Thinking about using a trail camera to amp up your hunting game? The great news is that finding the best game camera is a lot easier now than it used to be. Newer technology has helped almost every industry imaginable in recent years, especially digital cameras.
Manufacturers are now stepping up their game to match the demand of more technologically advanced hunters. While getting the best trail camera for the types of game you hunt can depend a lot on “what” you hunt, there’s still some universal criteria that you should consider when making the plunge.
Check out our top 3, or jump into our in-depth guide to educate yourself to a whole new world of hunting.
Our Top Three Picks
Browning Strike Force
Primos Truth Cam
Amcrest 12MP LCD
If you don’t feel like a full read on each one of these cameras, feel free to use the quick jump menu below to find out more about which particular model might best fit your needs.
- A Brief Introduction to Trail Cameras:
- A Buyer’s Guide – What to Consider:
- How many Trail/Game Cameras should you get?
- How to Use Your Trail & Game Camera:
- Choosing the Best Game Camera: Reviews
- 1. Browning Strike Force Sub Micro:
- 2. Amcrest ATC-1201:
- 3. Stealth Cam STC-P12:
- 4. Stealth Cam No-Glo STC-G42NG:
- 5. Primos Truth Cam 35:
- 6. Bushnell 8MP Trophy Cam HD:
- 7. Moultrie M-990i No Glow Game Camera:
- 8. Bestguarder HD Waterproof Infared Night Vision Trail Camera:
- 9. Kodiak Trail Camera:
- 10. Moultrie Game Spy A-5 Gen 2:
- So what’s the best trail camera for the money?
- Wrap Up & Final Thoughts:
A Brief Introduction to Trail Cameras:
Hunting always needs patience. It doesn’t matter if you hunt with a rifle or a crossbow. If you’re not good at waiting, often with nothing to show for it, you’re never going to be a good hunter. There are no guarantees when it comes to game animals. They might walk into your sights or they might not. If you expect to go out and have animals obligingly present themselves to you, stand by for some major disappointments. They have lives to be getting on with and they’re likely not going to cooperate with your plans.
The good news is that it’s possible to find game more reliably, though. When it comes to hunting, there’s no substitute for knowledge. You need to know the area you’re hunting in – where the food is, where animals go to drink, what places give some shelter from the weather. You need to know how to spot the trails animals use, the range and distances that they travel. You also need to understand their behavior. If you’re not fully in tune with the alert and elusive creatures you’re looking for, you won’t find them.
Once you have that knowledge, however, technology can help you out. Trail cameras are a perfect example – if you don’t know what you’re doing they’re not going to do much for you, but used properly they can eliminate a lot of frustration and vastly improve your hunt.
The concept behind a trail camera is simple. It’s a camera and control unit that can be set up to cover an area, then left behind. The control unit automatically takes photos depending on how it’s set up, and the hunter can return at intervals to find out what’s been snapped. They’ve actually been around for a long time – since the late 19th century. Similar to the Altimeter Watch, the modern Trail Camera never really caught on until technology started to advance over the last couple of decades.
Early cameras had to be loaded with plates and could only take a single shot. They also needed a flash to take pictures at night, and these – either using a pan of explosive flash powder or a high-intensity lamp – would instantly panic any animals for hundreds of yards in every direction. Because of the response time of the cameras you’d be lucky to get a snap of the animal’s rear as it raced away. Trigger mechanisms – usually a tripwire – were also unreliable, and if an animal got tangled in the wire it could even wreck the equipment. While these cameras could take useful pictures there was a real risk that they’d frighten the wildlife away for weeks – or for good. That’s not the case any more and there are many great uses for trail cameras in wildlife management.
Modern camera technology changes all that:
- Digital cameras can store thousands of photos, so you can build up an accurate record of what’s happening on your trails.
- Electronics let you control exactly how you want the camera to operate – you can set it up for time-lapse shots at regular intervals, or have it wait until an animal approaches. Many let you do both.
- Digital photography is silent, so there’s no shutter click to spook your quarry.
- Infrared LEDs allow for an invisible flash, so your camera can take perfect shots in complete darkness.
- They are often camouflaged. Get the right one and the game won’t even know it’s there, never mind be frightened by it.
- Modern trail cameras are weatherproof and rugged, so they’ll keep working reliably after weeks or months outdoors.
Trail cameras with this technology built in are a real game changer. By setting two or three of them up around likely game trails, grazing spots or watering holes you can build up a picture of how the local wildlife spends its time, when animals are likely to come to the pond to drink, what’s the best time to set up near a trail and much more vital information. The advantages are huge.
Yes, you’ll still spend time waiting – animals don’t work to a precise timetable. Sometimes they just won’t show. But, overall, your hunting will be a lot more productive. If you know the deer move along a particular trail near dawn, you can set up a little while before and be there waiting when they approach – you’re not working from spoor, knowing that they come this way but having to guess when.
Of course trail cameras are like any other piece of hunting gear – it’s not going to be much help unless you pick the right product and learn to use it properly. It’s easy to get lost among all the new features that are appearing right now and end up with an unsuitable camera, so here are a few things to look for when you buy.
A Buyer’s Guide – What to Consider:
Storage capacity: The higher the capacity, the more shots your camera can take. This doesn’t matter much if you plan to check it daily but if it’s going to go a few days, or even weeks, between visits you’ll want as much storage as you can get. One that takes memory cards is a good idea – you can swap out cards and leave the camera in place.
Battery life: Again this will affect how long you can leave your camera set up. Most trail cameras run on AA batteries but some have the option of an external power source. Hook up a 12V battery and you can get weeks of use.
Image quality: This is a hard thing to judge. It’s not easy to get an idea of image quality from raw numbers like megapixel count; factors like the quality of lenses will also have a big influence. You’ll need to read reviews, and test cameras yourself if possible, to decide which ones suit your needs. With most trail cameras you need to either connect it to a computer to view the images, or take out the memory card and put it in a reader. Some have the extra option of a built-in screen that lets you view images directly. This can save a lot of time. The ultimate is a camera with its own cellular connection, so you can view images remotely – but this comes at a much higher price.
Flash technology: All modern trail cameras use LED flash units, but there are different kinds. The cheapest and simplest is a white flash, but that will probably to spook the wildlife and can even change the movement patterns you’re trying to learn. Better units only emit a red glow, which is less likely to upset most animals. Invisible infrared flash uses less battery power and few animals will notice it, but it gives lower image quality. Infrared flashes also respond much quicker because of their lower power requirements – white flashes can take up to a second to go off after being triggered.
Viewing options: With most trail cameras you need to either connect it to a computer to view the images, or take out the memory card and put it in a reader. Some have the extra option of a built-in screen that lets you view images directly. This can save a lot of time. The ultimate is a camera with its own cellular connection, so you can view images remotely – but this comes at a much higher price.
Other features: Trail cameras now come with a huge range of options. Being digital, most of them are capable of video as well as still photography. It’s simple to add extra data to the images – temperature and air pressure are common options, as well as time and date stamps. This gives you even more options for analyzing wildlife behavior in your area. Figuring out exactly what you want is one of the important components to finding the best trail camera for your next rifle or bow hunting expedition.
How many Trail/Game Cameras should you get?
Once you’ve chosen the camera that suits you, the next decision is how many to get. One is a huge asset; it lets you check out a potential hide location to see what activity goes on around it. With one camera, though, you have what analysts call a single data point. Add a second or third and you can really start to learn patterns. That’s what will eventually let you predict where the game will be when you’re ready to go hunting.
Before you start buying cameras be aware that they don’t suit every kind of hunting – but they have some uses for most. Predators aren’t as ruled by habit as herbivores; they’re usually territorial, or follow their prey animals, but they aren’t as predictable in their movements. Trail cameras won’t be as much use in working out when they’re likely to be at a particular spot – but they can confirm if they’re there or not. Obviously setting up cameras won’t tell you a lot about transitory or migratory species that pass through your land. They can be useful for confirming what varmints are around, but like predators these are opportunists and often don’t set behavior patterns.
So just what kind of hunting are Trail/Game Cameras Best Suited For?
Where trail cameras really shine is for deer hunting.
Deer are territorial and they’re creatures of habit. A few well set up cameras around your favorite hunting area can quickly tell you a lot about the deer that inhabit it and how they behave – just the information you’re looking for.
How to Use Your Trail & Game Camera:
It’s vital that you know how to use your cameras properly. First, choose the right locations for them. Start by looking at the local game trails; you won’t see much if you set them up randomly in the woods. Once you’ve located the trails find spots where the ground sign suggests animals feed, or look for water sources. Any points on the trail that give good visibility from a hide location are good, too.
When you’re picking spots for your cameras try to find ones you can approach from behind; that will let you swap out batteries or memory cards without disturbing the trail. Make sure the camera has a clear line of sight. It’s easy to miss twigs or foliage that get in the way of the lens. Try not to aim your cameras directly across the trail. Even a digital camera delays a fraction of a second between being triggered and actually taking the shot, so you can find yourself with a lot of photos of deer butts. Angle them at about 45 degrees, in the direction you expect the animals to come from. That way you should get good snaps of them.
Before deploying your cameras get some experience of how they work. Set them up in your yard and walk around in front of them, then check how the photos turned out. That will tell you the best angles to set them up at to ensure good shots, as well as what height they work best at. A common error is to mount trail cameras too high – usually they work best at around waist height.
Cameras are small and usually well enough camouflaged that most animals won’t notice them, but humans might. If the area is popular with other hunters there’s a good chance they could find your cameras, and sadly that brings a risk of theft – not all hunters respect others’ gear. If you use bungee cords or quick release straps to mount your cameras they can be easily stolen. If a lot of people use the land you hunt on, consider using cable locks instead. It’s not likely that anyone who finds the camera will have bolt cutters handy, so they won’t be able to take the camera without damaging it. Cable locks start at under $10, which is a small price to pay for protecting an expensive camera. Concealing the camera will also help – just be careful not to obscure the lens and flash.
Some hunters recommend testing the camera by walking the trail after it’s set up, then checking the photos. That’s always an option, but it does disturb the trail and might spook some game. It’s better to test it under similar conditions somewhere else, then leave as little sign as possible at the actual site.
Deerlab.com also does a great job of outlining 8 camera trips for better results which we think is a must read for anyone getting into the trail camera game. The Deerlab app is also a new innovation in technology and we’d recommend testing out the free trial they currently offer.
So that’s an introduction to the basics of using a trail camera. Your own experience and knowledge of the ground should give you the rest of what you need to know.
While the video below is not ours, it does give a great walk through of how to properly setup a game camera. We’d recommend you take a look at it just to recap what we’ve already covered. The next thing is choosing the cameras that are right for you. After the video below, we break down 10 of our favorites.
Choosing the Best Game Camera: Reviews
Below are the 10 picks above that you saw in our comparison grid, broken down into a lot more detail. If we’ve left out your favorite model, please feel free to drop us a line and let us know.
1. Browning Strike Force Sub Micro:
Browning needs no recommendation as a gunmaker, but they produce a range of other high quality hunting gear, too – including some fantastic trail cameras. The Strike Force is one of their most highly recommended models, a compact 10MP device with loads of options and great performance.
The Strike Force is good in most areas, but it really stands out for its exceptional daylight clarity and amazing battery life. The images this game camera can capture put most 12MP cameras to shame. It also uses power very efficiently, even with heavy use of video – especially if you install a set of lithium batteries. You can expect several months’ use out of them which is even more impressive when you consider that it runs on six AAs, instead of the more common eight.
On the down side there’s no way to quickly preview or download your snaps – you’ll have to take out the SD card and check it on another device. But overall it’s a sturdy and reliable product that will give you excellent, sharp images round the clock. This one is highly recommended.
2. Amcrest ATC-1201:
The ATC-102 from Amcrest is a relatively inexpensive game camera, but it’s packed with features. One of the nicest is a built-in 2 inch LCD screen, so you can view your images directly from the camera. It doesn’t feel cheaply built and the case is IP54 rated, meaning it’s dust and water resistant but not completely proofed. Very heavy rain might cause problems but it should shrug off an average shower.
In most ways this is a fairly standard camera. It comes with a strap for easy mounting on a tree or post, it saves images and video to an SD card (up to 32Gb) and it’s powered by four AA batteries. There’s also space for a backup set, which will kick in when the first set run flat.
This camera has a nice selection of modes to choose from – three different sensitivity levels on the passive IR trigger, multi-shot modes, video recording lengths and many more. It has a decent 65-foot night vision range, too. Picture quality is very good in daylight and acceptable at night. If you want a workable trail camera at a good price the ATC-1201 is definitely worth a look.
3. Stealth Cam STC-P12:
Another budget camera, Stealth Cam’s STC-P12 retails for less than some of the others on our list. There are some compromises – it has a 6MP resolution, for example – but it still has a lot of performance and plenty features aimed at making your hunting easier.
The main selling point of the STC-P12 is that it’s easy to set up. It comes with three quick setup modes, and it has a mini USB port so you can quickly download images without disturbing it. The images themselves, if you use the high setting, are reasonable quality – and for taking video this camera outperforms a lot of more expensive ones. On the down side the trigger time is 0.7 seconds, which is very slow. Unless you set it up carefully you’ll get a lot of pics of tails.
The Stealth Cam can overprint images and video with date, time and phase of the moon. The case is molded with irregular raised patterns; the shadows these cast help break up its shape, adding a camouflage effect.
4. Stealth Cam No-Glo STC-G42NG:
The G42 is a higher-spec model from Stealth Cam, and with the extra price brings you a lot more features and performance. The camera itself is a 10MP unit, giving much higher image quality, and it also has a completely covert flash system. The STC-P12 gives off a red glow when the flash operates but the G42 has full-spec “black” infrared LEDs, so there’s nothing at all to spook even the most nervous game.
With 42 LEDs this camera also has a respectable 100-foot night vision range. You can set it to take shots at intervals or on the PIR trigger only, or combine both with an override mode. It’s powered by eight AA batteries, for long life, and takes SD cards up to 32Gb. It also has a password protection feature, so if someone does steal it they won’t be able to use it.
This is a very good mid-range camera that gives high quality still and video images with good audio. It also has pretty much all the options you could want, including the ability to be run from an external 12V supply. It’s particularly good a night photography, which is going to be an important point for many hunters.
5. Primos Truth Cam 35:
Another inexpensive camera, the Truth Cam 35 has some features that make it extremely interesting. The flash range is quite short at 40 feet, and resolution is just 3.1MP, but it’s a tough little unit and has plenty of options. For example you can reduce the number of LEDs used by the flash, which reduces range but extends battery life – although, with four D cells, battery life is awesome anyway.
Inside the hinged front cover is an easy to read backlit LCD screen and a row of switches that let you quickly change the camera settings. There are even instructions printed inside the cover.
The Truth Cam is slow to trigger out of sleep mode – it takes 1.5 seconds – but once it’s awake trigger time falls to just 0.3 seconds. That’s better than some much more expensive models, so if you place this well it should give you some great shots. It’s ideal for placing on trails where its shorter range is less of an issue.
6. Bushnell 8MP Trophy Cam HD:
Anyone who knows optics knows Bushnell, and their trail cameras uphold the same high standards. The Trophy Cam HD is a feature-packed high performance unit that’s particularly good at video capture – but its still images won’t disappoint you either. One nice touch is that it can capture stills, in bursts of up to three shots, while it’s recording video. The PIR trigger is also adjustable, with selectable ranges to let you focus in on the area of interest.
Bushnell have put a lot of effort into the case, which is very effectively weather sealed but allows easy access for setup and changing cards. This model is powered by four or eight AA cells with lithium ones giving the best results – a single set should last at least a year.
One nice touch is that Bushnell has added GPS geotagging to the Trophy Cam HD, so it can automatically add coordinates to your images as well as date, time, temperature and moon state. This is a very effective trail cam at a moderate price.
7. Moultrie M-990i No Glow Game Camera:
It’s just as capable at daylight photography though, with an array of video and burst options, and the 10MP sensor gives bright, crisp shots. It’s capable of taking up to four images a second and overprinting them with temperature, moon state and barometric pressure as well as time and date.
The M-990i has a built-in 2-inch LCD screen for viewing images direct from the camera, and can also be set up to run from an external power supply. This is a very capable camera that should suit most hunters perfectly. We also like their support forum and FAQ’s section that supports all of their cameras.Click Here For Ratings, Reviews & Pricing on Amazon.com
8. Bestguarder HD Waterproof Infared Night Vision Trail Camera:
The Bestguarder is a newer model to the trail camera market, but has gotten many favorable reviews by numerous hunters. The best feature about this game camera is the fact that it can take 12MP images and also take full 1080P videos if you choose to do so, up to a full 75 feet.
It can record both digital photos and videos and also has Time Lapse and Motion detection features that make it a contender in our top 10.
The Bestguarder also carries a bunch of other features which include Barometric Pressure readings, GPS Geotags (like the Browning) and it also captures the time/date of the images it retrieves, so you that way you know what time it is that you see the deer or elk crossing your camera’s field of vision. Mapping the times of day and dates are both extremely important when tracking in today’s digital age, and this trail camera does both.
9. Kodiak Trail Camera:
This model from Kodiak is one of the more expensive trail cameras, but it’s worth every penny. It comes with a built-in Bluetooth and WiFi modem, so you don’t need to swap out cards or connect a cable to retrieve your images; you don’t even have to go anywhere near the camera. You can simply download to your smartphone or tablet from up to 200 feet away (depending on conditions – in broken ground or thick woods it could be cut to 100 feet). You just have to install an app on your phone to let you access the camera; once that’s done you can remotely adjust settings, too.
The camera itself is high quality and gives you a wide range of options. It’s built around a 12MP sensor, so image quality is sharp and vivid. It also has high definition audio capture and a no-glow LED flash, so it’s covert at night. IR pictures are remarkably bright, and the flash range is up to 70 feet.
Overall the Kodiak Trail Camera is solidly built in a tough weatherproof case, with a nice camouflage finish. It doesn’t just let you capture high quality images; it’s easy to recover them as well.
10. Moultrie Game Spy A-5 Gen 2:
Finally another budget model, and with the quality that Moultrie typically delivers. Moultrie’s update of the Game Spy A-5 is a modest 5MP camera but for this price it has an amazing array of features. The big one is low glow IR flash, so you can rely on it operating discreetly even at night.
For this update practically everything about the A-5 has been changed. There’s a new case, matching the style of the company’s other new cams. It doesn’t have any real camouflage, but it’s molded from coyote plastic and isn’t too conspicuous. It also seems tough and weather resistant. Trigger speed is quite slow at 1.5 seconds, but there’s a respectable detection range of up to 40 feet and the flash will illuminate out to 50. Delay times have been improved and there’s a useful multishot mode. It also runs on AA batteries in place of the Gen 1’s C cells, so you can use lithium power, and there’s a power port for external batteries or a solar panel.
For the money this gives very acceptable images, and it has features you normally have to pay a lot more for. If you want a budget camera with some great extras consider this one.
So what’s the best trail camera for the money?
While we think this is subject to the needs of each hunter, if we had to pick one it would probably be the Browning Strike Force Sub Micro 10 Megapixel Game Camera. Browning does so many things the right way – from Gun Safes to firearm accessories, it’s hard to find a product that’s not outstanding that they manufacture.
We could have easily picked any of the of the Moultries or a higher end model like the Kodiak. But honestly, if you are on a budget like most people are when shopping for a hunting luxury like this, we’d find it hard to say that the Browning wouldn’t end up being the best trail camera for the money in the price range that it’s in.
Wrap Up & Final Thoughts:
It doesn’t matter if you are heading out on your first compound bow hunting expedition or if you are a seasoned recurve bow archer that has their draw weights memorized, technology can be your biggest hunting ally if you properly do your research. We are confident that any of the game cameras we’ve talked about will do the job you need it to.
Whatever it is you hunt, whether that’s deer, elk, or even smaller game, we are confident that any one of these options will end up being the best trail camera for your next outdoor adventure. If you feel like there’s a model we missed, or one that you are particularly fond of, please feel free do drop us a line in the comments below!