How to Use Trail Cameras

by Shawn M. Tomlinson

Trail or scout cameras are designed to help hunters track wild animals. They also can be used to track animals for other purposes, such as scientific research. You also can use them as a low-cost home security alternative. Trail cameras essentially are made to be strapped to a tree or other structure, set and let go for days or weeks before the data are collected. Here's how to use them.

Purchase the kind of trail camera you need. If still images are fine, don't go for the expense of a camera that shoots video. If you need video, however, get a higher-end trail camera that will record relatively good quality video images and have long battery life. Some trail cameras can be hooked up to 12-volt external batteries to keep them going longer.

Select a good game trail for your camera's position. A game trail usually will lead to water in a pond or stream. Animals will trample the ground in a particular way different from the surrounding area on a game trail.

Attach the camera to a tree facing at about a 45-degree angle to the trail. These types of cameras sometimes have a hard time "seeing" motion---which sets off the exposure---directly in front of them. They can detect it better when given more time to view the animals coming.

Set the camera according to your needs. If you plan to check it daily, for example, you can use higher-quality settings because you won't need that much time on the memory card or in the built-in memory. If you are going to be away from the camera for days or weeks, set it for lower quality.

Set the camera to its motion sensor mode if you want it only to turn on when animals are moving. You also can set some cameras for intervals from a minute to an hour so it takes images only then. This will prevent too many images being collected if you are leaving it for some time.

Collect your data regularly. Some cameras have screens on them to view the images with their time-stamp codes. For others, you can pop out the memory card and put it in a card reader or hook the camera directly to a laptop via USB. Viewing the images with the time codes will tell you when the most animals generally are coming down the game trail.

Items you will need

About the Author

Shawn M. Tomlinson has been a newspaper and magazine writer for more than 28 years. He has written for a variety of publications, from "MacWEEK" and "Macintosh-Aided Design" to "Boys' Life," "Antique Week" and numerous websites. He attended several colleges, majoring in English, writing and theater, and has taught college classes about writing.