Tips for Game Camera Success

Illustration by Adelaide Tyrol

My town had the job of removing a dead beaver from a culvert pipe cage, a rather sad and odorous affair, but also an opportunity. I alerted the usual suspects – there’s nothing like a rotting carcass to bring camera trappers together – and we moved the body into the woods and set up a few cameras.

We placed the body in mature forest near the wetland. We figured that just about any of our meso-carnivores might appear: coyote, fox, fisher, and bobcat were all possibilities. We didn’t get the bobcat, but we did get the others, and the fisher photos were especially nice.

Although baiting for wildlife is not generally recommended – you need to be aware of state regulations before you move dead animals – a carcass often provides a great opportunity for game cameras. This is especially true in winter, when the body may become frozen to the ground or covered with crusty snow. It will still be detectable by wild noses, but difficult to drag away. And, of course, the larger the carcass the better, because it will last longer.

If you don’t have a bait opportunity, focus on habitat. To get more color photos, I recommend that you mount the camera in remote areas, where shy species are more likely to move around during the day. Look for areas of naturally high animal activity. Habitat features which funnel animal travel have excellent potential. The narrowest point between two bodies of water, and logs over water, are both attractive crossing areas. Stone walls cutting through a tangled forest floor and rock outcrops within dense forest also offer easy travel. Cameras carefully mounted at any of these habitat features can be very productive.

One of our favorite camera locations is a large rock outcrop in dense forest, far from noisy humans. This particular outcrop is on a hill near rugged ledges and boulders with plenty of caves and crannies for denning. When we first viewed the site, we suspected these shelters would appeal to many species, and the outcrop would funnel travel to them. Animals with no interest in the boulders and ledge might use the outcrop just for easy passage through the dense forest, or to rest and scan the surrounds. Snow tracking confirmed a high level of travel, and the cameras captured some winners: deer, moose, and bobcat passed through. A gray fox paused to scope out the surrounds. Coyote pups cavorted under the protective watch of Mom. A porcupine ambled along. And a bear examined and repositioned the camera (but thankfully did not destroy it). What’s more, many of these images were daytime photos, and the stone and conifer backdrop nicely framed the animals.

Another excellent habitat element is a beaver dam. Squirrels cache nuts and mice live within the recesses. Coyotes, foxes, and bobcats cross the dam, sometimes hunting small mammals along the way. Otters slide over them. Even a foraging porcupine will cross a beaver dam to access favorite feeding trees. And, of course, beavers inspect and maintain the dam. Mount a camera at one end of the dam, and you’re likely to see some of this activity.

Beaver wetlands are wildlife hot spots in general, and the dam isn’t the only good option for camera placement. Coyotes, foxes, otters, and mink may scat, slide, roll, or perch atop beaver lodges. In fact, just about any area of high beaver activity seems to attract other species. Active scent mounds and haul outs are good bets. While vacationing in the Adirondacks, I once placed a camera at a well-used beaver haul out. Over just four days, I got photos of beaver, coyote, deer, and raccoon. Only the beaver was hauling out; the others were just nosing around.

So get yourself a trail camera, look for high activity habitat, and use your tracking skills to find that perfect spot. It might take a little experimentation, but you’ll learn a lot about wildlife, and with time you’ll get some great photos.

Janet Pesaturo is the writer and photographer at OurOneAcreFarm.com, where she blogs about nature, sustainability, and backyard farming from her home in Massachusetts.

 
Discussion
  1. Sophie Zyla → in Beacon Falls, CT
    Mar 05, 2015

    I did a series of species inventories at my local park and having a trail camera gave me proof of what I knew was around the wooded parcel. Some of the deer and raccoons seemed curious about the night flash which made for a few interesting images. One random camera placement also produced an image of a Bobcat using the area. It is also fun to see who wanders through the backyard to clean up the bird food that falls from the feeders.

    A fun toy!

  2. Janet Pesaturo → in Bolton
    Mar 06, 2015

    Sophie, getting a bobcat on random placement is pretty darn lucky! Yes, I too have found that deer and raccoon, as well as coyotes and blue jays, are quite curious about the camera. I have many out of focus closeups of these creatures.

  3. Sophie Zyla → in Beacon Falls, CT
    Mar 06, 2015

    I’m really looking for evidence of that rumored Fisher. But a Mountain Lion would do! :)

  4. David Dargie → in Andover, MA
    Mar 06, 2015

    I would suggest a wildlife camera to anyone that enjoys learning about their environment. The wildlife camera takes color during the daytime and with infrared, black and white in the dark, and most of the shots are in the dark.

    I use the two minute video selection and, that way, I am able to see the way that animals move without humans present, since all my previous views of animals were either them standing still looking at me or of their hindquarters running away from me.

    Except for bobcat and bear, I have excellent video of all the animals you mention and more. Just inside the forest on the sunny side of a two acre meadow and at one end of a beaver dam are where some of my best shots are framed. It’s amazing how busy our woods are at night!

  5. Bob Wood → in United States
    Mar 07, 2015

    Really enjoyed your article. I have five game cams in our woodlot of about 100 acres. Usually keep them on the ATV trails for easy access and not surprising, much of the wildlife use the trails in deference to having to go through brush.  I have some huge boulders on the property, so I am going to keep your suggestions in mind for game cam placements.

    I have a red fox and also get fishers visiting periodically. And of course, deer, coyotes, racoons and wild turkeys.  It is amazing what is going on in the woodland when I am not around.

    Have not checked cams in six weeks because of snow depth, and inability to access trails as ATV cannot get through snow this deep.  Hopefully some pleasant surprises when I finally make it up there. Have used a number of game cams, and have decided Moultrie is one of the more reliable ones.  Have a Bushnell which I like, but only a year old and got a new 150 degree,panoramic cam last fall. I like the pics, but too early to really assess.

    Bob Wood

  6. Janet Pesaturo → in Bolton, MA
    Mar 11, 2015

    Sophie - My experience is that fisher is hard to get without baiting. Confirm fisher presence by snow tracking, then look for fallen logs or at the base of snags where it looks like something has been digging or tearing away. It just might be a fisher digging for rodents!

    David - Agree, end of beaver dam is an excellent camera placement. I’ve been experimenting with videos lately, too. You’re right - videos give insight on behaviors you wouldn’t otherwise observe.

    Bob - Glad you enjoyed the article! You are so lucky to have a 100 acres of your very own. In that case, placement along a trail is an excellent idea, because some animals do use human trails, especially in winter where we humans have trampled down the snow. However, if it’s not your own property, placement along a trail can quickly result in theft. I didn’t get into camera brands in this article, but I use Moultries, too. I’ve had one out of 5 malfunction, but customer service quickly replaced it. Moultries are not top of the line, but good value for the money, in my opinion.

  7. Marc Thompson
    Jul 01, 2017

    This is awesome!  Thank you for sharing.  Do you have any of the photos of the visitors?

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