Over the years, trail cameras have become an important part of a hunter’s arsenal and they are not cheap, the most affordable ones costing between $150 to 200 a unit. Most trail units will only last for about two years if it is not properly maintained and checked regularly.
Contrary to popular belief, trail camera maintenance does not always mean bringing it in a specialized shop for a technician to look at. Anybody can clean and maintain trail camera given a little know-how and some tips on how to do things better.
Trail Camera Maintenance
Basic trail camera maintenance is almost like maintaining digital cameras, only a little more complicated than just cleaning the lens and replacing batteries. With the different components that a trail camera has, it is important to clean and maintain every component last for a long period of time.
Making Regular Rounds
The best time to make regular maintenance rounds is when wildlife is not present in the area. This can be determined by historical data and, as most experts note, it would be sometime during the middle of the day. The peak hours of activity for deer and other game is early in the morning and late at night, having a human presence during this time would scare them away and, more often than not, they never come back.
Maintenance rounds should be done frequently; some hunters would check their units every week as this would minimize human scent from mingling with the area surrounding the cameras. Another trick they use is following the same path when walking around the area, this also prevents human scent from spreading.
Hunters also wear latex gloves when handling the unit to prevent contamination of the already established scent of the camera unit.
Outside Looking In
One thing to check when doing regular maintenance is looking for any sign of exterior damage. Animals like deer, bear and moose have a habit of getting up close and personal with trail cameras. These creatures are curious and they often end up licking, sniffing and even trying to bite trail cameras off the tree or blind that they are mounted on.
When doing maintenance rounds do a spot check of the exterior casing and check for bite marks or scratches. Look at the mounting straps and buckles as well as these can also show damage through time. Replace buckles and straps as needed and mend minor casing damage using duct tape or, if the casing is damaged heavily, place it inside a security box.
Some insects find their way inside a camera’s casing and this can affect performance especially if the internal wirings have been stripped and bitten off. Regular insecticides can work as a deterrent but they also have a repulsive smell that can and will drive game away from the camera. Experts suggest using an insecticide that is odorless and before deploying it, try to spray some near a feeder and see if the smell drives the animals away. Always bring the spray when doing regular rounds to spray around the unit again as these chemicals get absorbed by the tree over time.
Most cameras are painted in camouflage colors and some hunters add some twigs or leaves around the camera to hide it better. This technique would require more frequent visits to replace the leaves and twigs that have fallen off.
After checking the trail camera casing, the next thing to look at are the batteries. If the camera has a viewfinder that can monitor battery life, check the percentage and see if it would still last until the next round of maintenance checks. Always carry spare batteries when doing maintenance checks so drained batteries can be replaced immediately.
Be careful in transporting batteries with larger than 6V capacity as improper storage can result to the power draining out quickly and can even result to a fire if it comes into contact with metal and other combustibles.
Moisture and dust affects picture quality if left on the lens for too long. Use a microfiber cloth or a lens wipe when cleaning a camera lens. This prevents scratching while cleaning and wipes off dust and dirt for clearer pictures.
Excessive moisture can also cause damage to trail cameras especially the lens and internal circuitry. Desiccants can be placed inside the casing to absorb moisture. These should also be part of the regular maintenance kit.
As previously mentioned animals can be sly sometimes and sniff, lick and bite cameras causing damage externally and can also make the camera lose its internal settings, limiting the detection zone from what it used to be. When doing maintenance checks, take some sample pictures using a human subject and see if the camera still captures images within range. Use the viewfinder to check for picture quality. This can also test if the sensors are working properly, log the time the subject enters the detection zone and the time the image is captured, this should be within range of the actual trigger and recovery time.
One of the more important items on the list, checking if the memory is full ensures that the memory cards are replaced immediately for continued performance. The built-in menu provides details on how much memory is still left and always carry spare memory sticks when doing rounds.
A tablet or laptop can also be brought for faster image processing, just take out the memory card from the unit and connect it to the laptop. Transfer all the pictures and put it back in. This works for both internal and external memory trail cameras.
Some hunters use digital cameras to view pictures from SD cards but this is not advisable as there can compatibility issues which can cause data to be lost. Nobody wants that to happen.
Always make time to clean and check up on trail cameras, this provides the opportunity to physically assess the trail for animal movement and determine if the trail camera needs to be moved or if the time is right to hunt the big one.