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Hunting: Tips for using trail cameras to spot deer

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Deer can be spooked by trail cameras that use an illuminated flash. AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Trail cameras have become increasingly more popular among deer hunters. They’re your eyes in the woods when you’re not there and can be extremely beneficial in helping you locate deer and pick the right place and the right time, particularly when properly used. Otherwise, they can be quite frustrating. Below are some of the common issues sometimes encountered by camera users and some potential corrections.

Getting images with no animal is quite common and there are several potential causes. Many cameras are triggered by movement or heat. Moving vegetation on a windy day will give you a lot of false positives and there’s not much you can do about that short of placing cameras in more sheltered areas. However, you can avoid a lot of false positives from direct sunlight by aiming cameras in a more northerly direction.

Another potential source of false positives is slow trigger speed. Most cameras have a sleep mode to save batteries. When motion is detected they must first “fire up” before taking a picture. That may only take a second or less, but by then the animal could have passed by. One solution is selecting a camera with a faster trigger speed. A better option is to orient it so it is facing down or parallel to a game trail rather than perpendicular to it. This way animals will be in the trigger zone longer.

Trail cameras have a limited detection range. The better, more expensive ones may have slightly longer ranges but you could still be missing important observations if your camera is facing down a long trail or along a field or food plot. A more recent innovation is time-lapse or plotwatcher mode. Rather than requiring a subject to trigger the camera, it simply records images at designated intervals. Depending on the interval you set you may have to scroll through dozens or even hundreds of images but when you start to see a pattern of deer slipping along the far end of the field it may be worth the extra effort.

Trail cameras can frighten deer. Older models often used an illuminated flash and I’ve got plenty of pictures of deer staring wide-eyed and on full alert with eyes aglow, often followed by the image of a fleeing deer. Most now use an infrared flash that is far less visible. However, before that occurs the camera often signals it is about to fire with a blinking red light. Deer don’t see red very well but the blinking light does sometimes attract their attention. A little piece of tape over the LED will solve that.

Deer are curious and I’ve gotten several pictures of them nosing and even licking my cameras. I also have plenty of pictures of deer obviously perturbed by the presence of some strange foreign object. It may be a visual cue but it could also be the odor. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep scent control in mind when setting and tending cameras. Wash your hands in scent free solutions and wear latex gloves and spray or wipe your cameras down, obviously avoiding the lens.

Perhaps the biggest dilemma with trail cameras is how often to check them. If you visit the area too often you risk disturbing the deer, which is why I always check cameras around mid-day, when deer activity is lowest. Don’t check them often enough and you may be missing out on timely information.

The best answer to both problems is selecting a camera that utilizes wireless technology. You can literally set it and forget it. The camera will capture images and send them to your smart phone or computer. Depending on the technology and plan you use, you can get almost real time reports, or daily uploads, either without ever having to return to the camera site.

Trail cameras provide a lot of helpful information and even negative data can be useful. It tells you that particular location might not be worth wasting valuable hunting time on. Hunters also often discover that deer aren’t as regular as we would like when it comes to daily routines. However, the images do tell us which areas are getting the most use and perhaps most important, which deer are using them.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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