Labor Day isn’t just the unofficial winding-down of summer; it’s also a great weekend to check your trail camera photos and if you haven’t set them up already, it’s time to get those trail cams in place. While deer antlers are in dramatic growth mode right now across the country, whitetail hunters will be quietly retrieving images from their trail cameras that have been in place since Memorial Day or earlier summer. Follow these eight Tips to help you catch great photos of that big buck and an opportunity to put a tag on him when the season opens.
1. Location, Location, Location
The most critical step to getting the best photos during the summer months is getting the cameras set-up in the right locations. At this time of year, food sources are the top priority for deer, so place your cameras close to prime summer food and forage sources. The best food sources will vary depending on your location in the country and local laws, but include corn feeders, protein feeders, green fields, soybean, clover, alfalfa and clover. Where legal, use an automatic deer feeder in the mornings and evenings to improve your chances of seeing what animals are in the area.
2. Number your Cameras
You may deploy a number of game cameras on your property and if you do, keep track by numbering the camera and the chip with a Sharpie. Depending on the make and model of your camera(s) if you can imprint a name or number on the photo use the camera number. Record the GPS location when you place each camera, so you’ll be able to find them quickly when you return. Keep a map of all your game cams updated at all times, even if you only have a couple of cameras deployed.
When considering the location for your cameras, you must also keep in mind how you will access them in the future. Keep your cameras in easy-to-access locations, where you can walk up along a field edge or drive directly to the camera, as this will limit the pressure you put on the deer. A common mistake is to set summer cameras too deep into the timber or close to bedding areas, which leads to educating deer to your presence and pushing them away from your camera locations.
Once a location is set, be sure to properly position the camera. Face your cameras to the north or south to avoid washed out photos during sunrise and sunset. By aiming your cameras in the right direction, you will prevent high light exposures due to strong backlight. Unless you are monitoring a scrape, feeder or other attractant, hang your camera at a 45° angle to the trail. This technique will increase the trigger time exponentially, and should give you a better photo of the entire animal. Take a compass with you, positioning your trail cams correctly will save you a lot of overexposed photos and false triggers from sunlight glare. Finally, take a pair of clippers with you and remove brush and limbs for a clear trail to your target area. By clearing the line of sign you’ll prevent the LED illumination from lighting-up the brush in front of the camera and over or under exposing the target animals.
5. Camera Height
Consider the height at which you mount the camera. Place your camera as level as possible and about deer-eye level. On properties where you’re dealing with other hunters, consider taking a small step ladder with you to deter thieves. Place your camera higher in a tree and angled down to avoid being seen by others in the area.
6. Trigger Techniques
There’s nothing worse than to check your camera after a few weeks only to discover it took no photos. Take the time to understand how to properly adjust the settings on your camera, use fresh batteries and format your SD card in the camera before leaving it
Be sure to properly set your capture and interval modes. These settings determine how many photos at a time your camera will take and how long an interval there will be between photos. Set your camera to take two photos per trigger and then wait at least one minute before triggering again. This technique will save space on your card for a longer period of time.
7. Scent Control
When you go into the woods to check those cameras, practice all the same scent control that you do during hunting season. Spooked deer during the summer, especially mature bucks, will avoid the area and your cameras. So wear scent-free clothes and boots, and spray down with a scent eliminator before entering the field. I also wear gloves when handling my trail camera and spray that down after I finish swapping out SD cards.
8. Be Patient
Don’t check your cameras too often. A properly located and installed camera can produce great results, but checking them too often is probably the biggest mistake hunters make when it comes to trail cameras because you end-up educating deer to your presence. Practice self-restraint and give your cameras at least two weeks between return trips—and even longer if you have the patience.