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ABC's of Elk Scouting Part 1 - "Game Camera Placement"

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ABC's of Elk Scouting Part 1 - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby WapitiTalk1 » 11 13, 2015 •  [Post 1]

As the 2015 elk season is starting to wind down, thoughts of next year's scouting and hunt plans are already starting to formulate in my head. Remote map work, tracking deadlines for special permit application, scouting trips, locking in hunting partners, working out shared gear lists with buddies, personal gear inventory/prep, etc., are all part of the efforts that culminate in a successful hunt IMO. A big part of my annual adventures involve BOG scouting trips to the areas I plan on hunting with a handfull of game cameras in tow. Let's talk about the deployment of game cameras for pre-season elk scouting.

Where are the best areas to place them:

Trails?
Wallows?
Water points?
Natural mineral licks?
Over some type of bait/attractant (where legal to do so)?
Meadows?
Saddles?
Bedding areas?

When is the best time of year to put them out?
How big of SD card is required for very active areas?
What are the best type of batteries to use?
Is height of camera on tree of concern, and, do I need to carry a "tool" with me to put cameras higher in tree?
What is the best way to fasten the cams to trees?
How do I check/prepare target picture area to confirm wind will not result in false photo snaps?
Do cams need to be covered for inclimate weather?
How far away from target picture area do I emplace cams?
What should I have in my pack (tools) to prep trees/target picture areas?

What do you cats think? Please comment on the questions I've presented, and, add any questions/answers you feel are relevent to this phase of elk scouting

Thanks for playing along.. RJ

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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby Lefty » 11 13, 2015 •  [Post 2]

Ive done well at water, and trails. A solid tree seems best. I tend to like a trail cam higher up,.. 7 feet. Seem to miss the rabbits and most bears,. Also I havent had people mess with higher cams.
Every steel T post mounted camera elk seem interested in rubbing the camera.
Face north when ever possible
While I only have two trail cams I have them set up all year around in different areas,.. even my neighbors field, not for elk,.. but entertainment.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby Swede » 11 13, 2015 •  [Post 3]

I like setting my cameras out in July. June is ok too. Since I am a tree stand hunter, I set them at locations that interest me as potential stand locations.
There is not much value in just a wallow until mid to late August. I don't care for sitting at just a wallow, so I focus more on the water hole.
Mineral licks and bait are less productive in hunting season than in the Spring and early Summer. They can be very misleading, causing you to think the elk should be around, past their time of use.
I can't always say why, but I have had very active camera points that went dead just at or before the archery season begins.
Saddles, trail connections, water holes and other areas that show consistent elk use are a good place for a camera.
My cameras are waterproof and I like to screw a metal box holder to a solid tree and set the camera in that. I have noticed that the range of your camera varies. If you want a camera that is sensitive and has a fast trigger, plan to spend more for it. My cheapies reach out 50 feet in the day time. I think they are good to about 25 feet at night, but I don't hunt at night, so the short range doesn't bother me.
A small saw is helpful to prepare some areas. Also a pair of shears will be useful at times. Often the only tool I take is a ratchet and socket to screw in the bolts to hold the metal box.
My son makes good cheap boxes out of air conditioner breaker boxes, that he gets at Home Depot.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby wawhitey » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 4]

Im not going to talk about where to put a camera, just how to set it up.

Security: i used to go the whole python lock, security box route until i had one locked up cam stolen. Turns out nothing is thief proof, and i feel those things make them more highly visible. Aside from the fact that its more crap to catch the eye, you really have to put the cam down low to do that and get it aimed correctly, and by down low i mean in line of sight. Most people dont look up above their heads at trees. I now save the money on that crap ( python lock, box, padlock = about $60) and buy a slate river ez aim mount for 25 bucks. I use a few screw in tree steps to get that cam up about 12 feet. Ive had two cameras stolen now, and both were low enough to reach standing on the ground. Only one time have i even had somebody notice a 12 foot high camera, and lucky me that guy wasnt a jerk.
When you set a camera up that high there are a few things to consider. One is that if the tree isnt very big, it can tend to blow around a bit in heavy winds causing lots of false triggers. I like to use a tree thats at least a foot in diameter.
Also, the angle required for a higher camera will decrease the effective detection range a bit so youll have to aim it at a target slightly closer to ensure that it doesnt miss anything.
The angle also seems to slightly change the way the detection zone and picture screen match up which can cause a lot more critters to not trigger the cam until slightly off from center screen. Dont ask me why, but i swear thats the case. Basically it just takes some practice to get it down, and youll need to carry a few screw in tree steps in your pack.
The downside to my hang em high thing is this: when you lag bolt, lock box, python lock a cam to a tree, bears cant move them off the desired point of aim. The way i do it with the slate river mounts, bears sometimes climb up and mess with them, which almost always results in my cam being left upside down and backward pointing at the tree bark, or pointing up at the sky giving me thousands of pictures of branches waving in front of the sun. I prefer that over coming back to no camera at all though. And i think its worth saying that ive only ever had one cam suffer any significant bear damage and it still works fine. Also ive only had 2 instances where a bear managed to break the mount.
I carry a small digi cam with me so i can look at pics and make sure the trail cam is pointed exactly how i want it. Always carry spare sd cards so i can just swap out the one with all the pics with a blank one. Also good to carry spare (lithium) batteries, and i like to mark my new cam sets on my gps until i know i can find them again by memory. A good set of pruners and folding saw are always in my pack too. Even if you think you did a good job clearing branches, you may come back and find overhead branches have drooped down a few feet and are now waving around in front of your camera.
Another thing to consider... if you want to check a camera and there is snow on the ground, i like to wait until more snow is in the forecast or currently falling. Wouldnt want somebody to get curious and follow my tracks to my camera.
Where legal, salt is your friend. I like to use the little 4lb trace mineral equine blocks from the feed store. Theyre easy to pack on a long hike and only about 4 dollars.
Oh, and i cover my mount with camo duct tape, and if the cam isnt camo ill do that too. If exposed to the sun for a long time the tape will bleach out eventually and need to be redone, because it tends to bleach out to a real bright green blue color, which defeats the purpose by making it highly visible against tree bark.

Ill try to think up some more stuff ive learned through my trial and error proccess. Im hooked on these things, running cams is my favorite off season activity.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby WapitiTalk1 » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 5]

Yes! Great comments and recommendations folks and trophy post wawhitey! I had pretty good luck with my cams in ID and WA this year but did take note of what happens when placed too low. I didn't have any bear issues but had a handful of these types of images at one particular spot where the camera was deployed very low ;) Really like the tip/note on carrying a couple of tree steps to get the cams higher (was gonna carry a single Lone Wolf tree stick with me but throwing a couple of steps in my pack make more sense).

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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby wawhitey » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 6]

I used to use those strap on ladders but theyre a pain to carry, and theyre NOISY when walking through brush. Loud metallic noise that tells every critter in the woods that youre there. Also some locals on the county roads i ride my quad down to get into the mountains apparently took notice of me running into the woods with tree stand ladders all the time outside of hunting seasons and decided i must be poaching and called me into the wdfw as a "suspicious person" :lol:
Nosey jerks
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby wunder6 » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 7]

Them are all great scouting tips for hunters that live in the West. Any recommendations for hunters from the flat lands? I know looking at maps and google earth are effective but what looks good there doesn't necessarily mean elk will be there.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby WapitiTalk1 » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 8]

wunder6 wrote:Them are all great scouting tips for hunters that live in the West. Any recommendations for hunters from the flat lands? I know looking at maps and google earth are effective but what looks good there doesn't necessarily mean elk will be there.


I've got you covered bud. Will get the second thread going in a hot minute ;)
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby wawhitey » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 9]

One more benefit of hanging cameras high, aside from hiding them from thieves, is the better field of view you get. People like treestands because the elevated position lets you see more, and the same goes for an elevated game cam. When your camera is so low and close that you get a close up shot of one animal, or a part of one animal filling the screen you have no idea what else is in the immediate vicinity. Elevated positions help tell the whole story of what is there!! Take these for example. If one of these animals was hogging the spotlight you never would have known that they had company. There is much to be said for your cameras having a birds eye view
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting Part 1 - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby WapitiTalk1 » 11 14, 2015 •  [Post 10]

"If one of these animals was hogging the spotlight you never would have known that they had company. There is much to be said for your cameras having a birds eye view".

Another solid post whitey, thanks.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting Part 1 - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby CurlyTail » 11 23, 2015 •  [Post 11]

I think a person needs to clearly understand what you are trying to accomplish with your game cameras. Is it just for fun, or are you trying to learn something about your area or the elk in your area?

I use both plotwatchers (time lapse cameras that take a picture every 10 sec. during daylight only - no trigger) and trail cameras (cameras that are triggered by movement , day or night, and can take pictures or video clips). Plotwatchers are great for watching large open areas to determine frequency of use, time of use, and preferred travel corridors. They are useless for determining trophy quality, and occasionally I have trouble telling Elk from Deer at a long distance. Plotwatchers are tedious to review. Not as "fun" as trail cameras.

Trail Cameras are helpful for close up examination of individual animals. Kind of like a spotting scope vs. binoculars. Trail cameras are way more fun and entertaining since you pick up all sorts of critters, at all times of day. These are best for watching a specific trail, saddle, or water hole, or wallow.

I have been trying to figure out how the elk move in my hunting area. Plotwatchers in various valleys have been very helpful to get an idea if the area is in regular use or just occasional. One year, I had a trail camera on the best wallow in the valley and a plotwatcher on the saddle out of the same valley. I found that there was way more traffic through the saddle than animals visiting the wallow so my time would be better spent sitting the saddle than sitting the wallow. The cameras give you some ideas of frequency of use. One year I discovered that Elk were moving through an area on average of once every two days. Information like this gives you the confidence you need to actually sit the same area for that amount of time - a very difficult thing for me to do ( I get happy feet and need to move around alot). Any time the Elk come to you - your chance of a high quality shot opportunity goes way up.

My cameras have been very helpful to determine the frequency of human visitation to an area. No people equals more animals.

This season, I plan to place two cameras on two saddles on the same ridge of the mountain at the same time. The saddles are about 3/4 of a mile apart, and I want to see which saddle gets the most traffic, the saddle high up or the saddle lower down. Both saddles lead into the same valley.

This year the tree I had attached my trail camera to got hit by lightning. Tree had a spiral crack down the entire trunk, exploded wood for 20 feet, and the camera blew off the tree and was laying face down. The "security" cable was pulled through, and laying on the ground. Amazingly, the camera and SD card were not damaged, and I did not get any pictures at the time of the storm.

I hunt Colorado so I do not put out salt which is illegal in Colorado. I try to face my cameras North when I can, and I like them about 10 feet up a sturdy tree. They are a fair amount of expense, and time consuming but I think they are fun.
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Re: ABC's of Elk Scouting Part 1 - "Game Camera Placement"

Postby Swede » 11 23, 2015 •  [Post 12]

You make some great points Curly. I assume you prefer the cameras to face north due to lighting. I like your use of saddles. We have used trails and passes at times too. Definitely it pays to search more than water holes or wallows.
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