By Alex Comstock
Last night as I got out of the treestand, I thought it'd be a good idea to swap SD cards from my nearby trail camera. It hadn't been checked since early September, and I figured it'd be nice to know if any good buck had been frequenting the area. With all of the attention that I've placed on Kobe, I haven't hunted many of my other properties, so I didn't know what bucks had and hadn't shifted into their fall ranges.
When I walked up to the camera and turned it on, it read "memory full." This immediately lead to a groan as I feared the worst. My fear was later confirmed. An 8GB SD card filled up in the matter of eight days. A combination of thousands of deer pictures to go along with a lot of blanks as well contributed to this. Worst of all? One of the mature bucks that had been using the area all summer went from only moving during the middle of the night to showing up in daylight multiple days during those eight days. Amid frustration, many questions flowed through my head. Was that buck still moving in daylight? When was the last time he was there? Is this a spot I should hunt again soon? While thinking of this, I started to think about how much I become frustrated because of trail cameras, and how I try to avoid these frustrations...
1. Battery Issues
Maybe I've just got awfully bad luck, but I'll go ahead and assume (maybe to just make myself feel better) that I'm not alone when it comes to this issue. How many times have you had a camera die for seemingly no reason? For instance, I had a trail camera this summer take a few thousand pictures and the battery life was still above 90%. Seems safe to leave it without checking it for a month right? Wrong! After letting this camera soak for the majority of August, I returned just before season rolled in to see what had been using this corner of the bean field. I opened the camera, turned it on and...nothing. It wouldn't turn on. Perplexed, I took the camera home with me, and it simply needed new batteries. To say I was bummed would be an understatement.
The Solution: What I've found is that an issue like this normally occurs when either using cheap trail cameras or cheap batteries. So depending on how many cameras you run, your budget, etc. I'd recommend either using higher end trail cameras, or minimally using lithium batteries. Though they cost more up front, lithium batteries will help preserve the life span of your trail cameras. A great article to reference when it comes to batteries is The Science of Trail Camera Batteries.
2. Blank Images
Blank images really get my blood boiling when checking through a card, and for good reason. All of the images eat up battery life, SD card space, and is downright annoying. It seems that this issue is much tougher to combat here in North Dakota than other places I've run trail cameras in the past.
The Solution: Depending on what causes the blank images, there are a couple different solutions. If it's wind based, one thing I've found to help is clear out a big area in front of the trail camera. This is usually my issue when placing a trail camera in some type of CRP or similar setting. If permitted, clearing the the ground to the bare dirt with either a weedwacker or saw or anything really can help. In some situations, my blank pictures are also caused by either a rising or setting sun. The best thing you can do in this situation is to face your trail camera North if that's an option. That way your camera won't be facing directly into a rising or setting sun.
3. SD card Formatting
This one sometimes still gets me, and sometimes leaves me clueless. Every now and again, I'll go and check a trail camera, and it didn't take any pictures due to an SD card formatting issue. This can really be frustrating because the camera has in essence been sitting for however long you left it out not taking any photos at all.
The Solution: What I've found helpful is to format your SD card every time you insert it into your computer to clear the card after saving your pictures. I simply right click on the SD card folder, click "quick format" and that clears the card along with preventing a formatting issue. If you've got anything else regarding this topic, let us know, we'd love to hear them!
4. That One Branch That Triggers a Million Pictures
I know this has happened to me more than I'd like to admit. Sometimes it's obvious, other times maybe it isn't. Usually this occurs when a branch breaks or falls from a limb above your trail camera, or right in front of it. It'll swing seemingly back and forth in front of the trail camera until the cam dies or runs out of room on the SD card. What usually frustrates me more than anything in this situation is that it pretty much is out of your hands. I don't know that there is a concrete solution to this, but to keep the theme of the blog post, let's look at how to possibly avoid this.
The Solution: When you hang your trail camera, inspect the tree it's on, and any nearby ones that could cause this issue. Do you see any dead limbs that look susceptible to breaking? Do you see any limbs that are hanging down and would move around causing the camera to trigger on a windy day? If you see anything that you even remotely think could cause the trail camera to take a bunch of photos, cut it down. In a situation like that, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
At the end of the day, trail cameras are technology, and technology fails. Not all of the time, but sometimes. Trail cameras have improved drastically, even since I started using them. But, there are times that you do everything right, and still have one malfunction. And maybe that's the most frustrating of them all. The feeling of knowing there was literally nothing you could do to avoid a malfunction might just take the cake as the most frustrating part of a trail camera.
The solution: Evolution. As technology continues to evolve, so will trail cameras. For those of you that have hunted much longer than me, I'm sure you remember back when you had to go develop 35mm film to check your trail camera pictures. Now you can have photos sent directly to your phone via wireless cameras. That's pretty remarkable. Another thing to note is that as trail cameras continue to improve, those cheap cameras (that inevitably cause a lot of these issues) will continue to get better as well, and you'll be able to trust a cheap trail camera more than you do now.
I have such a love hate relationship with trail cameras. One day I praise them, the next I curse them. For as much stock as we put into trail cameras, remember to not rely on them. One thing that can never be replaced is your deer knowledge, and a trail camera shouldn't be the only thing you rely on.