set up the way you want, it’s time to sit back and hope that you get some outstanding shots of the deer and other game going about their day to day existence. When you go to check on your game camera whether it is to adjust its position, change batteries or swap the SD card, it is of the utmost importance that you undertake this task with minimum disturbance. If you do so you risk the deer being scared of approaching your spot, leaving you to find a new one, undoing your work which took time and precision to make.
Deer are able to pick up on the slightest change of smell or any difference to their natural environment. You must always be careful to never make a trace when dealing with your trail camera. If you’ve ever been within 300 yards of a herd of deer you’ll know that they’ll stop what they’re doing to stare at you. At about 150 yards, they’ll run. Millions of years of being prey to multiple predators have led to species of deer worldwide always on the defensive, and always suspicious.
Therefore it is vitally important to never let your guard down when approaching your game camera, as the deer certainly won’t let down theirs. Repeated regular patterns of your behavior shall alert the deer to your continuous presence in the area, meaning that they are more likely to stay clear of the area where you have set up your game camera. If you are checking your camera once or twice a week then you may soon find that you’re getting less and less shots of them. Instead, aim to visit your game camera no more than once every three to four weeks on a staggered schedule so you don’t make your presence in the area too regular.
You must always be wary of smell. Not just of yourself but of your trail camera. Deer are hypersensitive to the slightest whiff of a new scent. Their sense of smell is thought to be at least 500 times stronger than a human’s, and they can pick up a human scent from about half a mile away. So strong is that smell that you can walk past multiple when going to check on your game camera without you knowing about them. But they know.
Therefore, you must always be hyper-aware of your presence in their territory. There are various brands of scent spray used for hunting that you can purchase and spray yourself with to limit their knowledge of your presence. Even so, don’t take for granted that you’re now invisible to them, as they still likely know that you’re around.
You must also make an effort to mask the smell of your trail camera. Deer can also pick up the scent of the device and the scents you may have left behind when you’re not there. A spray should be used to make the smell of your game camera. After some rainy days, it is important to return to your game camera to reapply the spray as the rain will wash it away, leaving behind a curious scent that may catch the attention of the deer.
So overall, as tempting as it is, you should visit your trail camera location as seldom as possible. One of the things that you can do to combat this is to make sure that you have a high storage memory card, as your game camera will take photos of the smallest of movements, resulting in many unnecessary photos. Another trail camera tip is to make sure you change your trail camera settings to have a low power setting to extend your battery life. Most trail cameras will already have this setting but it’s always good to double-check.
Just like deer hunting, deer photography is a delicate activity due to the deer’s sensitivity. Don’t expect great results within a couple of weeks of setting up your trail camera. Game photography is a trial and error process that takes a lot of time to get correct. For example, your camera’s location might not be giving you any results meaning you have to change it, meaning a few more weeks before you get the photos you want.
There are various trail camera strategies that you may undertake in order to get that shot of a lifetime. Make sure you buy one that suits what your photography objectives are and then test it out at home before you take it out into the field. Also, do some online research to choose an area that is not only abundant with deer but is also accessible. You don’t want to have to make a 10-mile round hike every time you go to check on it. It takes time and patience to get it right, but bear with it and eventually you’ll end up with some stunning pictures of mature bucks and little fawns taking their first steps.
Bonus tip: get a few more pointers up your sleeve to get the ultimate game footage!