By: Alex Comstock
For as helpful of a tool that trail cameras can be, they can sometimes cause you to impede upon an area too much, which can have negative effects on your hunting success. It comes back to the question of how often should you check your trail cameras? There’s no universal answer, as each situation is unique to hunters, but below I will go over a few different things that you should be thinking about when thinking about this topic.
Where Is Your Trail Camera Located?
The location of your trail camera is probably the number one variable to knowing how long you should wait to pull an SD card. If you’ve got a trail camera deep in the timber near one of your best treestands, then I’d recommend checking it only when you are hunting. I wouldn’t be going back again and again to check cards and wait until there’s a good buck to hunt, because at that point, there will be a greater chance of you bumping a buck out of the area. Every time you go to check the camera, you risk this, you’ll be leaving some traces of scent behind, and your impact will be greater and greater with each camera check.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a camera on a field edge and there’s normally some type of human activity going on in that area, you can get away with checking a camera often. In my hunting areas in North Dakota, I love to have a trail camera that I can drive right up to and check. Most of these spots I don’t actually hunt, but I use the trail camera as an indicator of what bucks are in the area and where they are coming from and headed to. If you can get into a spot like this and not impact the deer in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate to check a camera every week if need be.
What Are You Planning on Doing with The Information Provided?
When it comes to discussing how long you should be waiting to check a trail camera, a point that I feel is often missed is what are you planning on doing with the info collected from a card pull? For instance, if it’s early in the year, and you have a trail camera in an oak flat and want to know if there are any bucks that you want to hunt hitting acorns, you may not want to wait very long to check it. This time of year, bucks are shifting their patterns constantly, and if you wait three weeks to check a camera, and want to hunt based on that information, you will be way behind. In this situation, I’d slip in and check a camera after a week, and if there’s nothing promising, move on.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are many instances in which I would let a trail camera soak for an entire year or months at a time. A good example here is if you find a spot in the spring that you think could produce good rut hunting. But, maybe you’ve got plenty of other spots, so come October, you could throw a trail camera up in a travel area or over a mock scrape and let it sit until December. Then once you pull that camera, you should have a lot of data for the following fall. You may realize that it’s only a good spot for two weeks in November, or that it’s not worth hunting at all. Either way, you’ll be able to use that information for the next hunting season.
What Time of Year is It?
Before I wrap up this blog post, I think it’s important to quickly hit on the time of year when it comes to how often you should be checking your trail camera. During hunting season, I’m always checking trail cameras more than other times of the years. A lot of the times I’m pulling cards on the way into the stand or on the way out. There’s a lot of cases where I have cameras on field edges or easy to access areas, and I’ll check a few, and then make a game plan on where I want to hunt. Overall, when it’s hunting season, SD cards are coming out of and going into cameras much more often.
Other times of the year, I don’t check trail cameras nearly as often. After the season, I will move cameras to help me identify when bucks shed but won’t check them usually until the end of January/early February timeframe. And then as we move into spring/summer I normally won’t check cameras more than once a month. I simply don’t see an advantage to checking them more than once a month, especially during the summer. The information you collect from summer photos is usually just for inventory to see who’s in the area, and by going in again and again and checking cameras, you aren’t doing yourself any favors.
Just like any other hunting scenario, when it comes to checking trail cameras and knowing how often to check them, it’s very situational. There is no singular right answer. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish, what time of year it is, and what you’re hoping to accomplish with the information you get from those trail cameras. Answer those questions, and you should have a good idea of how long you should be waiting to check those trail cameras.