Trail Camera Buying Guide For 2020
There isn’t really a “best trail camera,” because which is best will depend heavily on how and where you use it. Our guide will help you zero in on the features that are important for your usage.
How To Choose A Trail Camera
Below are some of the most important features that you will need to consider when selecting which trail camera to purchase. There are constantly new technologies being applied to cameras that are loading the newest trail cameras up with features most people will never use. Trail cams come in many shapes and sizes. The best trail camera for one person may not be the best option for another. It really depends on how and where you plan to use it and the price range that seems reasonable to you. This beginner’s guide to buying your first trail camera was written to help you decide which features you truly need to consider and which you can get by without. It will help you determine which trail camera is your best trail camera for the money.
Ease Of Use & Game Camera Setup
One of the first things I like to consider when purchasing a trail camera is ease of use. This is one thing that can be extremely important but sometimes overlooked. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of my newer trail cameras that can be fine-tuned to fit multiple situations very well, but I also love trail cameras that are very simple and quick to setup. I like to minimize my impact to the whitetail’s home turf whenever possible. The last thing I want to do is waste a ton of time messing around trail camera settings near one of my best tree stands. The first few cameras I owned had dip switches that made it as simple as possible to select your preferred settings. I prefer a trail camera like this if I am looking for something inexpensive for public ground, but I will use some of the slightly more expensive and fuller featured cameras on the private ground that I have access to. Ease of setup is something to keep in mind, depending on how good you are with electronics.
Trigger speed is typically the first spec I look at when I consider purchasing a new trail camera. It is one feature that can quickly rule a camera out in my opinion. The majority of my cameras are placed on trails so I prefer to have a trigger speed less than one second, preferably less than a half second. If your game camera will be located at a feeder or food plot you could get away with a slower trigger speed. Quality trail cameras are getting to be much more reasonably priced, so I will always prefer to get a deer camera with fast detection circuit so I can use it anywhere I need to.
Batttery life and also battery type is usually the second feature I consider. I like to leave my cameras deployed for a minimum of one month, sometimes significantly longer. For this reason, I primarily use trail cameras that use AA batteries any more (Most of the newer trail cameras on the market use (8) AA batteries). I do still have a couple of inexpensive Moultrie’s that still use (4) C batteries. I use these cameras on public ground that gets pressured very heavily throughout the season. This way, I will not mind quite as much if/when they get stolen. I have had a camera stolen every other year lately so I strongly suggest getting a camera that is compatible with a python lock and locking it up even if you own your own land. The only thing that is worse than having a camera stolen, is that now the thief has intel that could sometimes be considerably more valuable than the camera, even priceless. I’ve actually felt way worse that someone else may have walked away with some free intel on my target buck than I was about losing a camera.
Flash Type and Range
Flash type and flash range are two more important things to consider. This is a vital part of a camera since mature bucks typically move more at night or in low light conditions. The three main different flash types and the advantages and disadvantages of each are listed below.
The original trail cameras used a white flash that was similar to the flash of any other digital camera. White flash cameras have been known to spook deer in some areas. Just like anything else it depends on a number of factors like the amount of hunting pressure in the area and even the individual deer’s personality. I have noticed that mature bucks will avoid areas with white flash trail cameras after you get a picture or two. The properties I hunt are pressured pretty heavily though, throughout the full season.
Visible IR (Infrared)
The second type of flash is a visible infrared flash. This can be seen by the human eye at mostly any distance. This is much less noticeable, unless you are looking straight at the camera. Some people say this will still spook deer. I have seen deer looking directly at the flash/camera on numerous occasions but I can’t say that I have noticed it spooking deer to the point that they leave or avoid the area in the future. Lately I have been carrying a climbing stick with me while setting up cameras and setting the camera up about 8 ft high on the tree with it angled slightly down. It may not be as important if you hunt private ground that doesn’t get much pressure, but it can be just enough to keep it out of the sight line of trespassers and deer.
Low Glow or No Glow IR
The newest flash technology is the low-glow or no-glow infrared flash, or black flash camera. These cameras usually use IR emitters that are not in the visible portion of the spectrum. On the majority of the low-glow IR cameras I have you can faintly see the flash when you are close to the camera, maybe around 5 ft from it. It becomes much less noticeable as you move farther away from the camera.
One thing that goes hand in hand with flash range is detection range. The detection range of the camera should be roughly about the same as the flash range. You wouldn’t want the flash range to be considerably less than the detection range, because then you would get some blank pictures at night if the deer was close enough to trigger the camera, but outside the effective range of the flash. If the flash range is much longer than the detection range, it can sometimes cause washed out pictures because the flash is just too powerful. A couple of the newest trailcams I have been using have a high, medium, or low setting for flash range and also trigger range or sensitivity. This is very helpful if you use your cameras in a wide variety of situations like I do. I may keep both set to high if the camera is set up on a field edge and can see a longer distance. I will usually set the flash to low if a camera is set up on a deer trail in tight cover and this will allow for longer battery life as well. Trail cameras can vary greatly from one brand to another so I would always recommend testing it out in various situations and various settings. Most stores will allow you to return a camera within 30 days so give it a real thorough test and make sure you are happy with your selection.
Memory Card Capacity
Each trail camera can only use a memory card up to a specific size. Most of the newer game cameras can handle memory cards up to 32Gb. Some of the oldest wildlife cameras I have require a memory card less than 1Gb. If possible, try to consider the quality of picture or video and also the number of pictures per trigger or video length that you would most likely use and how quickly it will fill the card if you assume an average number of triggers per day.
Delay Time (after each trigger)
Delay time is important if you are using your trail cameras on trails where a deer would likely walk past without stopping. If you are placing your gamer camera at a feeder or food plot you may want to increase the delay time to avoid excessive numbers of pictures of the same deer. I like to set my delay time to something around 5 seconds or the lowest setting possible on trails, especially around the rut when bucks will be chasing does. This will help make sure you get a picture of the buck too if a does comes past your deer camera first with a buck following close behind her. If you have a camera with a one-minute minimum for the delay time, it could be missing a number of bucks that come through following a doe. I would look for a delay time of 15 seconds or less any time I purchase a camera in the future, but preferably much less like 5 seconds.
Like I mentioned above, the simplest type of security that I would recommend anyone use is a Python Cable. They can be found online or in some stores for around $20. If you are planning to use your camera on public ground or in bear country you should also purchase a security box, which can sometimes also be called a bear box or lock box. The best security though, is keeping your camera out of plain sight. Sometimes I set my cameras 8-10ft up in a tree that has some cover. Other times I might set it up at the base of a tree and use logs and other branches to make it blend in. Knock on wood, I’ve had a lot of luck when setting cameras up at the base of a tree like this.
The trail camera’s warranty is another very important thing to consider. There used to be a few manufacturers that had warranties longer than one year but nearly all of the trail cameras I have looked at recently only offered a one-year warranty. I have had great luck with Bushnell Trophy Cams. The only one that I had to send back due to a warranty was close to being six months past when the warranty expired. They still gave me something like 60% off of any replacement camera of my choice. It was a much better experience than I have had with other manufacturers.
Not all trail cameras have a mode like this, but I recently started using hybrid mode on my Bushnell Trophy Cam Aggressor HD. Which allows it to take a set number of pictures before recording a ten second video. I’m sure you have had times where a picture was blurry at night because a deer was in motion at the time it was taken. Well, I absolutely love this feature because it gives you the best of both worlds. I prefer pictures over video if I am trying to get a good look at bucks during the season. Having both pictures and video of each deer really helps to ensure you get a good look at the deer. I have seen plenty of times where a deer was moving which caused the pictures to be too blurry to be usable, but the video came out perfectly fine since it was ten seconds long and the deer paused briefly at some point during the video. This is just one out of a number of reasons that I feel the Bushnell Trophy Cam Aggressor HD is by far the best trail camera for the money.
Some game cameras also have a time lapse feature which is typically used on fields or food plots. In time lapse mode the camera will take a photo every so many seconds or minutes. On some trail cameras you can also select periods of the day you want it to take time lapse photos. This allows you to save some memory card space and battery life by narrowing it down to the hours where wildlife is most active during early morning and late evening.
Like I mentioned above, some of the most important features I consider when purchasing a trail camera are ease of use, trigger speed, delay time, battery life. and warranty/customer service. I have had great luck with the Bushnell Trophy Cam Aggressor HD and will be purchasing more of them in the near future. If you are interested in checking one out on Amazon, click the link below. If you purchase, I will receive a small commission that will help keep Trail Cam World up and running.
Last Updated: July 2020