Photographers have been trying to capture wildlife in its natural habitat since the 1800s. The cameras photographers used then were cumbersome and activated by trip wires. Significant improvements in the late 1970s into the 1980s led to the game cameras we use today. Technological advancements since then have led us from using film to digital and now we even have Wi-Fi compatible cameras that send pictures to our cell phones.
Hunters use game cameras to determine the quality of game using an area, size and to pattern of game animals, on particular pieces of land. Game cameras lead to a more successful hunting season. If you use trail cams, you know what I’m talking about.
Trail monitors have such a wide variety of features, with pro and cons to each different feature. Depending on the intended purpose, some features, such as a time-lapse mode, which takes pictures periodically without having to trigger the camera’s sensor, might not be necessary.
All scouting cameras have a sensor that activates when movement or game is present within the camera’s view. The camera then takes a still picture, series of still pictures or video to record and capture the triggered event.
The main features you should look for when shopping for game cameras are the megapixels—the higher the megapixels, the better the picture—quick trigger time, speed the camera takes pictures and PIR or passive infrared. A faster trigger time means you get a better record of what set the camera off. The PIR sensor is the range in which the sensor is activated. For example, a camera with an incredibly small PIR angle means the deer or other target must be in the direct center of the camera’s lens. The wider the PIR angle, the more chance you get of catching whatever triggered the camera.
You will also need to decide if you want an infrared or incandescent camera. Infrared will not emit a visible flash that can spook game at night. Incandescent cameras will flash like a conventional camera, giving away the camera’s location and possibly scaring wildlife away, however you get a clearer picture and color nighttime photos. Infrared cameras are unable to take color pictures at night. It sounds like a tough trade off, but depending on what you want to use your camera for, color nighttime photos take priority over no flash.
Trail cams can serve multiple purposes and can be a cheaper alternative to surveillance on not just your hunting land, but your home, as well. The four best alternative uses for game cameras are security, nanny cam, hobby photography and observation/education.
Many home security systems work much like game monitors—by motion activation. With a few strategically placed game cameras in your house, you can save money by not paying a home security company’s monthly fees. The most important features of a game camera for security uses for your home are clarity and detail in the pictures and how well the camera goes undetected to burglars. Trail monitors generally work on memory cards. If a burglar is aware the camera is there, all they have to do is take it down and remove the memory card. Therefore, you do not want any type of flash that is detectable and one that is smaller and easier to disguise.
The Cuddeback Attack looks somewhat like a tree trunk and has no visible nighttime flash. It has an internal memory as well as SD-card back up, time-lapse mode, centered subject technology and a quick trigger speed. Hang one high in a tree in the front and backyard facing down towards windows and doors. For larger yards, the Moultrie Panoramic 150 has three motion sensors and a quiet, rotating camera lenses that take images 150 degrees.
For inside the home, I would invest in a compact, but incredibly high-quality camera that will take a clear image and video of the intruder. The Bushnell NatureView HD has two close-up focus lenses, so you can see details better and black LED night vision so no flash alerts anyone of the camera’s presence.
Though you won’t have the immediate response from a paid security company, you still get videos and pictures of the people who robbed your home.
All three scouting cameras have the date and time stamp on each image.
I’m not advocating violating anyone’s privacy, you don’t want to use a trail camera to snoop, but if you have someone you are suspicious of or just simply want to check on your kids, a trail cam with time lapse lets you randomly and periodically see what the maid or babysitter are up to while you are away.
Used as a nanny cam, it is not as necessary for a camera to have many security features—such as undetectable flash, however one with audio would be desirable to see how babysitters and nannies are responding to your children’s needs. The Primos Truth Cam Ultra 46 takes color pictures and videos, with recording audio during video mode. It has seven megapixels and an early detection sensor so you do not miss any action. It is compact and you may set it to record in time-lapse mode to take pictures at certain times without the need to activate the sensor.
A nanny cam does not necessarily require a ton of bells and whistles, so you can buy a budget trail cam, especially if the nanny or sitter knows they are being monitored. The Moultrie D-333 Game Spy has plenty of features, like 7 megapixels, time-lapse and motion detection, day and night video and it is password protected so no one can fiddle with it. In addition, it retails for less than $100.
Hobby and Amateur Photography
Professional wildlife photographers use thousands of dollars worth of equipment to get close-up, unconventional angles and distance pictures. For hobbyists and amateurs that do not have much money to spend, using a high-quality remote camera gives you shots you would not be able to get from a conventional digital camera, such as weird angles, high up, game that gets spooked and nighttime pictures.
The Wildgame Innovations Fuze game camera has some of the exact same features you would find on a handheld digital camera. It has a higher, 12-megapixel resolution than most game cameras, a color LCD picture viewer, exposure control, wide-angle lens and anti-blur.
Action cameras are another option. Action cameras work a little differently as many of them do not have motion sensors and are designed to be used on site and not remote. However, they are built for rugged outdoor use. The Wildgame Innovations AC5xC has a 4x zoom and will take high-speed pictures, while the Stealth Cam Epic Point of View still has motion sensors.
Observation and Education
Though not much different from what hunters use scouting cameras for, observation and education trail cameras have helped wildlife researchers for years. For your own land management, set a few game cameras throughout your property to monitor wildlife, view pests, varmints and predators, help with the kid’s science project, bird watching or finding Bigfoot.
For simple observation and curiosity, you don’t have to worry as much about spooking game or super clear pictures. A basic game camera with an incandescent flash without infrared is cheaper than “black” LEDs and other night-vision preserving technology. The Wildview EZ Cam is the most affordable trail monitor Cheaper Than Dirt! carries. It has a 30-foot flash range PIR sensor. Using a camera without night-vision preserving technology means your camera will take color day and night images. The only drawback is it cannot take nighttime video.
A step above, but still at an excellent price point for the additional features is the Stealth Cam Archer’s Choice. It has adjustable resolutions per your needs, infrared LEDs that will not spook critters at night, a longer nighttime range and burst and time-lapse modes.
For a do-all scouting camera that is DRONE-compatible— meaning, you can control your camera from your home computer—is the StealthCam Sniper Professional. It is the perfect choice for your security or nanny cam solution. A monthly data plan is required.
The Wildgame Innovations Pulse X10E is also Wi-Fi-compatible and can send pictures directly to your cell phone.
What have you used your scouting camera for? Share your ideas, and what you have found on your game cameras in the comments section.