Use paint brushes to stealth up trail cameras

This photo shows 10 trail cameras — nine the author painted himself and one unpainted.

Simple trick works wonders

Spring is when I finally take my trail cameras out of the woods and paint new ones bought on clearance for the upcoming season. Since I only hunt public land, I’ve always use cheap cameras. I look for three very important features in a trail camera: quietness, no-lights and coloration.

I’ve been running dozens of cameras annually, upgrading with newer ones as some get destroyed or stolen. Every season, I get hundreds of different bucks on film. This allows me to only hunt the places visited most by mature bucks in  the two dozen or more units I scout.

A common theme is, when mature bucks notice a camera, they seldom return. Often, when a daytime buck notices a camera, he becomes nocturnal at that location. Sometimes, he’ll come back, but he closely watches the camera, looking for the non-natural feature that alerted him. Spooked a second time, a buck is gone for good.

After seeing the red lights from the author’s older camera, this buck was never filmed again.
After seeing the red lights from the author’s older camera, this buck was never filmed again.

I usually have several cameras in an area, so I often know when a buck leaves or stays.

What scares public-land deer?

  • Light. Nowadays, blackout cameras are very common, so I won’t buy a camera that doesn’t have this feature. Sure, you’ll sacrifice some nighttime range, but to avoid spooking the buck is worth it. Some bucks may not mind the flash of a red LED light. In my experience, however, more often than not, it’ll send smart bucks running for the hills. The lights also can give away a hidden camera position to thieves.
  • Camera sound. Loud cameras that make a click to record will instantly spook an animal. Sometimes, they’ll sprint off. Sometimes, they’ll stay for multiple sets to investigate. Then they leave the area for good.
A blackout camera never alerted any of these bucks, and they returned often to feed.
A blackout camera never alerted any of these bucks, and they returned often to feed.

I was frustrated for years with noisy cameras constantly breaking and others having horrible, over-sensitive triggers. I put cameras in thick locations to hide them from people. Also, these dense tangles are where public-land animals move best, so a sensitive trigger is not helpful around all the brush when the wind blows. The wide-spreading sensors of some more-expensive cameras have performed poorly in these brushy areas.

I’m looking to scout many areas in the cheapest way possible.

Cheap cameras that do the job

The good news is some of the cheapest cameras have proven to have all the qualities I like.

I first snatched up some Wildgame Innovations Cloak cameras a few years back. I was surprised at how durable they were after using more than a dozen in Colorado and in the humid southeastern heat for two years. I even left a bunch in the Rocky Mountains over the winter. The next year, they all fired up without a flaw. I was impressed.

The cameras have great battery life and are simple but effective. They have a less-than-one-second trigger for both video and picture mode with hardly any false captures of moving brush. Many other cameras had the same fast picture-taking ability, but they took nearly 3 seconds to start in video mode; this often missed anything that passed by. I love video mode for capturing fighting bucks and chase scenes during the rut.

I found that the Wildgame Innovations Nano model had a trigger that was too under-sensitive. However, all the same great features in the Cloak versions came on with their Terra models as well.

I’ve been able to find the Cloak and Terra 6, 7, 8 and 10 GB models all for less than $33 each with free shipping and no sales tax by searching eBay and Google Shopping for deals that sporadically pop up.

Shop postseason

The deals are frequent after the season when places clear out the previous year’s inventory for upgraded models. These Cloak and Terras do have the slightest noise, but rarely is it loud enough to spook an animal unless it’s practically standing next to the camera. For the low price, it’s worth the trade-off.

I find the cheapest SD cards by buying them in large lots on eBay. Inexpensive, Class 4 cards work well with my cameras. Also, I find bulk AA alkaline batteries online. They last just as long as the name brand ones for a quarter of the name-brand price.

DIY camou

I notice that animals aren’t spooked by my painted trail cameras once they look in their direction. However, I’ve had plain black, green or grey ones, and have had animals spook after spotting them.

Unfortunately, many cameras on sale are often non-camouflaged. There’s no need to spend more money on expensive models. You can paint the cameras yourself for only pennies in cost.

I use small paint brushes to paint them mostly grey, like the majority of trees I set them on. I take white paint and stir in black to create various shades of gray. I paint on some browns and mix a touch a black to darken the browns. Then, I finish with a small amount of green, adding in some black to get the desired tone.

Deer seem to not notice and not be bothered by my camouflaged cameras when they look at them. Most important, camouflage matters to keep cameras hidden from thieves, and also from bears and elk, which both like to destroy cameras.

I’ve set numerous cameras on carcasses in Colorado and popular bear locations in Louisiana. Bears have looked right at my camouflaged cameras and walked on by, but when the same bears saw my non-camouflaged cameras nearby, they were instantly demolished.

Red angers bears

Keep in mind, if the camera has a flashing red light or makes a loud noise, the elk or bear angrily attacks it, no matter the color pattern.

The main reason I paint my cameras in the spring is for the smell factor. I’m very picky about my scent-control measures when hunting. I’ve had big bucks bust me downwind when not taking precautions. Vice versa, I’ve taken several nice bucks that came from downwind when I did take extreme scent-control measures, so I take the same approach with my cameras.

Beware of odor

I paint my cameras and leave them in a covered outdoor area for months to allow the scent to fade away. I make sure to wash my camera-setting backpack and camera straps in scent-free clothes wash and leave my bag outside for months as well. Bears also have remarkable scenting ability, which is another reason to take the scent-control methods.

Sure, gluing real tree bark, moss or leaves to the camera makes it even more stealthy. However, I found this to be impractical, as most of it fell off during my long hikes. I’m resetting dozens of cameras over many different locations all-year long. Also, most glues have an unnatural smell, so I wouldn’t want to glue on the extra cover when I set them.

All of these measures may seem extreme to some, but my deer-hunting success has skyrocketed in the past few years with an ability to not only find bucks, but to keep from alerting them of the surveillance without spending top dollar.