How Many Trail Cameras Do You Actually Need?

How many cameras do you actually need? So many answers to what may seem like a simple question. The answers may never end if you ask how many cameras you need to get great photos compared to how many might be needed to bring home the bacon. 

Since there isn't a simple answer, you may need to clarify why you're hanging the camera. How do you want your trail cameras to work for you? Is the goal to find a mature buck? Are you looking for a spot close to home where you can arrow a doe? Will you be hunting from a ground blind or a tree? Is this a spot that kids will be hunting?

When you've decided how to use your cameras, you must know a few things about the deer you're hunting. Let's dig into the dirt on how many trail cameras you'll need to get intel you can use. 

Locate a Deer's Range

Before you can nail down how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie-pop, you first need to know the place a deer calls home. I'm talking about a deer's home range, the entire area where a deer lives. Then, further breaking the range into a core area, a smaller area where a deer will spend most of its time.

What is a home range? 

A hunter can define a deer's home range by a few things: sex of the deer, time of year, safety, and character. For a buck, the time of year plays a strong role in where you might find him. Most of the time, a buck can be found using about an area the size of a square mile. But you can expect their range to be 3 to 5 times that size during the rut. 

As for does, their home range has about a 350-acre average. An increase in their home range seen during the rut is mostly due to chasing activity. Yearling does that break away from a family group may have a larger home range. But once a doe or doe group is founded, they will likely spend their whole life in that smaller area.

What is a Core Area

A deer's core area is a small part of its home range. Like a home range, a core range may also vary in size, averaging between 25 and 100 acres. Research that I will list at the end of this article finds deer inside a core area about 75% of the time. That's why most big buck killers harp on being closer to the center of the core. If a hunter can get close, they will be more likely to have an encounter during daylight hours.

Narrow Down a Core Area with a Camera

Finding a core area isn't as easy as catching deer on camera in light hours alone. That's only part of what you need, and some daylight photos aren't that helpful. 

It's common to get summer pictures of bucks during the day. Summer feeding cycles are much different than those leading to the fall. It should not surprise you to find mature bucks eating in a patch of berries at 2 pm in July. But pictures in July might not matter as much as a picture closer to the season.

To find a core area you can hunt, first compile all daylight pictures from the middle of September through the rest of the season. Next, comb through grey light pictures. Many of those grey trail cam photos could be an entire hour before dark. Make sure you match the time to the end of shooting light for that time of year. Grey light pictures indicate how close you might be to the edge of a core area. 

When you've found the assumed edges, you can make a plan for access and a setup. Don't worry; if you get it wrong and aren't close enough for a shooting light shot, you can get closer on the next hunt. A solid plan for access in and out will make it possible to hunt a spot more than once if needed. On the next hunt, you'll be able to get a little closer.

What is a Pattern?

In the bass fishing world, a bite that happens to the same lure twice could be luck. But three times is a pattern. Once you get the lure right and match it to the structure, there's a good chance you'll have a fishing frenzy. 

A pattern is something a deer repeats daily, so the same rule of three can be true for deer. But how can you begin to build the pattern? Cameras might miss a deer that passes in front of them. Instead, it would help if you were looking for a deer to show face in your web of cameras. 

Find the food they are eating and the cover they are using. Don't be afraid to call repeated intel a pattern even early on. Three images could mean the beginning of the hot streak, and if you hunt public land, it's better to predict as early as possible. Pictures obtained over one week could mean a pattern if your cameras a spread far apart. But the closer the days, the stronger the pattern.

Initially, you're going to mess up often when predicting patterns. But hunting timidly won't give you the results you want. The early bird gets the worm. If you get on a hot streak pattern 2 out of 10 times before anyone else, you're affording yourself the best opportunity at the biggest buck in the woods.

How Many Cameras Per Acre

Some hunters say to hang one camera for every 10 acres. While every area is unique, there is a good way to get the right number. Learn the spot by hanging five on a 100-acre site. Place two on major food sources, one on a community scrape, one on a reliable water source, and one on a travel route leading to the food.

With the above layout, you will collect enough intel to plan how many cameras you need for each area the following year. Base your answer on how many spots you need to hunt a few varied wind directions. The next year, create a net of cameras. The center should be as close to bedding as possible, without being over the actual bed, and this should be a cell cam. Place the rest of the cameras on features like scrapes, creek crossings, hard ridges, and hard thicket edges. 

Of course, using 20 or more cameras will get you more detailed data. But it's similar to the difference between a CAT scan and an MRI. CT scans are good for obtaining the info you need fast. Often, medical conditions can be diagnosed with a CT. But when the answer is vague and more detail is needed, an MRI will give you the nitty-gritty details. 

What does medicine have to do with big bucks? Not much, but if you have a buck living in a small area, and he knows how to hide in it, you'll need to get more details to be successful. 

Get More Coverage

Overlapping camera ranges can give you an edge. Setting your camera in a chain link shape will help you cover more ground. This method is good to use on long ridges or mountains. You can cover a vast area and get a lot of info by hanging a high and low camera on the vertical plane. Then, add a camera to the east or west mid-way between your other cameras. This tactic will afford the least number of cameras while allowing you to pattern deer reliably.

For more Information

Check out these websites for the info on a deer's home range. 

Penn State University Deer Study

Realtree Outdoors

The National Deer Association



Author: Aaron Hepler, Exodus Black Hat Team Member