Photo of a Chihuahuan raven catching a snake, taken using a remote motion-sensor camera located in the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge.
Another type of remote camera is the game camera (for example: MOULTRIE A-20 or trail camera. It is a device that records images, either as a still photograph or a video. It is a rugged and weatherproof camera designed for extended and unmanned use outdoors. The images it produces are used for game surveillance by hunters.
Most cameras come with a strap that allows it to be hung from a tree and a lock to prevent theft. It will automatically take a picture when it senses motion. Each image is stamped with Exif data which includes the date, time it was recorded, as well as a number of other data points. The game camera will usually function day and night by sensing game out to around 100 feet.
The first hunting trail monitor used heat sensing motion detectors to trigger a counter to count the number and record the time of animals passing by. The sensors are also known as passive infrared light sensors or PIR sensors. Normally, hunters are never around so they do not know what kind or size animal was being counted. Later, a camera was added. Game camera technology has evolved since then. Originally wildlife photography was only available by using film, but now there is a choice of film or digital cameras. The ability of game cameras to tell hunters where game is located is useful for pre-season scouting. The information when used in conjunction with trail camera software tells hunters where to best place their blind or tree-stand. For digital cameras, all images are recorded onto a memory card, such as a commonly available SD card. This also allows hunters to conveniently transfer the images to a home computer or they can be viewed, copied and deleted by a Viewer in the field. More expensive units have the ability to wirelessly upload captured images to a computer or website without any user interference.
- Digital - Produce digital pictures instead of film
- Cellular - transmit digital images via the cellular network instead of storing locally
- Film - Instead of digital these cameras use film, usually 35mm
- Laser aim - Produce a red light beam for aiming where the image location is to be taken from
- Strobe flash - Incandescent flash that will usually reach out to 15 feet for nighttime images
- IR - Sometimes available in addition to strobe flash or alone, for more stealth like performance
- Sound producing - Game calls or sounds to attract any of a wide variety of animals, with sounding intervals adjustable from 1 to 24 hours
Depending on how the camera is set up, a new photo can usually be taken every second for as long as motion/heat events are detected. Some game cameras give the user a choice of settings for regular camera flash or stealth-like LED flash. LED flash enables the hunter to discreetly image game in the night without a visible flash. This prevents the flash from giving away the hunters position in popular hunting areas. Some models have a manual switch to set an infrared filter for day or night mode.
Advantages of strobe flash cameras
- Long range flash performance – Some have a flash range of over 60 feet
- High quality color images during both day and night makes animal identification easy
- Completely freezes animal movement so there is never any nighttime motion blur
Disadvantages of strobe flash cameras
- The flash may spook game
- The flash can be noticed by other hunters
- Cannot record night time videos
Advantages of Infrared (IR) cameras
- Less likely to alarm an animal (as no visible light is generated)
- Less likely to be noticed by other hunters
- Battery life is much improved over cameras with flash.
Disadvantages of IR cameras
- Nighttime images are black and white and have less detail and clarity
- Infrared flash quality/range tradeoff: If the infrared flash is designed for maximum range the images may be overly white, or blur. If the infrared flash is designed for best image quality, range will be sacrificed.
Other uses of the game camera
Game cameras are also used by Bigfoot research groups and enthusiasts making an effort to capture a photo of the legendary creature.
Trail/game cameras also can be helpful for animal loss/rescue in documenting the presence and species of animals, such as determining whether a frightened runaway dog is returning to its home at night or verifying the species actually eating the food left for a stray/feral cat.