As a ranch manager for an 8,500-acre hunting property in Texas, there’s no shortage of tasks to keep things running smoothly. I oversee ranch operations, manage habitat, monitor and manage wildlife populations and handle all the small details for upcoming hunts to make sure every guest has an exceptional experience during their visit.
I spend a lot of time observing wildlife populations and their behavior through our network of trail cameras both in and out of hunting seasons. On average, I’m processing 25,000-30,000 images per week, which was extremely time consuming, until we installed HuntPro. HuntPro does the image analysis, filtering and population data for me, so I can spend my time managing populations and handling operational priorities instead of wasting dozens of hours every month scrolling through images.
Collecting clean images across our trail camera network provides me with powerful and actionable data. I’ve developed a methodology for setting clean camera traps by focusing on these critical points:
1) Location: Cameras should be placed in a location that animals will travel by or to frequently. I typically place my cameras on feed locations and water sources that we maintain on the ranch. When those resources are not available, I place cameras on game trails where the terrain funnels animals into the camera’s field of view.
This coyote is following a trail from a water source to a large draw. It is a route that many animals use to travel between water and bedding areas.
2) Background: A clean background is the second most important thing behind location, as a “busy” background can make animals hard to find. I make sure there is little to no brush in any of our feed pens and reduce the number of loose limbs and other obstructions immediately around each pen.
A feed pen with obstructions like the one above can cause problems for fast and efficient identification of bucks vs. does.
3) Direction: I typically place a camera on the side of the feed pen where the sun spends most of its time. Doing this ensures that the animals are lit appropriately for the camera to capture easily during the daytime, and I don’t have to worry about sunshine washing out the image as it moves throughout the day.
4) Field of View: I like to place cameras 15 yards from where I expect animals to step into frame. This allows for a wider field of view, which can help when more than one animal is in the frame. When the camera is too close to the target, it can be difficult to discern useful information from the images collected.
This is an example of camera that is too close to the feeder, which doesn’t capture a clean image of the target animal.
5) Mounting: Without a solid mounting system, trail cameras can create a big headache by taking images as the tree or post they are mounted to moves. I’m sure everyone can relate to the frustration of looking at thousands of pictures with no meaningful content! Fortunately, HuntPro has a built in “None” filter that compiles all the images with nothing in them and enables users to delete all of them in a single click. It’s a huge time saver.
6) Equipment: There are a lot of trail camera brands on the market today, with offerings for budgets large and small. In my experience, you get what you pay for. I invest in quality cameras that have a good battery life, high megapixel image quality, and a versatile mounting system. Because HuntPro is camera independent, I can use a variety of camera brands on the property without any issues. I’ll upgrade or replace cameras as needed year to year instead of having to rip and replace the whole thing.
In addition to my insights, HuntPro has a Trail Camera Best Practices Guide you can download and use.
The planning and effort I put into my trail camera network as I described here really pays dividends when I upload my images into HuntPro. HuntPro’s value as a true wildlife management platform is its ability to analyze, organize, filer and compile all the images and data I collect every week. Instead of spending hours looking at thousands of pictures, I’m tapping into behavior insights, tagging trophy deer, building management lists, managing predators, analyzing harvest data, checking weather conditions and planning guest experiences. And I can do all that in my office on my computer or in the field on my mobile phone. HuntPro enables me to focus my time on managing my ranch, not hitting arrow keys.