Before getting too deep into the various ways one can hide a trail camera, it would only be fitting to stipulate who or what it is being hidden from. There two potential reasons to hide a trail camera, but both equate to a need for undetected operation.
First, there are trail cameras used for hunting. These cameras must be obscured so their presence does not alert the animals being tracked that anything out of the normal is occurring. Otherwise, those animals may alter their behavior or movement patterns, negating the very reason the trail camera exists in the first place. Their movements will become unpredictable; or worse, they will avoid the area all together.
Hunting trail cameras must also be deployed in such a way as to minimize the risk the trespassers or poachers might discover their location. Hiding these cameras from the criminal element also relates to the other common use for trail cameras: security. When used in this capacity, trail cameras must be positioned in such a way that trespassers have no idea that their activity is being monitored. If they alert to the camera’s presence, any incriminating activity may cease before the images become useable evidence.
Then there is the issue of placing a game camera on public hunting land. A passerby may not be trespassing and may not even be a hardened criminal, but a valuable game camera in easy reach may prove too great a temptation to pass by. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
The single most effective tactic users can employ to keep their investments in trail cameras safe is to place them out of easy reach. Never place a trail camera at a human’s eye level. Think about it – How often do you look up when walking through the woods?
Try to get the camera at least 10 feet off the ground. There are several methods for safely climbing trees that hunters can use (climbing sticks, tree steps, boot spikes, etc.). The odds are very slim that anyone interested in stealing a game camera will have the equipment on hand necessary to climb up to retrieve a trail camera placed 10 feet up a tree.
Hiding a hunting trail camera will only go so far in keeping it safe from thieves. Once it is spotted, the trail camera becomes an easy target for an industrious criminal. That’s where a well-constructed mounting bracket and a lock box can come in handy.
The mounting bracket will make the job of the thief much more difficult. Most will require tools to free the camera from the tree. A person walking through the woods with bolt cutters and other tools is conspicuous and suspicious. It is therefore a safe bet that most would-be thieves will have to return later to attempt the theft, increasing the likelihood of their being seen.
Some trail cameras come in drab brown or green cases that do a relatively poor job of blending in with surroundings. We’re likely all aware of the adage that there are no right angles in nature, which is why a solidly colored trail camera will stick out in the woods.
If theft is a concern for you, give extra consideration when selecting your game camera to its coloration. Even a slight amount of a surface camouflage pattern can go a long way toward breaking up the telltale lines and hard angles of a trail camera. The possible thief may just walk on by while your camera goes undetected, though the camera may get a nice shot of the walk through.
Another method for obscuring the angular lines of a trail camera is to utilize foliage to cover it. Attaching natural foliage to the camera case is ideal, but it takes some ingenuity. The main thing to bear in mind is that obscuring your camera from view does not mean blocking the camera’s lens or detection sensor.
The field of view and the detection zone are both triangular-shaped areas that lead out from the camera to its left and right. Blocking either of these zones even fractionally can result in repeated blurred images and empty frames. We don’t want to trigger the camera’s mechanism to fire when no targets are present, so keep any additional camouflage well away from these two critical areas.
In addition to being difficult to affix to a trail camera, natural camouflage has the unfortunate tendency to die when removed from a plant. A bit of Spanish moss might be an exception, but green leaves will soon turn to brown. In early season or in a home-security role, that mismatched coloration is a dead giveaway.
One solution is to raid the plastic plants section of your local arts and crafts supply store. Artificial foliage never dies and never turns colors. It is almost always plastic, meaning the job of affixing it to the camera becomes as simple as using a bit of glue.
Build a Natural Box
As you scout possible locations for your trail camera, pay attention to the trees in the area. Are there any fallen specimens that you might be able to use? If so, consider using an old, rotten stump as a natural game camera box. This method requires a bit of work, but the reward can be a truly invisible location for you camera trap.
Ideally, you will want to locate a stump that is already rotted enough for you to gut the insides. This job may require the use of a hatchet or some other tool that you can use to dig out the inner flesh from the stump. Next, you’ll want to create an opening (using your hatchet) in the side of the stump through which your camera and detection sensor can peer.
The final step is to locate a piece of wood large enough to cover the top of the hollowed-out stump. Then, simply gather some loose foliage and toss it over the top of your new natural game camera box. It won’t be theft-proof, but the camera inside will be nearly impossible to detect.
Avoid Highly Trafficked Areas
Humans are inherently lazy creatures and will take the path of least resistance rather than the tougher path every single time. Use this tendency to your advantage when whether hiding a security trail camera or one intended for hunting. Of course, you’ll want a security trail cam to be pointing at the areas of likely entry to and egress from the property. What you don’t want to do is leave the trail camera in a place where it is obvious from any of those locations.
Therefore, it is best to place the camera as close to opposite from the likely paths of human travel as possible. Look for areas of dense vegetation that a human would be reluctant to pass through. These are the ideal locations for a security trail camera. Just remember to still place the camera as high up as possible.
Use a No-Glow Camera
We’ll save the technology lesson for another time. For now, just be aware that there are several types of trail camera flashes, and some are more noticeable than others. When shopping for your camera, be insistent on a no-glow infrared LED flash. Red-glow and low-glow flashes may take better nighttime images, but their LEDs have a red glow to them that will attract attention.
Ask yourself this: If you were committing an illegal act and you noticed a trail camera had likely captured your image, how likely would you be to leave it intact? Well, a trespasser is not very likely to leave that camera alone either. The lights from low-glow and red-glow cameras give away their positions.
Build a Fake Birdhouse/Nesting Box
Sometimes, the most effective hiding place for something you don’t want noticed is in plain sight. One tactic that is sure to fool a game camera thief is to place your trail cam in its own, specially constructed nesting box. If you’ve spent much time in the outdoors, you’ve surely seen a nesting box. These boxes are placed in the wild by biologists to give some species or another a place to nest and to raise a family. They are the perfect location for a trail camera because most people assume that they are empty or that they may contain a possibly dangerous, breeding animal.
When wildlife biologists construct nest boxes, they always include some form of predator deterrent. These deterrents may take the form of a PVC pipe that is affixed around the structural support pole. They also sometimes take the form of a funnel-shaped sheet of metal that wraps around the pole. You obviously don’t need a predator deterrent for its function. It is simply there to complete the disguise.
Give it a (Conspicuous) Twin
One last method for keeping your trail camera safe isn’t really about hiding it. Rather, this tactic is more about catching a thief than fooling one. Several trail cam manufacturers are now offering dummy cameras for sale. These are essentially trail camera bodies without all the important, expensive camera bits inside.
To use one effectively, install it in a location where you would never – not in a million years – place your real trail camera. Then, point a functioning game camera directly at the dummy camera. Even if the would-be thief realizes the mistake without actually taking the bait, the resulting images on the real camera will be good evidence of intent.
Knowing how to hide a trail camera is all about learning to think like the animals or people you don’t want to discover your valuable investment. Walk around the property and scout for places people or animals are using, and avoid those places at all costs. You want the camera to image those locations, not be in them. Get that camera up high and disguise it without obscuring its sensors and lens. With a little forethought and effort, you can beat any foe.