Here’s a controversial statement: Trail cameras can be absolutely worthless.
Here’s a less controversial statement: Trail cameras are worthless when their batteries are dead.
This might seem obvious, but every year hunters stick hundreds of dollars-worth of trail cams in the woods and then return weeks or months later to find them sitting dead as a doorknob. The key to avoiding this dire situation and getting the most deer intel out of your trail camera is to get smart about maximizing battery life.
Lengthen Trigger Delay
A trail cam that’s turning on and off too frequently and shooting more photos than you need is on a fast track to dead batteries. Joe Stinson, a longtime public land bow hunter who frequently leaves cameras out for six months at a time, believes that proper camera settings are a crucial first step.
“The biggest thing is setting trigger frequency to no less than 30 seconds or a minute,” he says. Trigger frequency, also known as trigger delay, determines how much time a camera must wait between a triggering event and the next time it fires.
There are certain situations where you might want this gap to be shorter than 30 seconds. For example, if your camera is on an infrequently used trail, you need to fully capture the few fleeting groups of deer that pass by. But there are many other situations where a short delay results in unnecessary photos of the same deer, which drains batteries. Scenarios where a longer trigger delay should be used include when the trail cam is pointed at a concentrated food source or anywhere deer are likely to spend extended time, such as a mineral site, bait pile, food plot, or ag field.
Lower Sensitivity and Resolution
The next trail cam setting to consider is sensitivity level, which determines how much movement is required for a camera to trigger. “In order to reduce blank photos caused by grass and weeds blowing, set the camera sensitivity to low,” said Mark Olis, a representative from Moultrie trail cameras.
There is a risk with a low sensitivity setting of deer passing by in the distance and no photo firing. But if you need those batteries to last an especially long time, it’s likely a risk worth taking.
Olis also recommends using a lower photo resolution when striving for maximum battery life. “This will cut down on the time it takes the camera to write the larger file size on the SD card,” Olis said.
Choose Photo Mode Over Video
Most trail cameras today offer both photo and video modes. As you would assume, video mode is a lot more draining on batteries. While videos can be better for learning about deer behavior, not all situations warrant the extra power investment.
If you’re simply trying to get visual confirmation of a buck’s presence or the quality of deer in an area, photos will usually do the trick just fine. Olis advises steering clear of the time-lapse mode that many trail cams include, as these take especially high numbers of photos on a daily basis.
Adjust Cell Camera Settings
If you’re running cameras that transmit photos to your cell phone, battery life should be of special concern. These devices pull significantly more power than their traditional predecessors. Chad Sylvester of Exodus trail cameras recommends adjusting your cell camera settings in several ways to extend battery life.
“Utilizing a delayed upload frequency or batch uploads where the device can upload multiple photos or videos per network connection can make a big impact and the biggest difference in terms of battery life,” he said.
Olis recommends something similar: “Set the upload frequency to one or two times per day, as each time the camera communicates with the cloud it uses tremendous battery power.”
It’s also important to consider the cell service in a given camera location. The worse the service, the harder that camera and those batteries will have to work to connect. If possible, prioritize cell camera locations in areas of higher elevation where cell service is typically stronger.
Avoid Blowing Vegetation
Speaking of camera locations, you also want to place your cameras in such a way that non-target triggers won’t drain the battery. “You have to know how to set your cameras to avoid blowing vegetation,” Stinson said. “This is tricky when hanging in the summer.”
Tall grass, bushes, and tree branches can all trigger your cameras, especially on windy days. When placing a trail cam, make sure to clear as much vegetation as possible from in front of the device and try to account for future summer growth as well. If possible, avoid aiming your camera in a direction where a vegetated backdrop is within triggering range. The more open space in front of your camera, the more likely you are to avoid wasted photos and batteries.
Choose the Right Batteries
Finally, and most obviously, there are specific types of batteries that will last longer than others. Stinson, among many others, recommends using lithium batteries, which he believes will last upwards of three times as long as standard AAs.
Sylvester advises going one step further and not only selecting lithium batteries, but also avoiding mix-matching brands, types, or ages. “Mixing and matching increases the odds of any trail camera mishap and also greatly increases the odds of a battery leaking, leading to a damaged camera,” he says. “Mixing new and used batteries isn’t going to gain you anything. In fact, it does the opposite. New batteries will often discharge at a faster rate when coupled with used batteries.”
If you’re running cameras in a location you can check frequently and replace batteries often, it might make more sense to use all of the fancy features available and fire off as many photos or videos as your camera possibly can. But in situations where that’s not possible, these battery conserving strategies ought to be top of mind.
Feature image via Captured Creative.