Seems like everyone is using trail cams or game cameras for scouting these days. As a wildlife biologist, I have used them as camera traps to get evidence that certain species were present in a specific area.
We set game cameras and left them in the field for months at a time before retrieving and examining the images. This was very valuable as a wildlife management tool, but on a personal level, it was just plain fun to see what species and what behaviors were captured on the photos.
Uses for Trail Cameras/ Game Cams/ Camera Traps
- Scouting tool – animal quality, movement and timing
- Management tool – Property owners survey for deer abundance and quality
- Security Camera – Monitor property for evidence of human, domestic or wildlife pests
- Scientific tool
- Photographic evidence of presence of rare or exotic species (there is no evidence for absence)
- Monitor bird nesting behavior, nesting success and to document nest predators
- Document previously unknown behaviors or species associations (for example, 8 cougars seen in one photo in Washington)
- State of Utah Documented a Wolverine on the North Slope of the Unita Mountains
For our personal game camera, we chose a Moultrie M-880 because it has comparable features and is rated as high as trail cameras that cost much more:
- Picture Quality: 0.5-8.3 Megapixels
- Trigger Speed: 0.88 sec.
- Recovery Time: 2.6 seconds
- Detection Range: 60 feet
- Flash Range: 70-80 feet
- Low Glow infrared nighttime images
- SD memory card slot: 4 GB to 32 GB
- Batteries: 8AA – takes approx. 9,500 pictures
Daytime Pictures with the Moultrie M-880 Camera
I always hunt public land, so I don’t need a cellular or wireless compatible game camera since I can’t get cell service there anyway.
The first time we set the camera up on public land was on September 21st, a few days before the muzzleloader buck mule deer season and about two weeks before the spike elk season.
The area I planned to hunt usually has more elk than mule deer, but I just wanted to see what pictures we could get. Any information I could get about animal movements would be a bonus. I left the camera for three days to see what animals it could find.
I knew of a good area about a quarter mile from the road where few people were likely to go and strapped the camera to a large tree and secured it with a Python cable.
The camera was placed about five feet above the ground and was faced North to prevent pictures from being backlit.
After three days (Sept. 24), we retrieved the camera and found it had taken over 250 pictures.
The first animal captured was a doe mule deer at exactly 17:00 on the 21st, less than an hour after we left the area. The pictures of the deer were not great because she was too short and too close for the five foot camera height, so we could only see the top of her head in some shots and her back in others.
No animal pictures were captured on the 22nd or 23rd, but we were pretty excited to see the 6×6 bull elk (Photo 1) that showed up at 13:21 on the the 24th. The camera took 12 pictures of the bull elk. I will post a video loop in the future.
A few minutes later a cow elk (Photo 2) walked into view and actually came very close to the camera as if she were smelling it (Photo 4).
As the cow elk was checking out the camera, it gives you an idea how close the camera can focus. The elk’s eye is only about a foot from the camera. That close up picture is not quite in focus, but the other pics were very good. Not too bad for the first time the game camera was put out in the woods.
Taking Photos of Small Animals or Birds
I’ve heard that trail cams are not very good for taking pictures of small mammals or birds because they can’t trigger the camera or they are too small for the camera to focus.
Small mammals can be hard to find, but birds are not, so we set the camera up on a tripod near the bird feeder.
Photo 5 is proof that that exotic Eurasian Collared Doves have made it to our area.
We also have some nice photos of smaller birds such as house finches and gold finches. Hummingbirds are proving to be difficult. Taking pictures of birds is where I would recommend using the 8.0 megapixel image size.
Nighttime IR Pictures with the Moultrie M-880
We’ve taken a few pics around the house to see what critters come into the yard at night. Most of the pictures so far are mule deer.
Photo 6 is an example and of an IR nighttime shot at close range and is also proof that mule deer eat green tomatoes.
Coming soon, Multi-shot option set to 4-shot fast, captures a deer jumping a fence in 4 pictures.
Moultrie M-880 Specifications
If battery life is about 9,500 pictures, how much memory do we need? The table below shows the approximate number of different quality photos that can be stored on SD memory cards.
Picture Quality and Storage Capability by Megapixel Setting
|Megapixel||Pixel||Approx. Photo Storage|
|Setting||Size||4 GB||8 GB||16 GB||32 GB|
|Low 0.5||940 x 560||10,000||20,000||40,000||80,000|
|Med 2.0||1920 x 1080||4,000||8,000||16,000||32,000|
|High 4.0||2688 x 1512||2,000||4,000||8,000||16,000|
|Enhanced 8.0||3840 x 2160||1,000||2,000||4,000||8,000|
Notice that all the full sized photos in this post are the high quality (4.1 megapixel; 2688 x 1512), not the Enhanced 8.0 megapixel photos. Unless your trying to get a nice photo to blow up like a poster, we don’t really need 8.0 megapixels. That also means we don’t need a 32 GB card unless we use the highest megapixel setting and plan to leave the camera out for a long time, especially since new batteries will take about 9,500 pictures.
The Moultrie M-880 can be set to operate in four different operational modes:
Four Operational Modes
- Motion Detect – Game camera still photos triggered by IR motion
- Time Lapse – camera takes photos at specified intervals and creates a Time-lapse video
- Hybrid Cam – Time Lapse mode by day and Motion Detection mode at night
- Video – HD or VGA video day and night
Motion Detect – Still Picture Options
- Photo Quality – 0.5, 2.0, 4.0 or 8.0 Mega Pixels
- Photo Delay – 5, 15 or 30 seconds or 1, 5, 10, 30 or 60 minutes – prevents too many pictures of same animal
- Motion Freeze – limits exposure time to 1/20 sec for night photos – On or Off – reduces blurring, but may cause photos to be dark
- Multi-Shot – Off
- Multi-Shot – 2-shot or 3-shot standard – 3-4 second delay between photos
- Multi-Shot – 2-shot, 3-shot or 4-shot fast – selected number of photos taken within 1-2 seconds
Video – HD or VGA Video Options
- Video resolution – HD or VGA
- Video Length – Maximum nighttime video is 20 seconds.
- Video sound – On or Off
If you plan on taking a lot of video, you will need a 32 MB SD card.
Video Quality and Storage Capability in minutes
|Video||Pixels||4 GB||8 GB||16 GB||32 GB|
|HD||1280 x 720||45||90||180||360|
|VGA||848 x 480||75||150||300||600|
The Time Lapse Mode is also referred to as Plot mode, where the camera is triggered on a regular timer schedule instead of waiting for animals to trigger the camera. For instance, white-tail hunters might want to use the camera to sample their favorite food plot or hunting area. The game camera could be set to take one picture every two minutes for one -four hours each morning and and the same time each evening or the camera will take pictures all day long. That would give a very good idea about how many deer were using the plot during those time periods.
Time Lapse – Video Options
- Time Frequency – time between photos – Motion detect will still take photos between 2 and 5 minute intervals
- Set to 5, 10, 15, 30, 60 seconds or 2 or 5 minutes
- Time Duration – limits the time the camera is active – Intervals start 15 minutes before sunrise and end 15 minutes after sunset
- Set to All Day, 1 hour, 2 hour, 3 hour or 4 hours twice per day
Time Lapse Video Start and Stop Times Explained
Example for Sunrise = 7:15 AM and Sunset = 7:19 PM
|Setting||Start time||End Time||Start time||End Time|
|All Day||7:00||No stop time, runs continuous||7:34|
The camera automatically detects and adjusts for sunrise and sunset. Also remember when using the 2 and 5 minute intervals, the motion detection will still take additional photos if an animal walks within range.
- Price (New M-888 less expensive than M-880)
- Fast trigger speed (0.88 seconds)
- Wide detection range
- Great picture quality
- Low Glow infrared night photos
- 70-80 foot flash range
- Too much fun, not to have one