Starting a Trail Camera Survey

By GrowingDeer,

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Brad and I are moving some of our trail cameras from food plots where we’ve been using the time-lapse feature on the Reconyx units to monitor the entire plot.  We are moving units because today is the first official day of our annual pre-season trail camera survey.  The first step is twofold, determining the number of cameras needed and site selection.

A good trail camera survey site has several characteristics that include:

  1. Being easy to access.
    1. I realize that if the location is within a few steps of a road or trail, it’s probably an area that deer use primarily at night.  However, the mission is to survey the herd and learn the age and size of bucks available for harvest.  The mission of a camera survey is not to pattern bucks as most will shift their habitat usage pattern between now and hunting season.
  2. No obstruction between the camera and deer and a solid background behind the deer.
    1. Think of an image of a buck’s rack as his fingerprint.  A good image provides the ability to make a positive identification of that buck.  Limbs and other items that can block or be confused with part of the antlers limit the ability to make a positive identification of the buck.  The same is true for the background.  If there are numerous objects that are about the same size as a buck’s antler tines, it can be very difficult to differentiate a limb from a tine.  I like a wide open area that is backed by a dense stand of cedars or some vegetation that rarely looks like antler tines in the dark (when most of the images will be captured).
  3. Where deer travel naturally.
    1. I attempt to create a trail camera station per 100 acres, pending on the habitat type.  In better habitat, it may require fewer acres per camera to achieve the desired level of accuracy.  The opposite is true in poor quality habitat as deer need to move more to access the required resources (food, cover, and water).  Either way, within each grid I attempt to locate the camera station in an area where deer frequently use.  This will yield more success than simply placing the camera station in the center of the grid.

The work today, setting up the trail camera survey, is the easy work.  Identifying all the bucks, and counting all the does and fawns in each of the literally 10’s of 1,000’s of images is the hard work. When that’s completed, the calculations only take a few minutes.  The information gained will allow me to hunt and manage the herd significantly better.  Camera surveys are simple, fun, and a fabulous tool for hunters and deer managers!

Growing Deer together,