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3 common mistakes when running trail cameras


Common mistakes when setting up trail cameras
Setting up a Browning Trail Camera on a deer hunt. All photo credits: Brady Miller

Setting up trail cameras sounds simple enough right? Until you’re flipping through your pictures and you can’t tell the difference between a doe or a 170-inch buck because the heads are out of frame. Anybody that has set up trail cameras can probably think of these exact instances where you’re walking back to your truck cursing at every rock and stick that gets in your way because you had trail camera malfunctions.

I’ve narrowed it down to three common mistakes that are typically overlooked when it comes to setting up trail cameras.

1. Not reformatting SD Cards

SD card when running trail cameras

The easiest and least talked about mistake is not re-formatting your SD card in your trail camera. When you don’t reformat your SD card in your trail camera you are running the risk of not having the pictures saved properly. When you use SD cards on different devices it will have formatting that matches those different devices, which can adversely affect the communication between your trail camera and SD card. Ultimately this could leave you with no saved pictures at all or unreadable files. Re-format every SD card, it is better to be safe than sorry.

2. Trail camera placed too high or too low

Browning trail camera placed to low on tree

Trail camera placement is another common mistake, and I’m not talking about finding good high traffic areas. I’m talking about the simple basics of properly wrapping a trail camera around a tree. Angles are everything. If you have the trail camera set too high up the tree you’re only going to get pictures of ears and antlers. If the camera is set too low, you’ll have a lot of pictures of legs.

A rule of thumb I like to use when the ground is completely level is to put the camera about waist high on the tree. Which is around four feet off the ground for some of you who may be taller or shorter. This four-foot rule changes though as the landscape changes. If the tree you’re hanging the camera on is slightly lower in elevation than the area you wish to capture, you’ll need to move the trail camera higher up the tree so your eye level with the animal. If the tree’s location is higher in elevation than that area you expect the animals to be, you’ll want to have that camera a little bit lower on the tree.

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3. Forgetting to check ALL trail camera settings

Assuming that the settings on your trail camera are good to go is a mistake I hear about all the time and a mistake that can be the costliest. There is nothing worse than realizing the trail camera was in video mode for the last couple months instead of taking photos.

Things to check every time you set up your trail camera:

- Capture mode

Capture mode is pretty simple, do you want photos or videos? Keep in mind that video files are bigger and will eat your memory card a lot faster, plus your camera will be working harder recording video causing battery life to deteriorate. 

- The number of photo bursts and delay between photos

Photo burst and photo delay are essentially how many pictures you want taken at a time and how long of a delay you'd like between those bursts. Why it's important to always check this is because every camera setup is different. For camera setups over game trails, you want higher burst and less delay since the animals will be walking through quickly. Whereas camera setups over mineral sites the animals will be in front of the camera a lot longer meaning you have a higher chance of getting a picture so you can lower the photo burst and increase delay time. 

- The sensor sensitivity

For those of you who are unfamiliar with sensor sensitivity, it's basically what triggers the camera to take a picture. Every camera's sensor sensitivity is different and I recommend you test the camera before you put it up so you know if you have to change the settings. This will help eliminate those unwanted pictures triggered by tall grass blowing in the wind, which happens a lot. 

- Photo megapixels 

Most cameras will give you choices for megapixels you'd like the photos to be taken in. Higher pixels equals higher quality, which takes more space on your memory card. Lower megapixels equals lower quality but takes less space on your card. The decision is yours. The best advice I have is test them and see what you like best. 

- Time and date

Time and date seem like a simple thing, but a lot of people get wrapped up in all the other features trail cameras have that they forget to set the time and date, which could single-handily be the most important scouting tool beside the actual picture itself. You don’t want to be guessing if that buck was walking by in the dark at sunrise or at sunset all because you didn’t set the time on your trail camera correctly. If you forget everything else I’ve said here, at least remember to always check your trail cameras time and date!


At the end of the day, these are only pictures and you shouldn’t get too worked up if you make a couple mistakes. Learn from them and move on. Trust me, it only takes a couple times of being irate at your trail camera to ensure that mistake never happens again. There are no givens in hunting, not even something as simple as putting up trail cameras, but that’s what keeps us hunters coming back for more.

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Claudia S. - posted 4 months ago on 12-29-2019 08:57:35 pm

I totally agree with your viewpoint.I have two co related queries in this regard that Why does it takes a lot of time for gopro videos to get uploaded and other one I am unable to connect the Arlo ultra with my Mac book Air.I have tried out the following arlo security review to resolve this circumstances.Hope this might help.

Roberta S. - posted 8 months ago on 09-17-2019 01:01:17 pm

I'm trying to identify a small critter in my shrubbery. Can I place my trail cam on the ground? Will it damage it?

Isaac R. - posted 1 year ago on 07-02-2018 04:40:47 pm

Great article! I have been guilty of setting a camera on a great trail only to come back a few later to find out I had it set wrong or my settings hadn’t been properly checked. Let’s just say that won’t ever happen again! Thanks for a great read and some new knowledge on reformatting the sd card!

Chris C. - posted 1 year ago on 06-19-2018 07:15:07 am

Great article. Unfortunately I run my cameras in areas that get a decent amount of hikers and other people. When out walking, it seems that everyone focuses on things waist to head high. I have had a few cameras stolen, messed with or cards removed, in the past. I started putting my cameras higher up and angling them down towards the area I want to cover. I normally carry 2-3 climbing sticks whenever I am placing cams, and knock on wood, I haven't had any issues in a couple of years. Most of my cameras are 7-8 feet up now.

One other thing I learned was to plan for plant growth throughout the year. I run my cams all Summer until early September. There have been a few times that leaves or branches have grown enough to trigger my camera every time it is windy. Nothing worse than going through 1,000+ pictures of a maple leaf waving at you.

Al C. - posted 1 year ago on 06-19-2018 06:03:13 am

In my areas the biggest issue I was in into is elk rubbing on the cameras and chewing the rubber coating off the cable locks. I’m not a big fan of putting cameras anywhere near head height in elk country. I could tell you which bulls had growths on their eyelids. Going with large diameter trees isn’t much of an option near tree line.

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 05:22:27 pm
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Scott - The main way people share locations through photos is if you have location services turned on when you take pictures with your cell phone. Some digital cameras also have a setting that saves GPS location to the metadata of your photos. So if you were to text or email a few friends a photo from your hunt, and then they forwarded those photos to someone else, and they forward them, etc. Someone along the way could save that photo and then open up the metadata information on that photo and it could see the lat/long location. The same being your trail camera photos if you save them to your phone (and had the location service turned on in your trail camera) then forwarded those trail camera pictures to someone. Hope that helps clear things up.

Scott L. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 05:12:17 pm
Mohave Co., Arizona

How is it that I'm sharing my hunt location? My cameras do not transmit photos. And, unless I'm sharing the photos online, what is the mechanism for them to share my location?

Chris N.
Chris N. - posted 1 year ago on 06-18-2018 07:35:16 am
goHUNT Team

@Robert For re-formatting the card you need to go into your trail camera settings and there should be a subsection that says “reformat” or “reformat card". All cameras are a little different, so it’s hard for me to tell you exactly how to find it, but if you dig around on your settings you should come across it. One thing to note, re-formatting the card deletes everything on it, so make sure you have everything off the card or saved on your computer.

As for the height of the camera placement, I would just stick to the four-foot rule. That height (on level ground) will give you a good base for capturing many different animals without them being out of frame.

Hope this helps you out and good luck this fall!

Robert N. - posted 1 year ago on 06-16-2018 03:54:54 am

How do you reformat the the SD card? Is it 4 feet or waist high if you are just shy of 6’. Thanks

Gary H. - posted 1 year ago on 06-15-2018 10:15:20 am

- using quality batteries
-using correct of cards ( This got me good a couple times...some cameras wont use 32gb cards)
-sensitivity settings (learned the hard way many times)

Brady J. Miller
Brady M. - posted 1 year ago on 06-15-2018 09:40:36 am
Las Vegas, NV
goHUNT Team

@Scott - here is the article that Jared was referencing:

James k. - posted 1 year ago on 06-15-2018 06:42:28 am

that sensitivity setting is no joke, I had about 12,000 photos of brush moving in the wind , funny. but not really.

Jared Y. - posted 1 year ago on 06-15-2018 04:21:46 am
Jeffersonville, Indiana


Be careful with enabling the GPS coordinates on your trail camera pics. You may be revealing your hunting location. Gohunt has an article on it somewhere.

Scott L. - posted 1 year ago on 06-14-2018 04:14:47 pm
Mohave Co., Arizona

Chris, Excellent article. Through trial, error, and some hair pulling, I've encountered all of these in my use of my cameras. One more point for those who use cameras and have the capacity to do this. It's a nice thing to insure the GPS coordinates are set accurately on the camera. It helps with accurate sunrise and sunset. Its also a good idea to keep in mind where the sun will rise and set so as not to white out your photos of that buck.