Choosing the Best Trail Cameras for You

Over the past several years perhaps no other item in the whitetail world has made the impact that trail cameras have. These diminutive tools have essentially changed the way we scout and pattern bucks - in a big way. But, given the massive number of trail cameras available, choosing the right one is no easy task. However, if you consider the following options you are sure to find the best trail cameras for you.

The Best Trail Cameras are Not Always the Most Expensive

Let’s face it, for most of us; money is at the top of the list when it comes to buying new hunting gear. Scouting cameras included. Yeah, I would love to have one of the $700 models, but I can’t afford it. And even if I could, I’m not sure it would be a good investment. After all, a less costly trail camera might be all that I need to get the job done. It really depends on what my needs are. The bottom line is to decide what your budget is and then start the process of elimination using the criteria below. You might surprise yourself with which model is best for you.

How Long Will the Camera Last?

This one ranks high on my list simply because no trail camera will do you any good if it isn’t working. An unreliable camera is a liability and simply a waste of time and money. In short, it must go. Choose models that have good reviews and very few customer complaints. Sure, there will always be a few bad apples in the bunch, but a good camera will have a small number of scathing reviews by and large.

No matter which camera you choose, make sure it is one you can count on year in and year out under various weather conditions.

A Word on "Unbiased" Trail Camera Reviews

Please be careful of websites that offer "unbiased" trail camera reviews. Many are Amazon affiliates who are writing reviews specifically for search engine listings. They get a cut from all sales you make at Amazon (even if it's not a trail camera), so if you're reading a review, look at the bottom of the page for "Amazon Affiliate." If you see that, chances are there's an ulterior motive.

Other sites might get paid to advertise or promote one camera over another due to special camera manufacturer relationships. Even if the trail camera store isn't getting a cut to promote one camera over another, authors can get cuts without telling others they are sponsored by the camera manufacturer. I am not getting paid to promote cameras, on a side note, and DeerLab is not getting paid to promote cameras.

So, where can you get an unbiased review? These Hunting talk forums can be a good source, but be discerning as the source could be paid by the manufacturer. Friends who have experience with a particular camera are no-brainer.

Camera Trigger Speed Can Make a Big Difference

This is an important characteristic that should be based on how and where you intend to use your trail camera. For example, if you’re primarily hanging your camera over a food source, then I don’t think camera trigger speed should be the deciding factor when making a purchase. Besides, how fast does a camera have to catch a whitetail feeding in a field or over a bait pile? In those instances, the deer will most likely hang around for a while before easing off into the distance. Hyper-fast trigger speeds aren’t going to benefit you that much.

However, let’s say you’re hanging your camera over a game trail. Trigger speed suddenly becomes much more important. There’s no doubt deer will be more apt to move quickly through the area, especially if you’re talking about a buck following a hot doe. A slow trigger speed might miss that trailing buck, whereas a faster trigger will actually capture him in all of his glory.

So, consider where your trail cameras will be placed before paying extra for ultra-fast trigger speed if you don’t really need it. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.

Did You Even Get the Photo?

Recovery time, the amount of time it takes for a camera to take another shot after the first photo, is another critical aspect to consider.

Most trail cameras take between 1 and 5 seconds to take that second photo, but some take over a minute! Needless to say, if you have a camera with a prolonged recovery time set up on a trail, you're potentially missing out on a lot of photos. I would even say you're probably missing photos of that buck following in the distance.

Battery Life Impacts Time and Overall Camera Cost

Personally, I take battery life very seriously. Most of the places I have cameras hanging are remote, mountainous terrain, and I don’t check them very often. Often, I will sacrifice certain features as long as a camera has good battery life. Years ago, this was a major issue, but manufacturers have really stepped up their game and taken battery life as seriously as we do. Over the years, I have had great results from Bushnell, Primos, Browning, and Moultrie, to name a few.

If easy access to your camera is common and you can get away with it every other month or so, then maybe battery life isn’t nearly as important. However, battery life is a big consideration for someone like me who hangs their camera in early spring and doesn’t check it till late summer.

Long battery life also means fewer return visits to replace the dead ones and lower lifelong costs. This leads to less pressure being placed on the local deer herd. In my opinion, return visits are the number one downside to scouting cameras. But that’s another blog.

battery life for trail cameras
Battery life is important if you expect to capture thousands of images before your return visit. The more images captured, the shorter the battery life will be. Quick tip - Lithium batteries will not only last longer, but they will also extend the flash range of a camera by up to 10% over alkaline ones.

The Flash Debate. Does it Make a Difference?

Regular flash, infrared flash, no-flash, the debate goes on and on. In my opinion, until there is solid proof that a standard white-flash doesn’t spook mature bucks, I will choose a trail camera with either an infrared illumination or, preferably, one with no flash at all.

I think mature bucks are a lot like us in that they each have their own personalities. What may spook one buck may not upset another. Infrared and no-flash cameras will cost you a little more, but in my humble opinion, they are worth it. After all, when you are chasing mature bucks, the Devil is in the details.

trail camera flash choices
Game cameras are great tools for patterning particular bucks in your area. The key is extracting as much info from each image as possible and organizing that information into a useful game plan.

Remembering What Your Whitetails are Doing with Trail Camera Software

In addition to finding the right camera, I have found that finding the right software for all of the images I have accumulated is essential. I recently started using DeerLab's trail camera software to organize my whitetail trail cam images and pattern particular bucks in my area. No sales pitch - I am very pleased with how the entire system works.  

Conclusion

Choosing a new game camera can seem very complicated, but if you take your time and consider what you really need or don’t need, you will surely make the right choice.

Steve Flores
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