How Does a Trail Camera Work

How Does A Trail Camera Work?

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Hunting is a sport enjoyed by many. Much like any other sport, hunting has its own equipment and gear. One of the more important pieces of equipment for hunters is a trail camera. But how does a trail camera work?

Per research, the global trail camera market size was valued at $86.6 million in 2018 and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 7.1% from 2019 to 2025. Enhanced spending on wildlife research is one of the key factors contributing to the growth of this market.

A question asked by most aspiring hunters, is “how exactly do trail cameras work?” We are here to answer just that for you. In this article, we will learn all there is to learn about trail cameras, starting with the fact that they are the same thing as game cameras, hunting cameras, or wildlife cameras.

We will answer every bit of important information there is about trail cameras. You’ve arrived here as a rookie, we promise you’ll leave as an expert!

What is a Trail Camera/Game Camera?

Trail cameras or game cameras are those cameras that are strategically placed in discreet locations or properties to capture footage or images of wildlife for many possible purposes.

  • Hunters often use trail cameras to understand their target or “game.” These cameras allow a hunter to understand the movement patterns, routine, grazing spots, etc., of their intended hunt. It is the perfect study to learn the right time for the hunt.
  • Photographers use these cameras to capture footage or shots that they otherwise may not be able to, because of animals fleeing at their sight. Not everyone is up for camouflaging themselves for the perfect shot.
  • Game cameras are an essential tool for wildlife research as they can be placed at different locations to study the life patterns and routines of various animals. This is mostly done by wildlife enthusiasts.
  • Although not its primary use, some people use game cameras to pump up their security by using them as security cameras on their properties.
  • Some people place them in the hopes of spotting a leprechaun or the ‘Big Foot’ (no kidding).

Trail cameras are presently one of the best hunting cameras on the market.

How Do Trail Cameras Work?

Components of a Trail Camera
Components of a Trail Camera

Now let’s understand how does a trail camera work. Most trail cameras in today’s time are digital trail cameras or wireless trail cameras. The wireless trail camera adds to the convenience of being able to be placed anywhere, be it on trees, stands, or other places.

These cameras are triggered by motion sensors. Their functionality is really simple if you think about it. The moment an animal enters the range of the motion sensor of the camera, it will snap pictures or capture a video. The range and sensitivity of the motion sensor differ from camera to camera and are entirely the user’s call, which one to go for.

Trail cameras are also called self-contained units. Why is that? Because they have all the basic functions they need, installed within their device. This includes power from batteries (AA batteries or lithium batteries), internal storage for automatically storing any pictures clicked for being reviewed later by users, and a flash for capturing images at night.

Do Trail Cameras Need Internet?

Some trail cameras need the internet, such as cellular trail cameras. These cameras do not save the clicked pictures inside flash storage or SD cards, but instead, send them directly to your cell phone at the same time as the picture is clicked.

Therefore, they need to be fitted with a SIM card, which will allow your game camera to have an internet connection to be able to send photos over cellular data.

Pros and Cons of A Cellular Trail Camera

These wireless trail cameras save you the time and effort taken to regularly trek to your camera for checking pictures.They need cellular reception/internet to be able to function.
You can check their results instantly.
The cellular capability requirement rules out the usage of these cameras in some remote location.
They are increasingly efficient for people with multiple cameras set up in different locations.
They are very effective for security purposes.
They do not need  a memory card, SD card, or flash drive for storage.

Do Trail Cameras/Game Cameras Use Flash?

The simple answer is yes. Much like any other camera, game cameras also use flash. Although, there are different types of flashes that users can go for. Let us learn about them in detail:

1) Traditional Flash/White Flash

As the name suggests, the  traditional flash or  white flash is used with DSLR cameras. They exude a bright white light which will give you extremely clear and good quality pictures at night. However, the downside to this bright list is that it will also alert your intended target. You are sure to spook deer, cougars, or any other animals that you intend in clicking photos of.

2) Low Glow/Infrared Flash

Many trail cameras come with  infrared flash, which is also called low glow flash. Cameras with the infrared feature produce a visible infrared light from the infrared emitters when snapping photos at night. The faint red glow is less likely to spook animals in the detection zone but the trade-off is that the resulting photo or video is in black and white colors. Albeit the pictures are in monochrome, the picture quality is mostly outstanding.

3) No Glow

These trail cameras, as the name suggests, use a technology that does not produce any visible flash. Therefore, there is absolutely no fear of spooking your game. These cameras are also less susceptible to being stolen a camera that snaps a lurker with an obvious flash, has a bigger chance of being stolen. The downside is that these cameras click lower-quality photos. Always check sample photos before buying no glow trail cameras.

Can You Use a Trail Camera as a Security Camera?

Some people may not realize but game cameras can work excellently as a home security camera. How so? Imagine having someone lurking around your house. A game camera will immediately snap a picture or capture a video of the same and inform you about the probable intruder. There are certain features you should opt for if you are looking to use a game camera as a security camera:

  • A strobe flash camera is ideal if you wish for the intruder to be spooked away because of being clicked.
  • A no glow camera can be a good choice if you do not want to alert a suspected person in the detection zone.
  • The camera should have a long flash range and motion detection range to capture movement.
  • Try to go for a camera that has HD image quality output or with a high pixel count so that in case there is someone unwanted lurking nearby, you are able to identify them.
  • A cellular trail camera would be better so that you can be alerted immediately in case of such an incident, via your smartphone.
  • Find a camera that can record video so that you have the option of recording video of suspect intruders.

Do Trail Cameras Work Through Glass?

Yes, a game camera will work through the glass but not as efficiently as it would work without it. This is simply due to the fact that the glass messes with the camera’s motion detection abilities. There are some cameras that have motion detectors that trigger by observing a change in the pixels in the frame. Such cameras may not be  affected by having a glass in between.

Also, glass can cause reflection, both in the morning as well at night. These reflections may also mess with the sensor’s ability to trigger the camera. Lastly, the image quality should also be expected to be compromised due to the glass in the middle. Therefore, it is not advised to use a trail camera through the glass.

How Far Can a Trail Camera Take Pictures?

The Range of Trail Cameras Is Typically 20 Feet to 75 Feet 
The Range of Trail Cameras Is Typically 20 Feet to 75 Feet 

There is no specific answer as to how far can a trail camera be taking pictures from. The usual range of game cameras is between 20 feet to 75 feet. The focal length of a camera’s lens is of utmost importance when determining the length at which the camera will be able to click a clear picture.

Also, it is pointless to have a camera with a long focal range as long as it does not have a detection range that can match that distance. The trigger speed, i.e., the time taken for the camera to trigger a picture click from the time of detection is also a key consideration. A high trigger speed will do more justice to pictures that have the intended target at a farther distance.

When to Put Out Trail Cameras?

Trail cameras are an excellent tool for hunters. No one is stopping you from putting your camera out all year long but the maintenance, storage and upkeep cost are definitely not worth it if the results are sparse. It is known that summertime is the time to hunt your massive velvet bucks.

Hunters should start putting out their cameras in summer to first monitor the routine and patterns of their game before they can learn fully when to go for the hunt. Hunters can start off as early as late spring to start monitoring their trophies.

Summertime is recommended because during the cold weather and seasons, buck hunting conditions become more difficult and the chances of your camera falling prey to the weather is also higher.

How Long to Leave a Trail Camera Out?

Some people think it’s a good idea to check their wireless trail cameras out in the open every so often but in truth, you end up doing more harm than good. Why? Because by regularly going to your camera site where you already suspect some animal action, you will end up leaving your scent. Frequent visits mean more scent which may disrupt an otherwise perfect spot for spotting deer.

You should visit the camera as little as possible, although the battery life of the camera also plays a huge role in this. If your camera has more than sufficient battery life, you should visit your camera somewhere between once a week to a fortnight.

Cellular cams come in handy in such cases as you are constantly updated about what your device is shooting, allowing you to understand the patterns of your game more intimately.

Where to Set Up Trail Cameras?

One of the main considerations with most cameras for hunting is where to put them. Following are the best areas for setting up a wireless trail camera.

1) Food Sources: This one is a no-brainer. All animals are always in search of good food sources. You should make sure that your camera is pointing straight at the food source for a great photo.

You obviously need to have good knowledge about the food habits of your game to be able to understand where to expect your game to show up. Not only that, but you need to have a sharp understanding of the terrain you’re working with as well so you know where to expect what food.

2) Water Sources: Water spots are an area of high animal activity. Places such as streams, lakes, brooks etc., make for a great place for setting up game cameras. It is important to know if your game prefers stagnant water or running water.

People hunting boars may set up stagnant waterholes because boars prefer stagnant waters.

3) Mineral Sites: Mineral sites are often regarded as some of the best spots to get a good shot of a deer herd. Try placing your camera near mineral sites if you know where to find one.

4) Trail Intersections: The likelihood of spotting deer going from their feeding areas to their bedding areas is very high. Therefore, people can set up their cameras near or through these intersections in hopes of spotting their game. 

How High Should a Trail Camera Be Off the Ground?

One would think that placing a trail camera up high would give them the best chance of capturing their  targets on their cameras but that might not be the case. A camera placed too high will result in you watching a still frame of a buck’s antlers. A camera placed too low may result in too many hooves in your pictures.

Therefore, the ideal height for placing your game camera is at the chest height of the intended target. For eg., the chest height of a deer is somewhere at 2-3 feet, so your camera should be placed at that height.

In case you do not have any particular animal in mind, an average height between 3-5 feet should be ideal for you. A camera’s PIR (Passive Infrared) range gets a better chance of detection at this height range as it is for sure to capture more of the animal at such heights, therefore having a better chance of setting off the motion detectors.

What Is the Best Time to Check Trail Cameras?

The best time to check your trail cameras is when the sun is at its peak. Why so? That is the usual time of resting for games such as deer. Deer like to rest in shade and as the sun moves, they relocate their bedding areas as per the shade.

During the 12-2 PM window, the sun is at its peak and the shade movement is the least. This decreases the chances of deer moving, and therefore from being spooked by running into you.

Having a cellular remote camera comes in handy because it negates the need for regularly checking your trail cameras on site.

Why Is My Trail Camera Not Taking Night Pictures?

This is a common complaint between users that their camera isn’t taking night pictures and it could be because of a few reasons:

The Batteries Are Dead

The likeliest reason for a wireless trail camera not taking pictures is that the batteries have died on you. It could be because of a discharged battery in which case all you need to give it is a charge. Or it could be a dead battery in which case you need to get a new one!

The Solar Power Mode Is On

There are some cameras that allow users to put their cameras in battery-saving mode by switching to solar energy mode using a small solar panel. Check if you have turned your camera to solar mode because for obvious reasons then, you wouldn’t find any night pictures.

Data Storage Is Full

Another likely reason for your camera not clicking pictures can be that it has run out of space to store any more pictures. But such a situation would not just apply to the night but the day as well.

There Is Nothing to Capture

A very likely reason could simply be that there was nothing to capture or to set off the motion detectors, therefore no picture or video was clicked!

How to Keep Trail Camera From Being Stolen?

Lock Up Your Trail Cameras Using Cables" to Protect Them From Being Stolen
Lock Up Your Trail Cameras Using Cables” to Protect Them From Being Stolen

While it is important to understand how does a trail camera work, it’s equally important to know how to protect it from being stolen.

Following are the measures you can take to keep your valuable trail camera from being stolen by miscreants:

  • Lock up your cameras using cable locks. You can use a security box to lock up your camera as well, disabling anyone from getting it out.
  • Hang your cameras out of reach of the human eye. Although, this might make you compromise on the quality and actual image of the final output.
  • Cellular cameras are the perfect choice for areas more prone to having cameras stolen by providing real-time surveillance.
  • Camouflaging your camera is a great option for protecting your camera from being stolen.
Hang the Trail Camera Up High to Protect Them From Being Stolen
Hang the Trail Camera Up High to Protect Them From Being Stolen


To conclude, a trail camera is one of your best friends if you are into the sport of hunting. It allows you to study your targets in much more intimate detail without even being around much. The best hunting camera would be one with all the basic features at a reasonable price. To know which are the best hunting and trail cameras on the market right now, click here. You will find our detailed buying guide for hunting cameras.

We hope we have been able to answer all your questions regarding how does a trail camera work. If you have any queries, suggestions or remarks, please feel free to let us  know in the comments section below! Happy hunting!