Plan ahead like a pro

Use off season to ensure cameras are ready

As the off season slowly transitions from late summer into early fall, there are many things that we can all do ahead of time to ensure we get the most out of our trail camera efforts during the upcoming hunting season.

When you take into account the actual out-of-pocket costs of cameras, batteries, memory cards, gasoline, wear and tear, and the myriad other things necessary to properly run a string of cameras, why leave anything to chance?

This does not even count the value of your personal time that comes into play. I easily spend at least 200 or 300 hours each year between about September and the end of deer season dealing with all of the things necessary to successfully run my web of trail cameras.

My definition of success in the realm of trail cam use would include such things as keeping up with the local deer herd population, knowing the relative buck/doe make-up, gaining insight into the comings and goings of resident bucks, range shifter bucks, and range expander bucks — and the list goes on and on.

The amount of actionable knowledge that can be gained today from trail cameras and used to great advantage during the hunting season is truly staggering when compared to what most of us knew just a decade or so ago.

From personal experience over the past 10 years, the annual monetary costs for knowledge picked up through the use of trail cameras is miniscule in comparison to what is actually gained, both in overall whitetail knowledge and in success, at the skinning shed.

Let’s begin by going over a few things you need to either do or consider doing this time of year during the preseason, late-summer doldrums.

Visual checkup

Trail cameras, being a blend of delicate technology and mechanics, are quite reliable if they are taken care of. The very first thing I would recommend doing is to round up all of your cameras and give each one a thorough check-up.

An unnoticed door gasket leak or a cracked case can easily cause a fatal camera malfunction in the field when you least expect or need a problem.

Each camera should be inspected to ensure all the gaskets remain watertight.
Each camera should be inspected to ensure all the gaskets remain watertight.

One fairly common problem involves leaving batteries, especially ones that are almost depleted, in a camera after it is taken out of service at the end of hunting season. This oversight can often lead to the discovery several months later that one of the batteries leaked acid and corroded everything metallic in the vicinity of the offending battery.

At the very least, a brass brush and baking soda will be needed to successfully clean up the mess and restore electrical conductivity. At the very worst, the camera can be rendered absolutely useless.

And, yes, the author most humbly admits that he learned this lesson from personal experience.

Test phase

After the visual checkup, I recommend running a brief test on each camera to, for the most part, just see if the camera still works. Every once in a while I will find that a camera just plain stopped working. I would much rather know this now than the day before I plan to start hanging cameras.

You still have time to return the camera to the manufacturer for service or exchange. In my experience, certain camera brands have very good customer service and will exchange your malfunctioning or out-of-date camera for a brand-new late model camera for a reasonable fee.

The time to test cameras is not when the season begins.
The time to test cameras is not when the season begins.

You might very well wish to take the testing process a few notches further and do an actual “walk by test” to check a trail cam’s detection and flash components, plus the camera itself. This will, of course, require a set of batteries, a memory card and a few minutes of your time for each camera.

This test will also ferret out memory cards that have gone bad or need reformatting. My preference is to always have two coded and labeled memory cards available for each of my trail cameras. The small additional cost for this redundancy is way more than offset during the hunting season by the increased efficiency of being able to quickly swap memory cards at each camera site and not be at a site one second longer than necessary.


This time of year is also when you watch for sales on camera batteries so you can stock up on batteries for the upcoming season. Proper attention to the little details goes a long way when the leaves begin to fall and your attention shifts to finding or patterning a buck, rather than running into last-minute problems because you did not take the time back in August to properly check everything out.

Also, this is a good time of year to assess your system, or lack thereof, for reviewing, filing and storing your stream of trail cam photos on your computer. If you start doing the right things and using proper techniques with your trail cams, you will soon have so many photos of bucks that you will have no choice but to get organized.

This is a very important subject that we will go over in detail in an upcoming installment of Happy Trails.

Let’s all get moving and begin our preparations this month for the soon-to-begin trail camera season.

About Bill Garbo 83 Articles
Bill Garbo is a petroleum engineer and avid whitetail hunter from Madison, Miss. He has lived and hunted out west and taken numerous big game species, but hunting big old mature southern whitetail bucks is his favorite pursuit by a country mile.