Updated: Jun 2, 2020
So you did all your diligent research during the off-season and have chosen the perfect trail camera, but have no idea when you should put it out. The good news is there is no "right" answer to this question as every hunter has their own preference and routine each year. If you're not yet using trail cameras be sure to check out our article, Why Use Trail Cameras, to find out what you're missing out on. Let's dive in and figure out what will work best for you!
Many hunters begin their trail camera use in the spring time for a multitude of reasons. Some are trying to do some advance scouting for the upcoming turkey season and others may be trying to see how many bucks are still holding so they can make their Shed Hunting plans.
Come May, you may also want to get a head start on checking out the status and health of your local bucks and their early grown progress, although it will still be too early to identify most bucks from the previous season.
If turkey hunting and shed hunting doesn't really interest you and you only bought your trail camera for scouting your local deer herd, then perhaps waiting until summer arrives to put out your cameras would be best.
Summertime is a very popular time for most hunters to begin running trail cameras, and for good reason. As we roll into June, antler growth is very rapid and you will quickly know which bucks are showing the most potential and possibly even which bucks have survived and returned from last season.
I personally like to have all of my trail cameras out by the 4th of July each season because by then, the bucks are about half grown or more and I still get to
enjoy a solid 6+ weeks of growth before it slows down in the middle to end of August.
In the summer, some will prefer to start setting their cameras up in June to capture early growth and some will
wait until August when they are fully grown.
This is a preference that will depend on the hunter, but I strongly urge you to get them out at some point in the summer because not much will get you more excited for the upcoming bow season than seeing a large velvet buck visiting your hunting area.
The intel your trail cameras capture towards the end of summer can also be key to early season success, especially in states that open exceptionally early. Deer are very pattern-able this time of year and if you do your homework, you can ambush a trophy buck before he has time to go nocturnal with changing hormones and increased hunting pressure.
Quality bug spray or a mesh face mask may be a good idea this time of the year depending on where you live as mosquitoes and biting flies can quickly ruin your day afield when placing or checking your cameras.
Fall and Winter Months
If you don't have your cameras up by now, or have just purchased them in time for hunting season, now is the time to get them up! If you can get them up by September, you'll be a little bit too late for summer patterns but you will still have plenty of time to start figuring out fall patterns as their feeding behaviors change and their breeding behavior increases.
Because some bucks will leave their summer areas and others will move in, you will also have a good idea of what bucks are worth hunting and adding to the hit list based on daylight activity. Some of the bucks you would have seen during the summer months may seemingly vanish or move to their fall area and you could have been holding out for a deer that isn't there.
As hunting seasons come and go, I will typically leave my cameras up until early March so I can see what bucks survived and determine when my local bucks are shedding to time up my shed hunting plans. If you received a trail camera as a gift for Christmas, winter can be a great time to hang it up and get a head start on figuring out what bucks you could be hunting next fall.
Should I Keep Them Up Year Round?
It's worth noting that some hunters simply leave their cameras out year-round rather than bringing them in to sit all winter or spring. If you enjoy seeing pictures of wild game all season, this could be a great option to consider.
Advances in trail cameras including cellular trail cameras and solar chargers mean that you rarely have to leave the house to keep tabs on what your wildlife is up to, regardless of the weather or season. The only down side to leaving a camera up year round is that you will likely need to occasionally move them as deer patterns change on a seasonal basis.
If you're lucky enough to find a spot that has year round deer and turkey activity, then leaving your camera untouched may be the best option.
As you can see, if you have a trail camera in your possession then there is no wrong time to get it out in the woods to start doing its job. Timing is largely hunter specific depending on what your goals are and how much free time you can dedicate to maintaining them throughout the year.
Regardless of when they're out, be sure to practice techniques to keep them as safe as possible from possible theft, which you can learn about from THIS ARTICLE. If you know when you'd like to get your camera out, but are struggling with where to set them up to capture the best pictures, then be sure to check out our article, Where to Put Trail Cameras, to help you decide the best location for getting pictures of Mr. Big.
You may also want to check out our article, Where to Set Up Trail Cameras, to learn our best tips for trail cameras placement when you decide get them afield.
If you like what you read, be sure to sign up for our email list to stay up to date on all our new articles and important news regarding public land!
*Some links are amazon affiliate links, you can read our full affiliate disclosure on our contacts page*