Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Spring is here and soon many eager deer hunters will be hitting the woods to set up their trail cameras for summer scouting. Every trail camera is unfortunately subject to theft from some dishonest outdoors-men and this seems to be even more true on public land where competition for prime spots and big bucks can be very intense. Here are some tips to keep in mind and gear to check out this coming spring and throughout all season to prevent yourself from being the next victim of trail camera theft.
Trail Camera Placement
When setting up trail cameras on public land, I tend to be very cautious as to where I place them. I always avoid facing them towards roads, trails, and other access points to keep them out of sight from the casual hunter or hiker who happens to walk by.
I also tend to not hang them in places where this is evidence of other hunters. These signs could include tree stands, boot prints, or trail markers such as reflective tacks and ribbon. Spots with evidence or other hunters are probably not ones that I would be hunting anyways, but could be used by the bucks that I am hunting in the summer months.
If you are in this situation, using unconventional methods such as hanging a camera 8-10 ft. up the tree and angled down toward the trail is an option. To do this, simply carry in a single climbing stick or other mobile climbing method and use it to reach your desired height, then hang the camera and climb back down, taking the stick with you.
There are plenty of ways you can get creative but the take home point is to think outside the box and avoid locations that put your camera in a vulnerable position.
The Shadow Micro Camera by Wildgame Innovations is a great option when hanging cameras higher than normal as it has a built in swivel system to quickly and easily angle a camera any direction you want! Click on the picture for current pricing on Amazon
What gear will help keep my trail camera safe?
I know it seems obvious, but the simplest thing you can do deter theft besides discreet placement is to always have your camera locked no matter what. I learned this the hard way a few years ago when hunting a big buck on out of state public land.
I had my master lock for the cable but had forgotten the small luggage lock I used to keep the camera latch locked shut. Assuming that I was deep enough on public land to not worry until my next hunt, I left the camera.
Much to my disappointment, when I returned weeks later the camera was there seemingly untouched, but the SD card had been stolen. Lesson learned. Don't tempt the honest thief with easy pickings and make sure your camera is locked tight. It's a cheap investment as a good outdoor lock won't cost you much online, as seen HERE.
Most cameras nowadays are even made to accept a Python Lock, which can be drawn tight to the tree. As a DIY alternative to python locks, I'll sometimes go to my local hardware store and pick up a few feet of vinyl coated cable, the hardware to make loops, and an outdoor lock, and for about $5-6 total I can make a python lock-esque system that becomes a permanent part of the camera and is always there to use.
A more sturdy option is to place the entire camera in a lockbox or security box, like the one shown here, that is size specific to the camera that you're using, and then lock it to the tree.
Another unique option is a product offered by Sportsman's Shield that is simply a decal that you place on the camera, indicating that it is a device capable of GPS tracking.
It works on the basis of the Deterrence Theory of theft prevention, you can read all about how it works in their blog post: How A Sticker/Decal Can Actually Prevent Tree Stand and Trail Camera Theft.
The Sportsman's Shield shown here on a trail camera can be an excellent, cost effective way to prevent trail camera theft on public land, Click on the picture or HERE to learn more!
Cellular Cameras and Cheap Cameras
Although they could be considered gear, I feel it's worth putting cellular cameras in their own category. Because they have built in wireless systems, they could easily be paired with the Sportsman's Shield, but these cameras often have features built into them as well that were directly created for theft situations, such as GPS tracking.
In addition, if the camera is not disabled immediately it will continue to take pictures and send them to you remotely, providing you with potentially valuable intel as to who took the camera and where they're going.
I recently saw this in action in one of my Facebook hunting groups as the camera owner was continually getting pictures of the thieves walking around in their own home. Despite the situation of him getting his camera stolen, it was quite hysterical. If they disable the camera, often times you will still get the few pictures of them approaching the camera, which could be then turned over to law enforcement.
In addition to the wireless capabilities, you still have the ability to use any of the previous methods such as locks, for added security. Although I have never tried it, attaching a fake antenna to a conventional camera could also deter a thief if they believe that they could be possibly tracked.
The down side to cellular cameras is that they can be pricey, but inexpensive options such as the Spy-Point Link Micro and Cell-Link are very cost friendly. You can read all about the other benefits of cellular cameras and how they work in our article: Are Cellular Cameras Worth It?
On the flip side, rather than going the expensive route, choosing an extremely inexpensive camera such as the Tasco 8MP Trail Camera makes the sting of a thief taking your camera much easier to stomach, check out the most recent price HERE.
Not that you want your camera stolen regardless of how much you spent on it, but some hunters would rather take the risk of having an inexpensive camera stolen than investing in python locks to protect their expensive cameras, just to have them stolen or smashed anyways.
Alternatively, you could use these cheaper cameras to "spy" on your primary camera to catch the thief in the act and hopefully be able to identify them.
Unfortunately, you will never be able to stop all thieves, even hunters from other hunters. Because trail cameras are placed on trees, they're all technically subject to saws and bolt cutters if someone wished to steal one badly enough.
However, as demonstrated there are several precautions you can take to keep most folks, even some thieves honest and continuing on their way through the woods without your camera in hand. So get out there, secure those cameras, and have fun waiting for that next hit-lister to make his debut this season!
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