Why using a trail camera can improve your chances of hunting success

Open Sesame!

Open Sesame! - Credit: Archant

“Before going, I KNEW that I’d get a chance at one or more grey squirrels, no matter what the weather or time of day.” Peter Yeats explains the benefits of using a trail camera

Once it has been strapped to a tree, it's really well hidden

Once it has been strapped to a tree, it's really well hidden - Credit: Archant

I should begin this article by quoting a movie great, like Orson Welles, but instead it's Harold Macmillan, because the subject is brought about by, 'Events, dear boy, events!' In this case, the event was the weather changing for the worse, and it altered my plans just as dramatically. I had intended to follow a planned stalk through my permission, but the snow and cold suggested that my feeders might get more visits from the greys that I usually have to tempt from neighbouring woods. Restricted access to natural food, caused by the severe weather, would make the greys look for easier food and so my feeders became my priority.

Of course, sitting in a pop-up hide in temperatures hovering around, or well below freezing is not an experience to be undertaken lightly, or pointlessly, so the next step was to set up a trail camera to find out what was visiting my feeders, and at which times in the day. I must admit, I did worry about battery life and weather resistance at temperatures as low as minus-12ºC, even though the instructions claimed operation down to minus-20ºC. I needn't have worried; the camera functioned flawlessly.

Trail cameras vary in specifications, features, performance and price. What you buy will be driven by what you want from it. For example, if you want true HD video quality, you will need a camera with a large sensor that doesn't depend on interpolation for claimed image quality. It will cost more, but lower-end cameras are about sufficient clarity for data gathering rather than high-quality imaging tools.

The unit is password protected

The unit is password protected - Credit: Archant

Black light

I chose my cameras for data gathering and cost, rather than high-quality imaging. They have a built-in colour screen for checking images and movie footage on the spot as well as no-glow 'black light' LEDs, because of my feeders' proximity to a public path. Their price point also took into account that a camera was an affordable loss, if stolen. Nevertheless, it is locked by electronic password and a small padlock, and the back carries a notice stating that it can only be electronically accessed by its owner and would be useless to any thief - better safe than sorry.

Like many trail cams, the 12 megapixel claim for images in my cameras is an interpolated figure. I set the image size at the sensor size of 5 megapixels, without interpolation or large files; this enables me to have three still images followed by a 20-second video every time the PIR sensor is triggered. Most importantly, all are time stamped and the stills also show the temperature - extremely cold, in this instance! I make sure that these are set accurately. That way, the footage not only tells me what is visiting my feeders and under which weather conditions, but also tells me if there are specific feeding times. I expected any captured activity to be shortly after dawn and at dusk.

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After setting up my camera on a tree about 10 feet (3 metres) from my feeders, using twigs wedged behind it to set the vertical angle of view, I left the camera for two days, picking it up the following Saturday morning. There were more than 300 files on the memory card - a lot of activity! Greys were visiting in their twos and threes, and I presume because of the cold weather, feeding evenly throughout the day from 7.40am to almost dark, at 5pm. This was both a surprise and extremely helpful, as it turned out.

I see you two!

I see you two! - Credit: Archant

Freezing fog

I planned to set up my hide very early the next day and set my alarm for 6am. My phone said minus-3ºC, which I thought was OK - it would warm slowly after dawn, but as I drove out of my estate, the car thermometer showed minus-8.5ºC, far too cold to sit still for several hours. Change of plan … back home for breakfast and go up after lunch now I knew from the trail camera footage that the greys would still be visiting and feeding in the middle of the day.

With the temperature at about 2ºC, I settled in at 1.55pm and at 2:10, the first grey appeared, coming head down from the canopy. My RM8 was lined up on the shooting sticks, and I placed the zeroed sights on the kill zone, tracking the grey until it settled to enjoy a monkey nut. A gentle squeeze of the trigger sent the Superfield to its mark and the grey dropped, twitched then lay still. Number one in the bag.

I see you two!

I see you two! - Credit: Archant

Number two arrived at 3:25. It also came down the tree trunk from the canopy, to meet exactly the same fate. Number three, my final victim of the session and a larger grey than the others, arrived 15 minutes later - same route, same outcome.

By now it was getting dark, and freezing fog was forming. My multiple layers of clothing had stopped keeping me warm some time ago and I decided, after another 15 minutes that it was time to pack up. I collapsed and packed my seat, shooting sticks, hide, and then my gun - I leave the gun until last in case of a last-minute opportunity, but there was none this time. I picked up the greys, replenished the feeders and headed home to a well-earned hot cup of tea.

This was the first time I'd ever had three greys at my feeders in one shooting session and it's hard to over-emphasise the value of my trail camera's contribution to this. Without having to guess at events on the ground, or having to sit freezing and watching, without actually knowing what would happen, I was able to plan and execute a successful and enjoyable shoot. I knew in advance that the cold weather was attracting up to three greys at a time to the feeders, that they were feeding steadily throughout the entire day, and that they were hungry enough to visit in snow and freezing conditions. Before going, I KNEW that I'd get a chance at one or more greys, no matter what the weather or time of day. How valuable is that!


Read more from Peter Yeats...

Why a little forward planning goes a long way hunting in the field

A morning's hunt for grey squirrels

"Why a PCP has changed my shooting - for the better"