If you’re like us, you may not have a lot of extra time to spend hiking and scouting for elk. If you’re hunting on public ground, you’ll be competing with fellow hunters and you’re going to need every advantage you can find to get an arrow in the bull you’ve been dreaming of the past 11 months.
Trail cameras are a great way for the working hunter to get some quality scouting in without using up all of your valuable vacation time before the hunting season has even started…not to mention that it feels like Christmas morning when you pull a camera card and get to view the pictures for the first time!
First off, as in regular “boots on the ground” scouting, my opinion would have to be, more is better. By this, I mean having several different cameras running in several different places. I like to have at least 4 to 5 (or more) cameras out soaking as soon as the snow allows me to get into the areas I hunt. There have been several archery seasons where we have been able to hunt strictly in areas where we had solid trail camera pictures and footage of elk, and our success rates on those seasons has been outstanding. This is not to say that we would not have been successful in other areas, but having a good idea of what is living there and some of their habits sure doesn’t hurt.
It is important to try and capitalize on the terrain. Google Earth is very useful for looking over areas to place your cameras and learning the potential routes the animals use, along with water sources, feeding areas and bedding areas that play a major factor on where and why we place our cameras where we do. Knowing different routes game animal’s use, water sources, bedding and feeding areas play a major factor on where I put a camera. This may require a little foot work on your part, but once you figure it out you should see great activity all spring and summer long. Personally I like to focus on transitions areas rather than the above mentioned spots. First, I feel like my gear will be safer from potential vandals or thieves. Second, I get a better indication as to when the critters are moving. Knowing travel routes and timing of travel are invaluable pieces of info to have when you hear a bugle at day break.
TIPS FOR GREAT PHOTOS
Once you find an area where you want to put your camera, you’ve got to figure out a specific place to hang it. I always try and position my cameras with a backdrop. A backdrop helps to reflect light back at the camera. This will help your photos come out with much better lighting and detail. With that being said, always consider the sun. I’ve had many pictures ruined because of sunrise or sunset. A north facing camera is what I always try to achieve if at all possible. This will make sure that you don’t have the sun glaring on your camera during the best travel times of the day.
BE MINDFUL OF THE WIND!
Make sure that your camera is not going to pick up on the afternoon breeze. By this, I mean remove any low hanging branches or anything the wind can move that is in the trigger field of your camera. I’ve had cards filled up with great pictures of branches that were moved by nothing else other than wind. Sometimes this is unavoidable but being proactive in minimizing it will sure help out.
Once your camera is set, take a test photo to verify placement and picture quality. The first time out, I set my camera to take pictures aggressively. This will give you some good verification as to what is coming in and the next time you check in change the picture intervals from say a 60 second wait in between bursts to 3 or even 5 minutes. Battery life on today’s cameras is great and SD cards can literally hold thousands of pictures so why not fire away? It’s all up to you!
Another thing to consider is camera security. Hunting public land can be great, but just like back in town, you have the chance of running into some unsavory people that will steal or vandalize your camera. There are also some bad animals out there that will mess a camera up. Bears for one are very curious and they can be heck on a camera. But don’t rule out the others. For instance, we came into a camera site once and the camera was not in its spot. Turns out a cow elk found an extreme interest in my camera and tore it off the tree and proceeded to pack it 20 yards away and then throw it down on the ground! Never trust an elk! Protect your cameras by investing in some security boxes. They’re cheap insurance for your cameras and they give you piece of mind that they’ll be there the next time you come up to check them! Check with your camera manufacturer and find out if they or another company makes a box to fit your model.
“To bait or not to bait?” This would be something that is left entirely up to the person and their State regulations, but where I’m from it is legal to bait for any game animal other that bears and game birds. I think having bait as an option is a great way to keep that animal there for more pictures and get them coming in on a regular basis! So with this being said, if you’re able to use and attractant of some kind, what do you use? I personally don’t use anything but good old fashioned salt. Water softener salt as a matter of fact! It’s cheap! Only 3-5 bucks for 40lbs and it’s about as pure of a salt that a person can buy. I like to put it on an old rotten stump or log and with the spring and summer rains, the salt melts into nothing, but the animals sure know it’s there! Keep in mind that there are many different options on the market for deer, but I have buddies that use the same stuff that is geared towards the Whitetail industry for elk and work great! It’s all in your budget and what you want to experiment with.
As far as checking your cameras, I like to try and check mine at least once a week or every two weeks. And make sure to bring extra batteries! I’ve walked into two camera sites this year alone and had to make a trip back to town to buy batteries! Most cameras’ batteries will last the whole season, but you never know for sure as I found out!
Ultimately, trail cameras can be a great tool to assist you in scouting for elk. In addition to the help they provide in finding great hunting areas, it can be a ton of fun to check them….you just never know what you’ll find.