How game cameras can improve your predator hunting success

How game cameras can improve your predator hunting success

Game cameras are popular and effective tools used primarily by deer hunters, but savvy predator hunters can maximize their success by using them as your eyes in the field.

Browning Trail Camera Defender 850

I got into game cameras late in the game. For years I didn't use them, partly because I didn't want to spend the money and partly because I enjoyed letting things progress naturally. Each day was like a new chapter and not knowing what I might encounter was part of the anticipation.

About seven years ago, though, I put up a couple of cameras on some property I hunted. Deer were my main focus at the time and the cameras paid off. Images of whitetails visiting a mineral lick revealed does, fawns, yearlings, scrubby bucks and one trashy 12-pointer that made my toes tingle. He showed up twice in two years, both within the first two weeks of October, and never again. I don't know if he was cruising or smart, or both. But during those seasons he was always on my mind.

Even better, though, were the other animals I caught on my cameras. By the time I lost access to the land (it was sold), I had eight cameras on trees in key places. Some were travel routes. One was on the mineral lick. One was on an opening. Almost all yielded photos of animals: coyotes, foxes, bobcats, raccoons, opossums and one pesky armadillo that eluded me one afternoon by diving into a hole before I could perforate him with my .22 rifle.

My eyes were opened when I added game cameras to my hunting tool kit. The anticipation I once had for "whatever happens, happens" was heightened after using them. How? By being able to more effectively plan my hunting strategy: entry and exit routes, wind conditions, knowing the possibilities for sightings.

Game cameras can help your predator hunting, too.

Numerous options exist for game camera selections

If you're new to game cameras, it can be overwhelming trying to make a selection. Today's models offer everything from simple cameras with a an off-on button to more extensive selections with HD video and images, Bluetooth capabilities and cellular versions that send images to your phone 24/7.

I saw the latter in action back in 2015 on a whitetail bowhunt in Kansas. My host, John Vaca with Vista Outdoors, had some Bushnell Trophy Cam Wireless HD cameras set up in our stand locations. Vaca showed us images before we departed, at lunch before returning to our afternoon sits, and in the evening at dinner. It was cool to see what was there.

I've used other models, too, including early models of the Stealth Cam G42 (they're supercharged now) and several Browning Trail Camera Recon and Spec Ops models. Primos offers some models with value prices. Spartan and Moultrie offer wireless models, as does Browning with its Defender 850 with Bluetooth and wireless.

Budget considerations must be considered just as with any hunting gear. If you're just starting to use cameras, I'd suggest going with a value model at first to get your bearings and figure out if it's something you want to continue using. Knocking out a few hundred bucks for a wireless model and then deciding you don't like it wouldn't be cool.

Better yet, if you have deer hunting pals with cameras ask them to show you the ropes and maybe borrow a couple of cameras to try. Then if you're on board, you could buy your own. Or maybe they're good enough friends to let you use them for several months before they get ready for deer season.

Tips on using your game camera most effectively

Through trial and error, and I'm still learning, a couple of mistakes to avoid with your cameras:

— Know where the sun rises and sets, and don't point your cameras directly into either. You'll likely get a lot of wasted images if the sun shines directly into the camera.

— Once you secure the camera on the tree or post, clear tree limbs and vegetation from in front of it. Wind can move these and trip the camera sensor. Then you'll get a bunch of wasted images. Pruning snips or a hand saw are good to create an opening.

— Fresh batteries make a difference. Once my camera battery sensors show 50 percent, I put in new ones. That may not be necessary but it's just how I do it. If you want to use lithium batteries for longer life, double-check the camera's specs to make sure it can accept them.

— I've used SanDisk SD cards for years because that's what I used with my Canon cameras. They're good, strong and hold up well. I've also used SD cards from Dollar General, which are less expensive and work for what I need. Each time I download my images, I format the SD card to clear off any data so it will be fresh the next time I install it in the game camera.

— On property I now am hunting, I have one camera set about 6.5 feet off the ground on a tree and aimed down. The main photo (above, top) of the coyote trio is with this camera. I have two others on the property set about 4 feet off the ground. This will give me a different perspective on anything that walks in front of them.

— Be sure to read the instruction manual and set the date, time and other options. Date and time are critical so you can get accurate data for your planning.

Predators aren't bothered by game cameras

With this new property I'm hunting, my hit list now includes a trio of coyotes that I've been watching for months. I'm still learning about the area so I wanted to use my cameras to gain some insight on what's there, their routines and how to form a hunting strategy.

These three coyotes have been hanging around for months. I've found signs of their roaming elsewhere, so they're on my to-do list. The land is pretty wide open so I think setting up with a decoy and a good hide will yield positive results.

These three coyotes have been hanging around together for at least several months.

Surprise! A creek flowing through the property apparently is home to this slinky, cool river otter. He'll get a pass because I think he's cool.

Of course, with the creek and hardwoods that means raccoons will likely be around. I have images of a few of them. This one looks like it hasn't missed any meals.

This bobcat definitely was a surprise. In the few months I've had my cameras up, this is the first image of it. Between the coyotes and this bobcat, I'd have to think they're doing a number on the whitetail fawns each summer.

Here's another image of one of the coyotes. One of the best things about game cameras is if you've set the date and time you can get great data on when predators are cruising through an area. Keeping track of this intel, just as deer hunters do with whitetail sightings, definitely can help you piece together the puzzle for better predator hunting.


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