Deer Hunting: How to Set Up Trail Cameras

That time of year soon comes round for bow hunters, when it’s time to start thinking of “dusting off” the trail cameras in preparation ready for some serious deer scouting.

During the off-season it’s easy to forget some of the basics to setting up trail cameras. Refreshing your memory is no bad thing. It may just make that small difference to having a more successful scouting period. 

Whether you’re a trail camera regular or you’ve just purchased a trail cam for the first time, it’s never a bad idea to go over the basics of how to set up a trail camera ready for bow hunting season.

New advancements in trail cameras for bow hunters

It’s only in the last couple of years that trail cams have really started to offer quality pictures and video. The “big name” manufacturers have all upped their “game” by adding larger image sensors along side shortened trigger times, which is the time it takes for a camera to start recording once activated.

What does this mean to the bow hunter? Well; Larger sensors mean extra pixels. Pictures taken with more pixels allow you zoom into the picture for more detail. This is a useful feature when; for example, a buck has triggered the camera from a distance and you’d like to take a better view when counting the antler points more precisely.

Sub one second trigger speeds simply means your less likely to capture “tail end” pictures of bucks running along a trail. I’ll take a look at “how to set up a camera on a trail” in further detail later.

The “take away” when considering these two “key” trail camera specifications are; Higher megapixel cameras mean closer inspection of recorded images. Faster trigger speeds have a better chance of capturing a fast moving buck along a trail.

Introduction to the basics of trail camera set up

This is a quick overview to setting up a trail camera and will provide you with better scouting information, making it easier when deciding which bow hunting spots to choose for the season.

This isn’t the definitive guide and it’s always a good idea for you to experiment. However these are some of the basics that I followed when I started off with trail cams. 

Most of the info I learned early on was through reading a very good book written by the QDMA ( Quality Deer Management Association). In the book, Brad Mormann sets out the foundations to good trail camera use.

How to set the camera up on a trail

Having a camera situated near a trail provides useful scouting data as to where a buck travels to and from bedding areas, drinking pools and food plots.

Setting the camera height off the ground

Generally the ideal height for recording deer is between 3 to 4 feet off the ground. Make sure you cut back any vegetation that is close to the cameras PIR (passive infrared sensor) as this may cause false triggers. So it’s worth carrying a folding hand saw and shears to do this very job.

Angle and distance to the trail

Once you have located an active trail, place the camera at approximately 45 degrees to the direction of the trail. This allows for the largest field of view for both the camera lens and the detection zone.

Generally, the ideal distance to set the camera from a trail is around 15 to 20 feet. This means you’re more likely to have the image “framed” to include the body, head and antlers.

The direction of the Sun can play havoc with your trail camera, leading to false triggers, plus blurry washed out pictures. To avoid this, always try to place the camera lens and PIR sensor facing north.

Setting up a trail at other locations

Food plots in a field are great locations. The downside to this is, a single trail camera will only cover approximately up to an acre of ground, so you may need several cameras or more to cover a whole field.

Placing the camera higher may be a better option here. Try also to position the camera so the camera lens FOV (Field Of View) and PIR sensor detection zone cover the largest area possible.

For this type of set up, a trail camera with a wide FOV is ideal. You’ll see some on the market to buy advertised with up to 120 degrees FOV, however most cameras have less than a 100 degrees FOV.

Again, it’s also very important to consider the position of the Sun. Carrying a compass or using a smartphone compass app to point the camera lens north helps to set the correct heading.

If you can’t find the ideal tree to attach the camera, then a wooden stake post may offer a better alternative. But remember, if your on public land, you always stand the chance of the camera being stolen. So always keep it out of sight and use a suitable python lock for extra security.

Camera Modes

Finally, I’ll take a quick look at camera modes. Most trail cams these days have 3 modes. Video, Picture and Timelapse Mode. They all have their advantages in different set ups and locations.

Video Mode

This is one area where the higher megapixel cameras have improved greatly in recent years. Gone are the days of low resolution blurry videos.

Video Mode is ideal for covering trails where fast moving game animals travel through the detection zone. If your camera has a trigger speed setting, set it to the fastest possible in the camera menu.

Picture Mode

You can use Picture Mode for both trails and food plots. If your going to use this mode along a trail, use the Burst Picture setting on your camera if it has one. Burst Mode will take anything from 3 to 9 pictures in quick succession once the camera has been triggered. 

Another setting to take note of in Picture Mode is the strength of the infrared emitters at night. This comes down to trial and error in most cases. If you are getting black & white pictures recorded at night that are washed out, adjust the infrared emitters to the lowest power setting in the camera menu options.

Timelapse Mode

Lastly there’s Time Lapse Mode. This mode only really comes into use when covering a food plot at the edge of a field. 

You will have to set the cameras interval (the time taken between each picture). The duration, how many pictures in (Burst Mode) or length of video clip in Video Mode. 

Plus the time of day will have to be set, either for 24 hours a day coverage, or alternatively dawn & dusk hours only. Both these “time zone” features may be found on the higher spec trail cameras under the time lapse settings menu.

It’s worthwhile testing and experimenting with the Time Lapse Mode on your camera beforehand in your backyard prior heading out to a new hunting location.

Final thoughts

Following these basic trail camera set up tips will help you achieve the most from your trail camera. So just pick up your bow and hunt confidently. However, every location is unique, so you may have to experiment a little to suit the environment your in. 

It’s worth noting that all trail cameras are pretty robust and will have no problem under heavy rain, however keep an eye out for flood waters in areas that are susceptible to flooding.

Extreme high temperatures can also play havoc with the PIR sensor too. So be aware of climate temperature ranges too.

I hope you found this trail camera set up guide useful! and here’s to your success for the coming scouting and bow hunting season.

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Posted in: Pro Staff Blog

About the Author:

Jessica is an avid hunter, doing the hunting from her childhood. She spent lots of time in the hunting fields with her dad from her childhood. She also have the blog Hunting Mark where she often write about hunting & survival and camping.
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