Do trail cameras spook deer? It's an age old debate with plenty of subjective opinions, little data, and no absolutes. However, with a common sense approach and some technical understandings there are enough conclusions to draw to find some answers around this topic.
So, let's dive into some of the trending topics, myths, and talking points around why deer notice trail cameras.
Generally speaking, we all know deer live by their sense of smell. If you're out hanging trail cameras and get a photo on that camera in a relative time frame of you being there, deer are going to notice. Whether or not they get spooked is more about the individual deer's personality. Over the past decade of running 100's of trail cameras we've come to prove this over and over again. From our experience, after 5-7 days all returns to normal and the negative influence of human intrusion goes away.
You can use that data point to your benefit, particularly if you're hanging cameras in season. If you plan to hang cameras in a particular area during the season stay ahead of the calendar by at least a week.
What about hanging your camera's in the rain? In theory, it's a great thought but the reality is this...It needs to be a true soaker to wash away your scent, otherwise the added moisture is only going to increase the deer's sense of smell.
The bottom line is deer are going to smell your intrusion, plan according.
This is where things start to get subjective. Do certain types of cameras alert deer more than others? Again, generally speaking, yes. With dichromatic vision there are different wavelengths of light deer tend to see more than others. In the professional research world there are claims that regardless of flash types, wavelengths of light between 850nm-940nm are seen the same by whitetails. Field research says otherwise.
Thus, the popularity of black flash trail cameras that utilize a 940nm wavelength in the flash unit. Deer cannot see that far into the UV spectrum. Case closed, any type of camera using a 940nm flash type has an immediate advantage of not being detected by whitetails or any other mammals for that matter.
Low glow trail cameras are starting to make a push in the cellular trail camera world due to the added ability to produce more light at night, having a direct impact on night time photo and video quality. With compressed images being sent via cellular network added light during night time operations makes a large impact on photo quality. Low Glow cameras are considered as a 850nm wavelength, while technically this is still outside the UV spectrum of whitetails it is nearing the detectable wavelength of whitetails and other mammals.
The subjective opinions come in when discussing all other flash types. With all deer having different personalities and different reactions to their environmental variables there is not an absolute answer here. Red and white flash cameras are visible to whitetails but whether or not deer care about it really does come down to the individual deer.
If you want to play it safe, utilize black flash or at a minimum low glow cameras if you're worried about deer being alerted by flash types. If you're using your trail cameras in areas where human detection is a concern, stick with black flash.
"My buck got spooked by the camera shutter!" We've all heard or read that before, right? No modern trail camera made by a US company has a shutter noise, let's be clear about that.
Often times, the "shutter" noise people refer to is the lifting or dropping of a IR filter on single lens trail cameras. The IR filter is responsible for capturing the correct wavelength of light to capture images and videos. With that said, the IR filter should only be in moving operation during low light hours or in other words once in the evening and once in the morning. Some devices are louder than others but in essence the only way to totally avoid this noise is to only use dual lens trail cameras.
In reality, trail cameras should not be placed in the face of deer to begin with IF you don't want deer to notice the camera. With proper placement, any noise produced by any IR filter should not be of concern or at least very low on the list of concerns.
4. CELL CAMS VS SD CARD CAMS
There's an ongoing "conspiracy" around cellular trail cameras spooking big bucks. We have an in-depth video and blog on this topic that debunks this thought. However, it is true that all electronic devices put off EMF, folks have a lot of words interchangeable with that acronym - electromagnetic frequencies, electric and magnetic fields, etc. The bottom line is electronics or for that matter all living things emit some type of energy. The question is do deer notice it, feel it, and does it spook them?
Let's start with RF. RF is present anywhere in the world where any cellular signal is available, anywhere in the world where FM radio is available, anywhere in the world where AM radio is available, and basically anywhere in the world where this is any type of wireless communication not just cellular devices. Think about that for one minute and try to imagine places where RF does not exist? There's not many. Now, think about where deer would move if RF really did spook deer...they would all be in locations where RF was non apparent. That's obviously not the case. There's a bit more to this topic so if you're interested please check out the resources previously provided.
Now, on to EMF. Again, all living things put off some type of energy, with electronics the emit energy is referred to as EMF. While there are ways to measure EMF, there is no way of measuring the impact on whitetails. Furthermore, if EMF did spook deer again, you'd never see a whitetail around anything electronic. You wouldn't see them around remote sub stations in the middle of agricultural fields, you wouldn't see deer around radio and cellular towers, and everytime you carried your cell phone or camera in the woods every deer you saw would be jumping out of it's skin.
Whitetails are one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet, thus their ability to thrive in all different types of environments. Growing accustomed to EMF is no different than deer growing accustomed to human pressure, vehicle noises, or any consistent environmental input in their home. Every deer has a personnality of it's own and reacts to external inputs differently but generally speaking EMF does not spook deer. If they did every hunter alive would be wearing hex suits or some type of feradyne cage to successfully harvest a whitetail.
5. IN PLAIN SIGHT
Deer notice cameras, avoid cameras, or get spooked by cameras from visually seeing them. It's really that simple. While each of the talking points above do contribute to them being noticeable, any foreign object that is out of place in a whitetails home is going to be noticed. So how do we avoid this?
Taking the proper steps to spook proof your trail cameras eliminates most of these variables and the great thing is you have control over each of these items.
- Hang your cameras out of the line of sight of whitetails. 7-9 feet above ground level is the height we found to work the best. Getting cameras higher than this limits it's detection circuit. More info on this topic here.
- Look for trees that are larger in diameter than the width of the camera. Any tree with split trunks also provide an advantage of eliminating any side profiling. The goal here is to eliminate the silhouette or outline of the camera in all ways possible.
- Ditch the strap and use a mount or paracord to hang your trail cameras. Straps are visible 360° to both animals and humans, additionally the hold scent if you're worried about that point.
- Place your camera off in the distance so it's not in the face of deer. We see so many people make this mistakes on scrapes, feeders, and other static trail camera sets. Give a buffer zone of 20-25 ft. This not only decreases the possibility of deer noticing the camera but also gives you a wider horizontal detection distance when comparing cameras setup at closer distances.
When push comes to shove, whether we're talking about hunting whitetails, hanging cameras, or any facet of life; if you can control the variables work to eliminate them. When it comes to deer noticing your camera you have the ability to eliminate it if you take the time to hang the set correctly.
Author: Chad Sylvester