Trail Camera Strategies in the East vs. the West
Moving across the country has impacts on just about everything, including hunting and trail camera usage. In 2017, my boyfriend and I made the move from Kentucky to Idaho, which not only meant we were giving up our private Kentucky hunting property for public-land hunting, but that we’d have to figure out a whole new strategy for using trail cameras.
In Kentucky, public land is fairly limited and can be crowded, and getting permission to hunt private land can be tough. Because of that, we purchased a small 34 acre farm solely to use for hunting and groomed it to be a haven for deer and turkeys by planting food plots, creating what we called the “sanctuary” with thick brush, cedars and easy access to a secluded soybean food plot, right on the edge of a creek. We were in a good area that was known for nice deer, and our farm backed up to around 110 acres of county-owned land that was closed to the public. We had a good mix of fields and wooded areas, along with a large pond and creeks with year-round water.
Our camera set up was pretty typical for the mid-west, including placements at:
- Food plots
- Corn feeders or mineral blocks
- Creek crossings
- Travel corridors
At any one time, we might have had 6-8 cameras across the property making it easy to pattern how the deer and turkey traveled, where they were coming from and going, identify different bucks and see what parts of the property they frequented the most, determine timing at different blinds and stands. And because the deer were resident deer, it was easy to do this with good camera placement. We could observe features of the deer and see if they made it through season and returned afterwards, and watch them grow through the summer months and shed their antlers at the end of season. Our deer had names and we could chat with our neighbors and see what deer might also be coming onto their farms.
We lived only about a mile away, so we could check the cameras frequently—the deer were actually used to the 4-wheelers, and we didn’t have to worry much about trespassers stealing or messing with our cameras because we knew everyone in the area, and there were actually a decent amount of people and houses around.
Idaho is different.
Public land is the primary place to hunt. Everyone else is hunting public land so there is more foot traffic in the woods. No baiting is allowed so you can’t place a camera at a feeder or mineral block where you know you’d capture pictures. And animals migrate and move quite often, so something you see this week may be long gone by the next camera check. But since I love running trail cameras, I wanted to see what I could capture in the mountains, knowing it would be much more than deer, turkeys and raccoons.
Below are some of the strategies I used when placing my trail cameras this summer:
- Put your hiking boots on and find some spots. Riding the 4-wheeler may not be an option on all public lands, so you’ll likely have to hike in and put in some miles to find good spots. We use the OnX Hunt app to get a preview of the terrain, track our path to the cameras and place markers so we can find them again later. As we’re hiking, we also mark other spots that we find that might make good camera spots later.
- Get away from the road! Since public lands are used for a variety of activities, it’s best to hike in and look for places that other people aren’t likely to walk through so people don’t find (steal, vandalized, etc.) your camera. This doesn’t mean you have to hike miles and miles back into the mountains, but get away from main hiking, biking or 4-wheeler trails.
- Use a security box to help prevent not only theft by other people, but to also protect your camera from bears. (Definitely not something I ever had to deal with on my Kentucky farm!) On more than one occasion, we’ve had bears mess with our cameras and eventually pull it off the tree and break the bracket on the back. Luckily, it was just the bracket and I used Gorilla Glue to put it back on, and at least the bear didn’t carry it off. Elk and moose have also nosed around on our cameras, causing them to shift placement. They still do this with the security boxes, but the camera stays put better.
This was the last picture before the bear ripped the camera from the tree, after he had already moved it.
Use a Browning security box with Master Lock Python cable to protect your cameras.
- Find water holes or wallows and place cameras there. Animals need to drink, so you will eventually capture something, and in the heat of the summer it may be a hot spot for a variety of animals. We know of a pond about 3 miles back in the mountains where there are always animals, so we hiked in and put a Browning Recon Force Advantage camera on it. The pond is about 35 yards across—we put the camera on one side, and it captures images of animals all the way on the other side. Throughout this summer, we’ve had pictures of elk, bear and moose at this spot.
- Place cameras higher in trees so they aren’t as visible to people that may walk by and so that animals aren’t able to move them around. Plus, you might get some cool pictures from a different angle.
- Always carry extra batteries and SD cards when checking cameras. Our cameras are mostly placed about an hour and a half away from where we live, and a couple of them are a few mile hike to get to, so we can’t check them weekly (or more often) like we could in Kentucky. So, I use my ALPS Outdoorz Motive trail camera pack to carry my trail camera supplies so I always have extra SD cards in case one has messed up, and extra batteries in case they are low. I usually have an extra camera or two, just in case.
- Another consideration is the weather and making sure you can access your cameras. In Kentucky, we kept them out year-round because our farm was accessible in all seasons. Where we have cameras in Idaho, that’s not really the case unless you have a snowmobile. You also have to consider that many animals migrate to lower elevations when the snow comes. Finding lower elevation spots with food and water or migration routes will be helpful for camera placement during winter. Or change it up completely and try something different: After harvesting a cow elk during the late season in 2017, we placed the carcass on a hilltop and ended up with pictures of several bald eagles.
Despite your location, trail camera strategies are very similar and just need a few adjustments to optimize your placement. Look for food and water sources, travel routes and bedding areas, and you’ll find a spot to set up and get great pictures.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View and Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras. Follow her on Instagram @waddysarah and @arrowridgecreations.