Dr. Mick Hellickson wrote a great article about conducting game surveys with trail cameras, and they are a wonderful tool. We have obviously learned through Dr. Hellickson, Ben Koerth and others that they are a legitimate survey method and a way of keeping up with the herd and monitoring herd health as well as numbers and ratio. Most of all though, they are great fun, and a way of sharing photos of El Gigante. The photos have been pouring into Whitetail Domains and all of our personal email accounts. How old is this deer? What do you think he scores? Should I shoot this one? All of this activity and all of these inquiries have motivated me to post this article.
It is very difficult, at best, to judge deer with trail cam photos. Flashes make them look bigger than they are. Infrared makes them look like aliens. I have even seen some posted that were set up so far from the trail (or feeder) that it is hard to tell they are deer. You guys up North (where they actually have trees) have it best. Seems like there is a nice, straight, round tree anywhere you need it (great photos, keep them coming). Mounting trail cameras down here in South Texas is a lot like a climbing tree stand. They look good coming out of the box, but they are hard to apply if you don’t have a power line running through the property with nice, straight, round utility poles!
The proper setup for your cameras is the key to success. I know we have all seen the commercials comparing cameras and the benefits of each, but in reality, they seem quite similar to me. If you don't set up the camera correctly, it won't matter if you have the most expensive trail cam money can buy; the photos won't reveal the information you need.
I like to set up a camera about 15 feet away from where I expect the subject to appear. A deer can be accurately judged from that distance, and it does not seem to spook the deer. They will get used to the camera. We can’t accurately predict what a deer is going to do, but we can guess pretty closely. The camera should be mounted on a steady object that does not move or shake with the wind. This can cause an inordinate amount of blank photos triggered by the movement of the camera. Blank photos can also be triggered by grass, weeds or trees branches blowing in the wind. Clear the shooting lane for your camera.
It is also imperative to take into account the rising and setting sun. Many trail cam shots are ruined by direct sunlight because the camera is facing in a bad direction. Make it easy. I have included some photos of the method that I have developed, crude as it may be. I use a U-post (the cheaper version of a T-post) because they have a flat side. I then bolt on an L shaped shelter made from 2x6 lumber and wood screws. The shelter easily screws onto the post because the holes are already drilled in the post. I use J bolts or threaded hooks and wing nuts to fasten the camera. It literally takes 30 seconds to mount or dismount the camera. I leave the post and shelter in place year around because it is easy and it allows the deer to get used to it being there. There are many ways to skin this cat, and I know many of you have your own methods. Post yours to the forums if you dare.
I remember when I bought my first trail camera …, man was I excited. Drive to the ranch (2 ½ hours), find the right tree and wire it up (2 hours), drive home (2 ½ hours). Wait one week, drive to the ranch and….you get it. All this trouble and expense for 36 exposures, three of which were of the same were deer: one buck. We have come a long way from back then. These cameras are great. A single card can hold thousands of images. Set’em up right, and enjoy the rewards.