Western Hunting: Scout 24/7 With Trail Cameras

Most Western states are broken down into Game Management Units or "GMU’s." These units are typically very vast, some of them hundreds of miles across. When one decides to hunt one of these huge areas, finding a starting point can be daunting task. For a successful hunt you need to do one of two things, get lucky or scout like a maniac. I myself have never been a "lucky" hunter, so that leaves me with only the latter option. With most of us having limited scouting time, how does one make the most of their efforts? One of my favorite ways to maximize time is by using trail cameras.

Careful, strategic placement is key to success.

Today’s market is swamped with an over abundance of trail cameras to choose from. Prices can run from $50 to more than $1,000, which in itself, can narrow down your choices. I have great success with cameras that are far from the "top end" category. Niney-five percent of all my camera applications are on public land, and for that reason I have settled on a model that runs right at $100 the Moultrie D40.

Moultrie’s: Less Expensive And Work
Unfortunately, not all of the "public" that use our public lands are as honest as we are and some will gleefully gather up your cameras and take them home with them. Using a less expensive model will reduce the loss if you experience these thieves as I have. Because a camera is lower priced, however, does not mean it is sub-par. The Moultrie’s I use take great photos, have outstanding battery life, and are tough as a boot.

Cameras can let you know if there are big bucks in the area.

Another camera function that you need to consider before buying is trigger time. This is the time period between when an animal enters the field of view and when the picture is snapped. When I first started using cameras, I purchased a few units of a different make. They were a brand name and I thought I had made a good decision. When I started experimenting with them I quickly learned that the trigger time was a sluggish 6-7 seconds! I had numerous photos that were absent of critters simply because they had exited the field of view before the camera reacted. I sold them on E-bay, spent the cash on the Moultrie’s, and have never looked back.

Careful camera placement is key to success. Ninety percent of my set-ups are on water, as all wildlife must visit them regularly. The bulk of Western water sources are dirt ponds built for livestock. Some of these can resemble a lake than a pond. On large ponds, it is unreasonable to set a dozen or more cameras in an attempt to cover it entirely. To remedy this, study the waters edge for areas of concentrated tracks.

Set Up On Well-Used Trails
Due to large predators, game is often extra-wary when at water. They want to drink quickly and leave; therefore they often use the same approach and drinking spot that has proven safe in the past. By finding these areas you can eliminate the need to cover the whole pond. A lot of the ponds are fenced in to hold livestock when the need arises. Game will often cross the fence in the same locations and these can be great places to set cameras as well. Fence crossing set-ups will also cut down on the number of livestock pics that eat up valuable memory card space. Cattle will always wreak havoc on cameras if they cannot be placed out of reach.

Cameras give you a great picture of the many species of game inhabiting your hunting area.

Most cameras are designed to be mounted to trees. That is great if there are trees available, but trees are often sparse or non-existent and other mounting methods must be used. I often prop cameras up at ground level with carefully placed rocks. This works well, but always take extra measures to make sure they are secure and won’t topple over at the slightest nudge. Angle the lens to shoot along the water’s edge to maximize range. You can utilize the rock mounting method at springs, seeps, drinker troughs or any other areas void of trees.

Aim Camera Along Trail
In the West, I rarely find places to set cameras that are as effective as water. Every once in a great while I find a ridge saddle or some other type of natural funnel that needs surveillance. For these instances you need to angle the lens to shoot along the path the animals are using rather than across it. This will keep your target in view longer and will result in better pictures. By placing your camera to shoot across the path you will end up with several photos of partial animals or empty shots.

You never know what might turn up on film!

Trail cameras can be extremely helpful in your search for a trophy critter. Buy as many cameras as you can afford and get them working for you. It greatly expands your scouting capabilities by allowing you to monitor several places at once. The first thing I do when I arrive in new territory is start setting cameras on water. I will leave them set until I feel I have pictures of everything in the area and then rotate them to new locations.

In the world of gadgetry that we live in, I feel trail cameras are a sound and effective investment, and they will always be a mainstay in my scouting arsenal. 

For a fine selection of Trail Cameras, including the Moultrie D40, click here.

For a fine selection of Big Game Hunting gear, click here.

For a fine assortment of Archery gear, click here.

Leave a Reply

Commenting Policy - We encourage open expression of your thoughts and ideas. But there are a few rules:

No abusive comments, threats, or personal attacks. Use clean language. No discussion of illegal activity. Racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally hateful comments are not tolerated. Keep comments on topic. Please don't spam.

While we reserve the right to remove or modify comments at our sole discretion, the Sportsman's Guide does not bear any responsibility for user comments. The views expressed within the comment section do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of The Sportsman's Guide.