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Tricks of the Trail

Tactics & Techniques for Enjoying Wildlife Photography Using Trail Camera Technology

Full disclosure: When it comes to technology, I am the textbook definition of “absolute moron”. A sad fact to which I am certain my family will quite readily attest.

My wife: “Hun, why did you just buy fifty-seven automatic drip coffee makers on Amazon?”

Me: “What?! Nope! I didn’t! I only bought one.”

Wife: “Uh, well Dear, I just got a notification on my cell phone. Fifty-seven Amazon purchase transactions just got charged to our credit card. Did you by any chance click on “confirm purchase” more than once?”

Me: “Umm…Well, I might have done that. I just wanted to make sure my transaction went through.”

Wife: “You do realize that every time you do that, you’ve made another purchase…”

Me: “Oh. Well, I guess now we’re all set for Christmas.”

(Note: If any folks out there happen to get an automatic drip coffee maker from me this year as a gift, just act surprised. Merry Christmas!)

Speaking of multiple purchases…Twins!

Unintentional automatic drip coffee maker purchases notwithstanding, under the expert guidance & supervision of my son RJ, over the past few years trail cameras have become a key component of our family’s game observation, predator alert, general property surveillance, and overall wildlife enjoyment arsenal.

Bobcat Alert!

Properly Integrating trail camera technology into one’s fieldcraft is an investment. It involves a commitment of time, money, planning, regular monitoring and maintenance.

Over the past several years RJ & I have field tested a variety of trail camera styles & types, including:




Wildgame Innovations:

Each brand has its own unique characteristics, capabilities, range, picture quality, durability and varying level of success.

Currently however, we have settled primarily on two brands that we like.

Reveal’s Tactacam

Along with Stealth Cam’s Digital Scouting Camera

Reveal Tactacam’s cellular trail cameras have far and away become the main weapon in our trail camera arsenal.

Though they are a bit pricier than some others, with day/night capability and a range of over ninety-six feet, they give us a lightweight, durable, easy to install, real time digital image display of wildlife activity on our land.

Though it’s beyond my previously discussed woeful old dog tech capabilities, my son RJ was able to set up an on-line account that allows our array of Reveal Tactacams to transmit wildlife photos not only to my computer, but to his, my wife’s and my mother’s cell phones. For a monthly plan fee, this capability allows the entire family to enjoy watching nature’s activity on our land as it unfolds in near real time.

Whatever the brand, deploying a trail camera is not as easy as just picking a tree and mounting a camera. To enhance the likelihood of success, some scouting and planning is required. Here are a few tactics and tricks:

First, thoroughly scout the area before installing any trail cameras.

Pinpoint well-travelled game trails.

Once located, don’t mount cameras directly in or on the trail. This will spook wildlife. Instead, find a nearby tree or stump overlooking the trail. If a good mounting tree option isn’t available, many trail cameras can be quickly installed on a separately purchased manufacturer’s post. If not, a cedar post will do. Simply install one yourself.

Metal post mounted Reveal Tactacam
Cedar post mounted Reveal Tactacam

Once installed, be sure to clear all overhanging brush, weeds and grass away from the immediate area in front of the camera. Otherwise, all you’ll end up with is ten thousand awesome photographs of buttercups, leafy branches and dandelions.

Further, consider what types of wildlife you are interested in when installing trail cameras. Set them up too high, and you’ll miss out on a lot of cool photo opportunities.

I am frequently photographed by one of our newly installed trail cameras, walking around on all fours imitating a deer, or squatted down waddling around pretending I’m a turkey while RJ checks the video feed to ensure our trail camera’s set-up is at the right height, properly aimed and oriented.

Ruffed Grouse
Full strut

RJ & I set them up a bit higher when scouting for fall deer season.

Two Bucks Sparring

Then we set them down low in the spring when we are more interested in watching ducks, predators & spring turkeys.

Fisher Cat

Though not real-time, RJ & I have also found that integrating Stealth Cam Digital Scouting Camera’s high-quality digital static photo imagery into our Tactacam array helps complete the picture and allows us to some unique snapshots of what mother nature is up to when we humans are not out there watching.

Every Frog’s Worst Nightmare

One tactic we like to use with our Stealth Cams is to mount one down low on a tree next to one of our ponds, just above water level. This allows us to capture some unique images of waterfowl activity.

Especially during spring breeding season, when ducks & geese seek out smaller bodies of water like our ponds to build nests and hatch chicks.

Having a Stealth Cam mounted down low on the water also allows us to capture great imagery of several very easily spooked and hard to photograph species.

Such as hooded mergansers.

& Wood Ducks

Hoodies & woodies are two of my favorites. I’ve tried many times to snap pictures of them with my hand-held camera, but they are so spooky that by the time I get the lens cap off and camera focused, they have spooked and are gone.

Here’s another technique RJ & I use to get some great predator pics.

After harvesting a turkey or deer, we like to put parts of the carcass or entrails in front of a trail camera. It’s sometimes surprising who shows up for a free meal.

It’s also a great way to ensure that no part of any game harvest goes to waste.

*Note: Most trail cameras also come with panoramic viewing or video options. RJ & I have experimented with both on a variety of models. While they do provide some great live action imagery, we have found that using this option also chews up trail camera batteries very quickly.

I made my best tech deprived old dog attempt to share a cool trail cam video example here, but every time that I that did, I just ended up with another automatic drip coffee maker.

Wood Ducks Breeding
(It’s Way Cooler On Video)

Trail Cameras can also serve as an important tool for identifying and apprehending unwelcome human trespassers.

Caught Red Handed!

Nosing around my primary spring turkey hunting blind.

A word of caution though. Trail cameras are expensive. Trespassers are famous for stealing the SD cards, damaging the camera, or absconding with it altogether.

One technique I have been known to use to combat this is to place an old non-functioning trail camera conspicuously as a decoy, then camouflaging a working camera monitoring the decoy.

In summary, regardless of any individual motivation or agenda, properly placed trail cameras can be a great way to enjoy wildlife in ways that might otherwise have quietly escaped our eyes completely unnoticed.

All I know is, I’m far less likely to end up with fifty-seven automatic drip coffee makers if I focus my personal photography efforts on capturing wildlife critters far slower than I am, like fungi and mushrooms.

(Bull Rush Bay camp photo courtesy of Mike O. aka “Mushroom Mike”)


Until Our Trail Cams Cross Again: