Checking trail cameras with a sense of strategy.
By: Reese Johnson
Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this question. In many cases, the answer I will get from folks is “often as I can”. This really could be one of the detrimental things you can do for your hunting.
Let’s rewind about twenty years ago when there were no trail cameras, just simply visual scouting and dumb luck. Today, I couldn’t imagine stepping foot on my farm in November without having a particular buck holding my fascination. While there’s always a chance that a roaming giant may come from miles away, my chess match is usually with one or two certain animals. This comes from hours of hunting, scouting, shed hunting and running cameras for 9 months a year after that buck. The hunt has evolved into this sort of game where people often given their “hitlist” buck names. While this is what I live for, you can also overplay this game. By that, I mean our fascination with a certain buck may be our demise.
We all know checking cameras is like opening presents on Christmas morning every single time. You just never know what you might find on that camera and some pictures I have gathered over the years I would certainly call “epic”. While I run over 20 and it’s one of my favorite hobbies I often wonder how much is too much? Grandpa didn’t need these devices back when to be successful in the woods and while I know things are different now, how much do they actually hurt us?
Their presence in the woods was much less than what we do today simply because we’ve got to go check cameras.
Trust me, I’m guilty as anyone about it. However, there is a right and wrong time to check cameras and it really deals with the time of year and how often a person is in the area. In my subdivision where I keep some cameras just out of the backyard and put a little corn every now and then which is much different than the 300 acre lease we hunt in the middle of nowhere. The subdivision deer are used to the smells and disturbance along with the ease of access allows me to check those cameras much more often without disturbing the deer. If you’re on the back 40 where you only go once in a while to hunt, checking the camera on the scrape past your stand may be a mistake. If you know you’re going to be hunting there all weekend, it might be best to wait until the last hunt of the weekend before going over to the scrape and leaving your scent.
Making a plan to check cameras is like having a plan for entry/exit when it comes to hunting your stands. Checking during peak activity times like early morning and late evenings can be a mistake as well as you will likely be pushing deer out of the areas as you are going in to check on them. That is the beauty of cellular cameras these days as your presence never has to actually be felt while you’re still collecting that information. While they are pricey, they are certainly a great tool for the future that will only get better. In my mind, the ideal time frame between checking cameras is 2-4 weeks and at midday. This may be difficult to manage with a busy work schedule and trying to hunt too, but seems to be enough time to keep your disturbance at a minimum. It is also a good reason to make sure your cameras are reliable while you are holding out from checking cameras for extended time frames. There’s nothing more frustrating than waiting a month to check a camera that didn’t take any pictures.
It really comes down to the area you are running cameras, your schedule and goals as far as frequency to check your cameras. Some areas definitely deserve to be treated differently than others and putting together a plan based on your visits/hunting trips can simplify your actions and may alter your camera locations. This discussion has many levels and points that could justify your actions in many different situations as well. It’s personal preference in the end.