As the old saying goes, “luck is where preparation meets opportunity”. There is no place where this more true than it is in hunting trophy whitetails. Using a trail camera properly will help you better prepare for your hunts and choose ambush locations that can provide more opportunities to see big bucks. If you follow some of the tactics discussed here, and the new ones you discover along the way, maybe you’ll get lucky this season and take home the trophy of a lifetime.
Setting Up Your Camera:
Not setting the camera close enough to the desired subject is the biggest mistake people make when using the scouting camera. Scouting cameras can differ from model to model in the distance they recommend and the width of the angle of their lens — so check your product manual to find out the distance the manufacturer recommends setting the camera from the subjects. A typical range given might be 10-20 feet. Try sticking with the low end of the range at first. Then, as you get a better feel for the capabilities and performance of your camera, you can try other distances, angles and placement heights.
If possible, face your camera in a Northward facing or Southward facing position. This will help prevent the sun from backlighting your subject and making it a non-descript silhouette in the photo.
When placing your cameras make sure you keep a low-profile and stay as scent free and quiet as you would if you had your weapon in hand. Make sure you wear rubber boots and find the most low impact route you can to the camera’s location. Also, spray down the camera with a scent killing spray, but make sure not to get spray on the lens, since those sprays can leave behind a residue that can cover the lens and blur your pictures.
Leave It Be:
If you’re going after mature bucks, leave your camera alone for at least a week, and even up to ten or 12 days if you can stand it. That will give the area enough time for all human scent to disappear and give mature animals enough security to start using that area again. I know it is tempting, but checking too often can litter an area with scent, and may keep big bucks from using that area entirely. As the saying goes, “Curiosity killed the cat. But if you check your cameras too often, it just might save the buck. Stay disciplined.
Just One Piece of the Puzzle:
Trailcam photos should be used as one piece of information in a larger strategic puzzle. Some hunters think that because they’re capturing photos of a good animal on their camera at night, they should set up to hunt that animal in the location of their camera. Well, that spot should be considered based on the information you get from the pictures, but don’t automatically set your stand at that spot without considering all the information you have. Odds are, if the animal is being photographed by your scouting camera at night, you won’t be able to kill him there.
Once you have the picture of a good animal ask yourself questions like:
- Where do I think he’s bedding down? If you don’t know, use the digital scouting tools available on ProHuntersJournal.com, Google Earth, or other aerial photo resources and terrain maps to help you make and informed “best-guess”. Knowing where he’s bedding down is valuable information and will help you better determine his travel direction and the best spot for your ambush.
- Did I get pictures of the animal at night? Is the animal moving around at all during daylight? If he is, chances are he’s moving somewhere between where you captured photos of him in the dark and where you think he’s bedding down.
- Did I get any pictures of the animal in the morning? If so, you need to get further in and up the trail you suspect he’s using — so that your odds are better of intercepting him during daylight hours and before he returns to the bedding area. Mature bucks do most of their moving around under the cover of darkness, so you have to use all the information you have to help increase your odds of seeing him in the light of day.
Keep A Running Journal of Your Photos:
Almost all modern, digital scouting cameras have a time/date stamp feature that will let you know exactly when each picture was taken. Some of them even report the moon phase on the time stamp. All this information is extremely valuable — and one of the smartest things you can do to improve your knowledge and skill from year to year is to keep good records. The journaling features provided by ProHuntersJournal.com provide the perfect tool for organizing your scouting information, and making it useful from season to season. Over time you will see patterns emerge, and you’ll be able to better predict animal behavior at different times of the year.
If you use a digital scouting camera, we recommend you get an extra memory card, so you can swap in a blank one in the field and take your photos home for closer study and record keeping. Upload your best photos into the PHJ Journal as a scouting record. That will let you keep an organized, searchable record of your photos, and will allow you to easily keep track exactly where they were taken, when they were taken and other observations or lessons you learned from the evidence the photos captured. Not only that, but you’ll be able to share photos with your buddies on the site (only if you want to of course…make sure you don’t give away too much information or you could create unwanted competition for yourself). If you use a film based scouting camera, ask the photo developer for a digital copy of the images on a CD. That way you will also be able to add your photos and records to your PHJ Scouting Journal.
Do you have other scouting camera tips or strategies? Have you learned something new since using scouting cams? Please share what you’ve learned with other site users by posting a comment in the comments section below
DuckBuckGoose -PHJ ProStaff - Cincinnati, OH