Change Up Your Trail Camera Game Plan

Smart — and innovative — use of trail cameras can increase your odds of success in the field.

Change Up Your Trail Camera Game Plan

Mark Olis uses trail cams to help manage a 600-acre hunting property in Alabama.

Are you getting the most from your trail camera investments? Trail cams of all models have changed the way you scout, plan and hunt for whitetails. Everyone owns one or two — or 10. According to Grand View Research, an India and United States market research and consulting company, worldwide trail camera sales in 2021 were estimated at $94 million with a compound annual growth rate of 7.1 percent extending into 2030. Those figures represent an impressive chunk of global cash being spent on wildlife surveillance.

To get the most out of your whitetail financial ventures, consider a change up to your trail cam strategy. From the initial choice of which models fit your hunting plans and property, to the way you employ this economical team of scouting partners, a changeup may be appropriate. Take these suggestions into consideration as you contemplate your future eyes in the woods. 

Find Your Match Mate

The variety of trail cam models on the market today staggers the mind. Of course, budget shoots to the top for most of you shopping for a new team partner, but you do need to consider the many options available. Your perfect trail cam match starts with affordability, but quickly moves to performance, connectivity and overall solid state of construction.

A virtual visit to numerous review sites, articles and forums provides you with a short list of top contenders.  You likely have a friend with deep pockets who has started an independent review of trail cameras as well. Use their success stories and frustrations to add to your evaluation before swiping a credit card. My buddy Levi has an incurable desire to research and test beyond common sense. When he shared with me his latest trail cam success story, I listened and made a note of his reasons for choosing that model.

Mark Olis is another trail cam aficionado I perk up and listen to when the conversation turns to whitetail surveillance. I met Olis in the hunting industry publication side. His vested interest in the industry eventually landed him with Moultrie Mobile, a leader in the trail cam revolution. Moultrie aside, Olis’ 30 years of Alabama whitetail hunting experience and active management of 600 acres of Southern hunting property help further his hunting expertise annually.  

Today, the big question in finding your camera soulmate is whether you go traditional or cellular. Unless you have Musk money, financial interests pave the way to your decision and ultimate purchase. Even so, Olis suggests you take a strong look at cellular cameras for these reasons. 

“For one, you can set up the cellular trail camera one day and start receiving images that evening even though you are long gone from the property,” he points out. “Second, cell cameras allow you to monitor daily activity in sensitive bedding areas without physically going into that spot to pull SD cards. Third, cellular trail cameras are the ideal scouting tool for out-of-state hunting leases or properties. You can travel once to an area, set up your cameras, put a solar panel on it, and not have to go back until you’re ready to hunt.”

One of Olis’ friends lives in Alabama, but leases property in Iowa. That hunter sets up cameras in July and returns in early December to hunt. This routine allows the hunter to survey for big bucks, and Olis says the hunter’s big buck count keeps increasing thanks to camera surveillance. 

Although you will pay cellular charges, Olis shares that they are more economical than operating a smartphone. Plus, you have to add in the savings from not driving to a property routinely to swap out SD cards, and saving overall time away from work, and family. The only negative is if the area does not have cellular coverage, which limits you to a traditional trail camera.

Where legal, you can take a trail cam inventory of your local deer herd with the use of bait. Remember to set the delay time between images accordingly.
Where legal, you can take a trail cam inventory of your local deer herd with the use of bait. Remember to set the delay time between images accordingly.

Burst, Single or Video?

So much of how you set up your trail camera depends on your individual intentions. Are you searching for a particular buck, are you monitoring a high-density deer zone, are you hoping to create social media content, or are you just surveying an area for future management plans? 

Regarding image settings, weigh the amount and speed of activity to be captured in front of your digital assistant. Catching deer passing by on a trail differs greatly than photographing a deer with its snout in a feeder for 5 minutes. 

“If you’ll be placing a camera on a game trail, then you’ll want a camera with a trigger speed under 1 second to ensure you capture moving game,” Olis said. “Distance from the camera is another factor to pay attention to. Every camera has specs that say how far it will detect motion and how far the flash range is for night images. Keep this in mind when thinking of an area you want to hang a camera.”

Next, consider not using video, especially if you cannot easily free up storage space. Sure, you pine to be a TikTok sensation, but setting your camera to high resolution and long-length video clips eats memory faster than your starving dog devours a cheap hot dog. Another energy-eating demon hides in your trail camera according to Olis. And it is so draining that it would cause Greta Thunberg added anxiety.

“One of the biggest power draws for cellular cameras is when it connects to a cloud-based server to transmit images,” Olis said. “Many first-time cell cam users set their camera to immediate upload, which means that the camera connects to the server each time a photo is snapped. If the camera is taking a lot of photos, then batteries might not last more than a week. To get the longest battery life, it’s best to set the trail camera to upload images one or two times per day, one shot instead of burst, photo only not video, and ensure the camera is in an area with a strong cell signal.”

Keep Your Camera Locations Simple

Now that you have your camera purchased and programmed, you need to think about putting that sucker to work. Start out with a simplistic approach. You have time later to think of oddball locations to maneuver cameras for the image capture of a wily one. Begin by mulling over the three elements deer require for survival: food, water and shelter. These three basic needs give you a solid array of starting points on where to position your camera army.

Use your personal knowledge of the hunting area, virtual scouting and the insight of others with intrinsic familiarity with a habitat area, to highlight the likely key elements regarding these three essentials. Because every environment differs, your camera locations will also differ depending on the whitetail location you hunt. Most areas will exhibit a variety of foods from agriculture to food plots and mast to numerous browse choices. Brush up on when deer will likely visit a source the most, such as acorns in September and October. Water may be everywhere and a moot point of surveying, but evaluate the possibilities. As for sanctuary, that also differs by ZIP code, but think remote, thick and undisturbed.  

“Most of my camera setups focus on food and cover,” Olis said. “Every day deer will focus on food, and they will travel between it and their preferred bedding location. You will capture most deer in the area by utilizing this strategy. Deer also need to drink water every day. If water is really abundant on a property, it’s harder to pinpoint where to place a camera. However, if there is an old farm or cattle pond near cover, this can be a great place to set up a camera, especially in the hot months.”  

After covering the basic elements with a camera crew, there is nothing wrong with stretching those boundaries. Think out-of-the-way and nonconforming to locate a free spirit buck. Olis routinely scouts for old homesteads and any remote area suddenly littered with rubs and scrapes. He also has started ascending to scout hidden benches and ridges more with great success.

“For years I’ve ignored a steep ridge side in a hunting location I frequent, and focused on the hardwood bottom instead,” he recalled. “Most of the deer activity in the bottom was after daylight. So, this past fall I loaded a backpack with cell cameras and picked my way up the thick, rocky face of the mountainside. About a third of the way up, I found a brushy bench with deer trails, scrapes and rubs. I placed four cameras along the trails in different locations and ended up finding a honey-hole where daylight buck movement was far more frequent. I plan to hang a stand on this bench this summer to hunt this fall.”

For Your Eyes Only

On public land you must consider that other deer hunters will have a game plan similar to yours. This means others will be visiting the same locations as you. Also consider that one-third of the American population has a criminal record. In brief, secure your investments in environments of public domain. Locking cables rank high for many as the go-to alternative, but bear-proof boxes and locking mounts also provide you with security when the odds increase of human traffic past your trail camera. Be sure to have your name and contact info on the camera somewhere just in case the thief is caught with the goods.

Beyond the obvious of locks and cables, you can camouflage your camera via off-trail positions, height and vegetative cloaking. This serves two purposes. First, it does hide the camera from others using the property and possible trespassers. After a friend of mine shared with me a nude swimmer caught on a creek-crossing camera, nothing surprises me regarding trespass potential. Second, it hides the camera from wildlife and especially savvy bucks that prefer not to be shared on Instagram. 

Believe it or not, some bucks dodge trail cameras. It may be their nonconformist lifestyle based on maturity, or maybe they really do have a sixth sense to detect electronic fields. Regardless, a little camouflage can go a long way to hide a camera from humans or wildlife.

“On public land I often carry a couple of ladder steps for hang-on stands to get 8 to 10 feet up a tree trunk,” Olis said. “This way my camera is up higher and out of sight of others who might want to mess with it. When doing this, I use an adjustable mount instead of just the camera strap. With the adjustable mount I can aim the camera down to get a good field of view.”

Scents such as those dispensed by a Wildlife Research Center Magnum Dripper, can lure whitetails to a trail camera area. Waterholes (below) are also excellent spots for trail cams.
Scents such as those dispensed by a Wildlife Research Center Magnum Dripper, can lure whitetails to a trail camera area. Waterholes (below) are also excellent spots for trail cams.

Say “Cheese” With Some Cheese?

To help increase the odds of buck photo capture, two methods, bait and scent, hold the highest levels of attraction. This increases with breeding season and cooler temperatures. Bait may not be an option, but mineral supplements could be, and if not, keep the scent rolling with products such as Wildlife Research Center’s Magnum Dripper, filled with Estrus Gold scent. 

“Bait is a great way to get an inventory of the deer in your area, even if you can only do it preseason,” Olis said. “You’ll be able to catalog many of the bucks in the area so that you know if an area is worth spending much time in or not. Another great technique is creating a mock scrape to get images of local deer. If using bait, feeders or mock scrapes, the sweet spot for the best images is about 10 yards from the scrape or bait pile. This will give you enough room on each side of the focal point to capture the animals, but they are close enough to see exactly what kind of head gear they are sporting.”

In my opinion, trail cameras are the greatest innovation for bowhunters since the innovation of the compound bow. As the cams get better — and more hunters hang them in the forest — it pays to change up your strategy to get the most from this diligent, digital partner.

Mark Olis understands that the smart use of cellular trail cams reduces human intrusion into a deer’s world.
Mark Olis understands that the smart use of cellular trail cams reduces human intrusion into a deer’s world.

Sidebar: Pair Your Camera With Your Hunting App

One of the first trail cam challenges you will face is the constant inventory and cataloging of images these image monsters produce. In fact, at one of the hunting camps I attend, the constant dinging of incoming trail cam pics on my friend’s smartphone after dark is irritating. After legal hunting time is over, food plot visitations peak and cameras begin working overtime sending images. Here are two solutions.

First, consider teaming with the trail camera company itself. For instance, Moultrie Mobile provides an app platform to help you with the clogging potential of successful camera positioning. New technology identifies the animals in the pictures, so you don’t have to swipe through a herd of marauding raccoons at your feeder. It separates images in categories such as bucks, turkeys, vehicles, people and additional categories. The app also aids in planning your hunts with the use of time, temperature and moon phases. Chart the activity level based on these conditions to fine tune your next hunt. Maintenance of the camera is also accentuated with setting control., battery level checks and more. Contact: 

Second, HuntStand, a leader in hunting and land management app expertise, provides you with trail camera organization and optimization tools included with the HuntStand Pro subscription. Using your Hunt Area map, mark your trail camera locations and then add tagged photos to the location with options to include time, weather and atmospheric data into the saved image. Like Moultrie Mobile, HuntStand innovation includes tagged animal recognition to save you hours of squirrel editing. Images are easily imported and a “heat map” showcases trail camera activity by location along with future predictions at that site. Images automatically synchronize with weather and solunar data as well and the feature includes 40 GB of free storage. Contact:


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