Game cameras are excellent tools for any hunter who hunts on his or her own property.
They take timed or motion-activated photos, so you can see how many game animals are actually in the area you want to hunt. Scouting is important, but game cameras scout for you, even when you’re not there.
Of course, you need at least one trail camera in order to use one. We have an article about the best game cameras here and another one about wireless and cellular cameras here.
Choosing your game camera is only part of the battle. You actually need to make sure your camera is configured properly and put it where it needs to be.
This article is a step-by-step guide for using your game camera, whether it’s a fancy Kuool 4G LTE cellular trail camera or a simple Victure HC200.
How many game cameras do you need?
First of all, you need to determine how many cameras you need.
To figure this out, you need to comb through your hunting property and note down all of these locations:
- Animal trails that cross the property boundaries
- Animal trail intersections
- Bedding areas
- Feeding sites
- Watering holes
- Any places which seem to have lots of animal activity
If you’re running a commercial hunting enterprise, then it’s a good idea to have a camera at each of these locations. That’s cost-prohibitive for most folks, though.
What I prefer to do is to have two or three cameras to watch the highest-activity areas.
It’s also a good idea to have a camera at these locations:
- Any feeding stations, salt licks, or other attractants you’ve added (High priority)
- A hunting blind or tree stand to make sure animals will pass by the structure (Low priority)
I would have at least one camera in an area of known high animal activity, one or two cameras to move around the property to find other high-activity areas, and enough cameras to watch every deer attractant.
It’s not a bad idea to start with the minimum number of cameras and then add one or two in the following years.
Related: Cellular Data Plan Costs for Trail Cameras
Initial Programming and Setup
Once you have all the game cameras you need, you need to set them up.
Your camera should come with a manual which explains this process. Generally, it’ll look like this:
- Add batteries and SD card.
- Update the camera’s firmware to the most recent version.
- Experiment with the settings to figure out the configuration you want
- Test the unit at home.
After following those steps, you’ll be ready to take the camera into the field. Updating the camera should be part of the manual, along with configuration instructions.
It’s also a good idea to label the camera so you can more easily keep track of which pictures came from which location.
Choosing the Right Batteries
Game cameras are digital products, which means they require electricity to function. They typically take between 4 and 12 AA batteries. You can also add an external battery pack to augment the camera with more juice.
Your choice of batteries has a large impact on how long the camera will last before the batteries die. The cheaper options will have a shorter battery life, while more expensive batteries will last longer.
Some trail cameras come with a rechargeable NiMH battery pack. This is the cheapest method for keeping your camera powered.
However, these batteries won’t last very long, so chances are you’ll have to add some AAs while you recharge the batteries anyway.
These are the most common AA batteries you can find, and they are not expensive. However, you’ll only be able to expect a middling battery life.
Lithium batteries last longer than any other AAs. A set of these will typically last the entire hunting season, unless the game camera has above-average battery drain.
External Power Packs
Most game cameras have plugs compatible with external battery packs. These are their own unit, typically only a little smaller than the camera itself, which can power that trail camera for a long time.
The most expensive option, solar cell systems provide your game camera with green energy that never requires replacement or recharging. You’ll pay quite a bit for solar cells in the beginning, but I find the lack of upkeep well worth the price.
Testing the Camera’s Functionality
Before you install the camera in the field, you need to make sure it works well at home.
Practice mounting the camera to a tree or fence at home so you won’t have to fumble with it later. Make sure the device is powered and on, then try to set the camera off.
Walk in front of the camera to trigger it. You can use this to figure out the intricacies of your unit’s detection zones and ranges, which will let you know how to better position it later.
Once you’re happy with your game camera’s settings, it’s time to bring the camera to its forever home!
Positioning the Camera in the Right Location
There is an art to setting up a game camera properly. Here are some tips to help you out.
Hide and Secure the Camera
Most game cameras are camouflaged. However, they are still artificial blocks of plastic and glass. Deer and other animals will notice them if they’re too obvious.
So will potential thieves.
Don’t just put the camera at eye level on a tree trunk and call it good. Instead, try to position the camera so it is as least obvious as possible. Take advantage of forking limbs, or hide the camera inside a bush.
Putting the camera high above or below eye level is another good way to conceal it. High cameras looking down can give more context to animal behaviors as well.
Have the Camera Face Away from the Sun
Everyone who practices photography knows you want your light source behind the camera. If it’s in front then it’ll wash out picture, hide the subject in shadows, and make for terrible photos.
This applies to game cameras as well. Though the sun travels from east to west, it is always on the southern side of things, at least in the northern hemisphere.
This means, for optimal photos, you want the camera south of the site, facing north. Turn it northwest if most animals are active there in the morning and northeast if most animals are active in that location at dusk.
It’s best not to set up the camera parallel or perpendicular to the deer trail.
Setting the camera to a 45-degree angle to the will broaden the detection zone so you’ll be more likely get good pictures.
Checking on the Camera
If you have a cellular camera then you don’t need to check on the camera. It’ll send updates to your phone automatically.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth cameras will require you to get close to the camera, but still 30 feet away or more. This is easy to do without disturbing the site.
However, checking on non-wireless game cameras can bring your scent to the location, which may make game animals wary of returning. So, while you do need to check on the camera to see the photos it took, you should avoid doing so too often.
Wait at least two weeks between checkup times. A month is even better.
It’s a good idea to bring extra batteries and another SD card whenever you check on the camera. This way you won’t find the camera low on power and storage with no way to fix these problems, thus saving you an extra trip.
Finishing Up the Season
Game cameras are weather-resistant devices, capable of surviving cold, heat, rain, snow, and wind.
It’s not always a good idea to leave the camera out year-round, though. If you’re not going to pay any attention to it until next year, why leave it in a position to potentially be damaged or stolen?
However, if you feel secure about your cameras, leaving them out may not be a bad idea. You won’t need to scout out good camera positions again or get into awkward positions to remove the camera. You may even get some good information from the extra photos.
Do keep in mind that both cold and heat can diminish a battery’s capacity, so a camera which lasts on four batteries for all of autumn may not survive through winter.
Why not consider using the game camera as a home security camera during the off-season?
A poorly-positioned game camera can result in poor pictures, no useful information, and a potential loss due to thievery.
Following these tips will help you setup your trail camera properly and use it to its best effect, providing you with excellent photos of unwary deer engaged in natural behaviors.
Who knows? Maybe you’ll even get a picture of Sasquatch.