The positioning of your trail camera can be a delicate balance between placing it close enough to the trail, rub or scrape to get good shots and far enough away that it won’t be noticed by the deer. A whitetail buck is an extremely canny animal and has an innate instinct in avoiding predators. If they notice a difference to their environment – such as the presence of a strange box on a tree – the chances are they will no longer inhabit the area.
The following tips and observations should be taken note of. They come from years of experience and testing in using trail cameras mounted in different locations and situations. Importantly, there is no guarantee that every animal will react the same way. The majority of deer appear to be wary of subtle changes to their favorite haunts. That’s not to say they will all desert a trail because of the introduction of a camera, but it’s definitely a possibility.
Point Your Camera North
This tip is obviously for those living in the northern hemisphere. Reverse everything if you live in the southern hemisphere.
When setting up your camera, make sure that it is pointing to the north. This way, the sun will always be positioned behind the eye of the camera. By setting it up to the south of the target area you will avoid the problem of your shots being affected by sun glare. If it looks into the rising or setting sun around dawn and dusk the photos are going to be terribly washed out with no definition possible. This glare can also cause exposure blow-out which can affect the look of the photos.
Focus the Camera Down the Trail
The problem with setting up a camera so that it faces directly across a trail is that you are very possibly going to get a lot of shots of either the animal’s hind quarters or no animal at all. It will depend on the trigger speed of the camera but by the time the movement has been detected and the camera is triggered, the deer will have probably passed through the shot.
Placing the camera around 5 to 10 yards off the trail and pointing slightly down the trail will increase the amount of time the animal is in the detection zone. If you have a camera that is equipped with a wide angle of detection will increase the size of the detection zone and will control the angle at which the camera should be directed.
The trigger speed of today’s cameras are getting faster and faster. Whereas the average trigger time was between 2 and 5 seconds only a few years ago, it is now quite usual to find cameras with trigger times that are less than a second. As an example, the Bushnell Trophy Cam has an advertised trigger speed of 1 second while the Moultrie M-990i Mini Cam has a trigger speed of 0.88 seconds.
How High Should the Camera Be Positioned?
Here is a question that brings in a number of different factors. If you are scouting whitetails the perfect height to capture a full body shot of the average sized deer is around 36 inches high. This means setting the camera on a straight tree three feet off the ground.
The problem may be that, at this height, it will be instantly noticed as a foreign object that was never there before. This change in the environment could potentially disturb the deer enough for them to abandon the trail.
A second problem that come about from setting the camera so low is that it may be seen by other people. As we have noted in the article “How Can I Protect My Camera?” thieves are not uncommon and it is very possible that your camera will not be there when you come back to check on it.
The answer may be to mount your camera higher in the tree using a mounting bracket that will allow the camera to be angled down onto the shooting zone. Brackets are being produced to fit to specific makes and models of game cameras but it is also simple enough to build your own so that you can customize one to suit your needs.
If you place the camera up higher you should be aware of the range of the movement detection feature of the camera. If you mount the camera too high up a tree or too far from the trail, you are more than likely going to come back to find that no pictures have been taken. The ranges of the modern trail cameras are getting longer and longer which makes it more possible to hide your camera from view of man and beast and still get great shots.
It is important to stress that when you are climbing up into trees, no matter how high off the ground you are going, you should always wear the proper safety equipment. A safety harness and lineman’s safety belt for climbing should both be worn and they should have been checked to ensure they are still in good working order as well.
Exercise Self Control
When you have placed your trail camera there is going to be a strong urge to go out and check the results every day. It is like a brand new toy and, understandably, you are going to want to see the results as often as you can. But the more often you visit your camera, the more intrusion you are making into the territory of the deer. They will respond accordingly by vacating the area.
More than a few hunters have found that the camera will pick up a lot of activity early on after the camera has been mounted only to find it drop right off. This can be put down to your presence which has been noted.
Use A Scent-Blocking Spray On Your Camera
If you’re going to go to all the trouble of bringing a camera to the rub or trail and mounting it nice and handy along the deer’s path, you must make sure you don’t leave any traces of human scent behind. Start by only touching the housing or mounting components with gloved hands. When the unit is in place give it a spray with a scent-blocking spray to remove any odors that will spook the deer.
Some care should be taken when using your scent-blocking spray that you don’t get it on the lens. Any spray on the lens of the camera is going to leave a residue which can result in blurred pictures.
The task of avoiding contaminating the site with human scent goes back to the warning about using self-control when it comes to revisiting your camera. If you can stand to leave your camera alone for a week to 10 days or even more, the area will have cleared of human scent and mature bucks will be more likely to start using it again.
Clear The Surrounding Area
One of the important steps that should be taken when setting up the camera that can be forgotten is the task of clearing the immediate area. Swinging vines, low-hanging branches and foliage, swaying grass or any other moving objects within the movement sensor range is going to set off the camera. Unless you’d like a lot of landscape shots filling up your SD card all of these objects are going to have to be removed.
Equally important is the steadiness of the tree that the camera is attached to. If the tree is not stout enough to remain steady in the breeze it is going to cause the camera to move and this will be just the same as if there were moving objects in front of the camera.
Encourage the Game To Come To Your Camera
There is a way to encourage deer to change their traveling patterns. If you want to direct them past your trail camera you can make subtle changes to the path by blocking it with brush piles and fallen trees. As long as you are subtle with the route changes you can direct the deer onto a path that takes them where you want them to go.
Identify a popular watering hole or food plot and place your trail camera on a trail that leads to a creek. This should prove to be a good strategy in the summer months particularly when water is going to be vigorously sought out.
Outsmarting a whitetail buck or trying to hide your camera from the likelihood of a thief, there are many ways in which you might have to decide how best to position your game camera. It may come down to trial and error as you gradually get a clearer picture about how the local game move around the property.
As long as you are careful with your placement and you take into consideration the fact that you are imposing on the habitat of another animal there is a great chance that the pictures that are taken from your trail camera will be spectacular.