Introduction: Setting Up a Trail Camera Survey

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For many wildlife and land managers, investing money into a property is nothing new. For most, it is to increase the value of their property whether monetarily or recreational. Of this group, deer hunters are often the first to spend "a buck." From food plots to timber stand improvements (TSI), most management enhancements come at a cost.

In order to determine if a you are truly receiving a return on your investment (ROI), it is critical to have base information on the current deer herd. This includes but is not limited to population, buck to doe ratio, buck age structure, and most often looked at, buck antler size. Of all the methods to obtain this information, a trail camera survey is by far the most efficient and unbiased tool.

The following are steps on how to setup a trail camera survey site/station.

Step 1: How Many Cameras Do I Need?

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The camera placement process is a bit more complicated than one might think. Starting with determining the Camera Density on the property. Research has shown that Camera Density, along with number of days out, will determine the OBSERVABILITY rate. The Observability Rate is the percent of the actual number of individual deer that are captured on camera during the survey period. For most properties under 800 acres, the optimum density is 1 camera per 100 acres, for larger properties the density can be as low as 1 per 200 acres and results produced will still be valuable.

Step 2: Selecting a Site/Station

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Selection of a site or station within each "acreage block," has a bit of methodical madness to it. Your property should be surveyed in proportion to the local habitat types. For example, if on a 800 acre property 50% is hardwoods, 25% in fields, and 25% in cedars, and you have 1 camera per 100 acres...then 4 cameras should be located in hardwoods, and 2 in fields and cedars each.

In addition, the local site where the camera actually sits is very important. In fact, inadequate preparation at this level can dramatically effect the validity of your trail camera results.

Step 3: Clear Camera View

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In order to observe every detail offered by a trail camera photograph, use a mower, weed trimmer, or hand sickle, to cut down tall debris in the camera's Point of View (POV)

Step 4: Cut It Low

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Any piece of grass, brush, or weed can block valuable information about a deer. Cut the site low enough that you can easily see the majority of a deer's legs.

Step 5: Deer Love Corn

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Traditionally shelled corn is used for trail camera surveys. This is still our preference. Timing is everything...if acorns begin to rain down in the fall then the corn will be less attractive, and if there is still a lot of food available early in the winter the corn may not be attractive enough. In the North, surveys should be run from August 1 - September 15; in the South September 1 - October 15.

Step 6: S"U"ccessful Placement

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Particularly in the fall, deer become very aggressive over bait sites. Does will often beat away younger does, fawns that aren't theirs, and even young bucks. Buck still in velvet, do not like to be bumping antlers in this sensitive state. Pouring the corn in a "U" shape will reduce the amount of competition over a bait pile.

Step 7: Camera Programming

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Unlike in scouting mode, there is a specific setting that the camera must be on to ensure accurate results. Trail cameras should be placed on 1 picture burst mode, and a 5 minute delay. The equations used to analyze the data are based on the camera capturing data in this manner, any deviation from this could have a negative effect on the results.

Step 8: Length of Survey

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Trail camera surveys can run a variety of days. Most biologists will tell you to run a minimum of 10 days, along with a 2-3 days prebait period before the survey starts.

Step 9: Analysis and Results

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The actual analysis of a camera survey can take a long time, and is best suited for an expert. There are several sources to help DIY, and professionals that will provide affordable service like The Buck Advisors.

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