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Trail Camera Placement

Whether you’re planning your next hunt, or just trying to find out what the local wildlife is up to when you’re not Out Here, there’s no substitute for the wealth of information a properly placed trail camera can provide.

The idea is simple enough – when an animal sets off the motion detector, the camera snaps a picture. But from there the level of sophistication rises quickly, with many cameras offering a host of advanced features such as video, a variety of flash options (like infrared or black flash), time lapse, and even remote access.

But no matter what style or level of camera you choose, there are certain fundamentals about placement and camera direction that make a huge difference in the success of your photos.

The most obvious first step is to place your camera either where you’ve seen animal sign – whether that be tracks, droppings, scrapes, etc., or have every reason to expect animals would travel – such as along a stream, or the edge of a wooded area. (Quick note; try not to include the running water of a stream in the frame, because the motion will trigger the motion sensor.)

Also be sure to attach the camera securely to something stable, like a larger tree or fence post, which won’t be affected by things such as wind, etc.

Always be sure to point your camera to the north, and place it in a shady spot whenever possible. Cameras can be triggered by both heat and motion. So you want to avoid the kind of glare that can activate it – or cause a photo to be blown out by being brightly backlit. And by mounting it in the shade you help ensure that you’re creating as large a difference as possible between the temperature of the camera and the animal.

The Right Angle
Unless you’re targeting a very specific spot, like a bait pile or a particular scrape, etc., you should position your camera at a 45º angle to the trail. (As opposed to perpendicular.) This way you increase the amount of time the animal is walking in the camera’s path, and you improve the odds that you’ll get the entire animal in the shot. Remember that the camera needs a moment to “wake up” once it’s activated. And if you have it pointed at too narrow an area, the animal could walk all the way through the frame before the camera has a chance to take the picture.

Get A Clear Shot
While it can help to have some brush around your trail camera to help camouflage it from animals and humans alike, you should make sure the view from the camera to the trail is clear. Otherwise the flash will illuminate the brush, and not the target. It’s a good idea to bring some clippers along, to clear away any branches or twigs that need it. 

Pick The Right Height
This one depends on what’s most important to you. Typically, you want to mount the trail camera at the height of the animal you’re trying to photograph. (For deer, that’s between three to four feet off the ground.) But depending on how long you plan to leave it – and how heavily trafficked the area might be by other hunters – that can create a tempting target for thieves. One way to minimize that risk is by hanging it higher in the trees, pointing down. Remember, this way you’ll get shots of the animals’ backs as opposed to a body-level photo. So as we said, you have to decide what’s most important to you in terms of photo angle versus camera security. 

Get Confirmation
If your camera has Live View or some way of viewing photos in the field, snap a shot to make sure everything is set up the way you want. (There are few things as aggravating as going to all the trouble of setting up a camera only to have your shots ruined by something you could have avoided if you’d taken a test shot.)

Increase Your Odds
Depending on the area you’re trying to cover – or if you’re tracking a specific buck, for instance – it’s helpful to position multiple cameras to get different views. That way you can also more accurately determine the direction animals are moving, as well as how long they stay in the area. 

Account For The Weather
Cold weather can dramatically shorten battery life, so make sure you’re replacing the batteries often in your cameras. (Even the most expensive camera is just a useless box mounted to a tree if the batteries don’t work!) 

Remember The Offseason
Wondering if a particular buck made it through the season? Then continue to monitor your hunting property area after the fact. Granted, if they’ve already shed their antlers, this may not give you all of the information you’re looking for. But it can still be a helpful tool for determining herd size, etc. 

With a little bit of forethought, you can dramatically improve the quality of your trail camera photos, which can greatly improve your odds once hunting season opens.

So take a little bit of extra time to properly plan your photographic attack, and enjoy the benefits.

Good luck, and happy shooting!