How to set up a trail camera for security

In Trail & Game Cameras by John A.

Can I use a trail camera for security and surveillance?

trail cameras for security

Trespasser gets paint gunned! See video below

Let’s get straight to the point here: yes, you can use a trail camera for security. Let’s just assume that you have followed my advice about DIY home security assessment.  You know that you’re ready for some kind of security system, but maybe you are not quite ready for the full home security camera set up.  And finally, you’ve looked at your current budget and decided to go with a less expensive option for a security camera.  What can you do?

Believe it or not, one best way to ease into this world of home security and video surveillance is a trail camera, often used for hunting or wildlife watching.

These trail cameras can certainly get you started and whet your appetite for camera security. Once you get a taste of the ability to monitor what’s going on around your home, you may be willing to invest a little bit more money.

Trail cameras for security: setup basics

How you set up a trail camera for security depends on your situation. What you need for your camera to do will be different than what I need it to do. Your situation will be particular to you, so make sure you consider all your specifics. However the basic setup remains the same:

  • Hide the camera well, it is not a theft deterrent
  • Buy memory cards (Yes plural)
  • Monitor Battery Life
  • Know the limits of your Camera
  • Spend more to get better Customer Service
  • Lithium batteries can attract bears (Fun fact)

The last thing you want to do is spend more money than necessary or waste money and time ordering the wrong camera.  My goal here is to save you both time and money. Consider this yet another free lesson in home security from a security expert, this time, using trail cameras.

When is a trail camera good for security?

You can use a trail camera for security in a number of different ways.  For example, you can use them for outdoor security.  People mount them in mailboxes to catch mail thieves.  They put them at the gates of their property to get the license plate numbers of people illegally driving onto their property.  Or maybe you know that someone is trespassing, but you can’t figure out who it is.

For example, there are countless videos of rogue hunters trespassing and hunting on private property.  Here’s a video of a guy hunting on someone else’s property. The trail camera caught him, sent the owner of the land a message, and the owner, himself a hunter, took immediate action with a paintball gun.


Or let’s say you have made the decision to take your personal security seriously and that has prompted you to make your initial investment in a camera system.  Maybe you want to ease into this whole security thing, as we suggest in our article here.  After all, you may not even be sure if you actually need a home security camera network.

We also suggested layering your security system and using trail cameras as a backup.  I told you in my article on affordable game cameras that you can use them where you’d never think to. Here’s a video of a guy stealing stuff from someone’s side yard.  Cans, of all things?  Lord.

Trail cameras for security: backyard surveillance and wildlife watching

Maybe you just want to see what goes on when you aren’t around or awake.  Not to sound cliche, but what you see on these cameras can shock or delight you. You would be surprised what goes on in the world when you are asleep. Animals come and go out of the yard, leaving their little gifts and signs of their presence. Maybe that’s a tipped over garbage can and trash all over the yard. Or maybe that “raccoon” is the neighbor you are in dispute with over a hedge. Either way, it’s nice to know what is going on and it gives you peace of mind.

Not only does it give you some peace of mind, but it’s just downright interesting. You will find that the more information you are getting from your camera, the pictures, video and sound, will push you to want even more information.

For right now a high quality trail camera for security will not only get your security needs covered, but it will also bring you some joy.  You can also use a trail camera for wildlife watching, as we talk about in our article here.  Hey, who said all this security stuff had to be all business?  Take home security seriously for sure, but by all means, enjoy the fact that this is an opportunity for you to use some neat gadgets and tools.

Take a moment to marvel at modern technology.  You are investing in a camera that takes pictures of subjects in the pitch dark and can record audio and video as well. And all of that without them knowing!

Finding the right trail camera for the your security needs

Now that you have recognized how truly lucky you are to live in this world of technological advancement, checked into what camera will work best for you (hopefully from reading my buyer’s guide on affordable cameras for home security), and finally, purchased the camera that suits your needs.

I am not perfect, just like you and everyone else. So I have hard to learn a few lessons the hard way although sometimes that is the best way to learn. Trial and error is the best teacher but if you learn by my trial of errors it will save yourself some trouble. Here are some “lessons learned” that will save yourself some trouble, that I wish I had when I started learning about game cameras.

Let’s repeat those basics. Now, I’m going go deeper into each aspect.

  • Hide the camera well, it is not a theft deterrent
  • Buy memory cards (Yes plural)
  • Monitor Battery Life
  • Know the limits of your Camera
  • Spend more to get Customer Service
  • Lithium batteries can attract bears (Fun fact)

 

I have mentioned before that visible cameras can often serve as a deterrent for crime and theft. Most people see a camera and change their minds about whatever mischief they are about to get into.


There have been many cases like the one in the above video, where a would-be thief sees a camera and rather than risk being caught they simply turn around and leave.  THAT, my friends, is the best kind of security. With a traditional security system, the best you get is notification after the thief has penetrated the house. You can read my comparison article on the difference between traditional and DIY home security systems to see why we advocate diy home security cameras. No one can monitor or protect your home like you would. You just need to take it seriously.

Trail cameras for security: Concealment and Protection of your camera

Game and Stealth Cameras rely on concealment and/or protection from theft to do their job.  It’s really just a weatherproof picture-taking-box that you can tie to a tree or some other mount. If someone see it and wants it, and you don’t have it properly secured, they will take it no problem.

A lot of times opportunity makes the criminal. So, seeing a camera too-flimsily mounted to a tree might be all the opportunity someone needs. So make sure you hide and secure your camera well.  Make sure the screws you use are long and strong. There is nothing more embarrassing than having to explain to someone else how your “security” camera was stolen.

The cameras come subdued colors and even in camouflage patterns. You would be doing yourself a favor if you took concealment a step further and tried to make your own “hide” for your camera. Try to make it match whatever thing you’re mounting it to. The only parts that need to be exposed are the lens, and the IR LED lights.

Be creative with concealment, use leaves, grass, and brush found local to your back yard. The idea is for your camera to just be part of the landscape and no one should notice. Think of it like this, your landscaped yard is nice and should not have an ugly game camera messing up its aesthetic quality…so hide the damn thing.

Beyond that the entire camera can be hidden from view, and should be. The IR lights will not be perceptive to the human eye but the rest of the camera can be if you do not hide it, and failure to do so can result in loss of camera. Have I mentioned that?

Mind your habits

When you are making your Stealth Cam truly invisible, do remember that you need to make the camera in a place that you can get to it easily. Most of these cameras require that you access the unit itself to get the data off of them, and at first you are going to do this often just to make sure it’s working properly, and if you are like me you are curious as to what goes on. If put the camera someplace that is hard to get to, while it is safer, it is going to make getting the information harder. Not only that but it draws attention to where the camera is hidden.

If you have to get on a ladder several times a week to inspect your camera, people are going to take notice. You never know who is looking and why, so the less attention you can draw to the area where your camera is concealed the better. When I am doing an assessment on a client’s property and I see a pattern of behavior that is outside of the norm like someone playing in the same tree every other day, for no conceivable reason, that is going to draw attention.

Memory cards

So when first get your camera it may or may not come with a memory card. Mine did not and it required me to go out and get one myself. Not a problem, but you are going to need to get more than one. The SD cards when you write and re-write data on them over, and over they will eventually wear out. They do hold quite a bit of information but over time will need to be replaced. Also check your camera settings when you do our initial set up. Some cameras have settings that you can adjust that will allow the trigger to be more or less sensitive. That way the moths and mosquitoes flying around at night don’t set off your camera every couple of seconds filling up your card with a whole lot of nothing.

Battery life

This of course leads me to battery life. On the camera I use, it boasts a battery life of a year. I believe for its intended use, yes it would absolutely last for a year. A game camera secured to a tree in the middle of the woods is going to only to be triggered by animals or something natural setting it off. This of course means that the camera is used less, therefore not needing as much battery power.

If you live in a city or town and are using one, it could be triggered by passing cars, people walking by, neighborhood dogs, cats, and other animals. The more your camera is being used the more battery it will require so keep that in mind. Also if you have it set to record video and shoot images it is going to obliviously use more battery. So tailor how you set it up based on what information you need and how frequent you don’t mind changing memory cards and batteries.

While on the topic of batteries, they do make solar re-charging units for some. These are great however they do make the units a little harder to conceal. After all it I a reflective solar panel that needs access to sunlight. They are sort of obvious. However, you can of course re-charge and rotate batteries as needed however you see fit.

Camera Limits

These cameras have limits and you are going to need to find out what they are, quickly. Checking as many reviews as possible even after making a purchase will help you find out the shortcomings of your camera. Practical experience will also show you holes in its performance, maybe it takes better video at on setting as opposed to another, maybe the images work better in shots of 4 bursts instead of 5.

These are all things you need to test and find out for yourself. Find creative ways to test your camera, my fiancé works nights and I tend to try out new cameras by hiding them out front to see if she can see it, and to see how well the camera works. This turns into basically a security drill while not only fun, it serves as a great way for you to learn your personal limits as well as your equipment.

Warranty

Now ideally the camera we buy is indestructible, lasts forever and never breaks down. However, since we do not live in “an ideal world”, and instead, live in reality, so get a good warranty. Things happen, hey we are talking security aren’t we? So yeah, things can and will happen. Cameras leak after long exposure to the elements, lenses can get dirty and scratched, hinges can break off…it’s a gadget they break sometimes. So do yourself a favor and don’t get one from some fly by night to save a few pennies. First of all, it’s going to break anyway, and second of all they may not back it at all. So go with a trusted name, it may cost a little more but you are paying for peace of mind.

A note on bears and trail cameras

This may seem odd, and I only mention this because you might live in an area like I do. I live near bears, lots of bears. Generally speaking, the bears stay out of town because we have all taken steps in our town to “bear proof” our garbage and refuse. And while it has not happened yet in town, it has happened outside of town. Apparently the batteries emit a smell that is sweet to the bears and they are attracted to them.

A lot of game camera companies, like Stealth Cam, have bear proof boxes you can get. Beyond saving you from the bear trouble, they can also help cut down on people stealing them as well. I used to be a park ranger so I guess old habits die hard and the moment I heard bears can be attracted to these, and having seen them destroyed by bears many, many times in the wild, I felt it worth nothing. Bear aware to the end I suppose.

Trail Camera for security:  the first 3 Basic Set-up points

Your camera requirements depend on your needs and personal situation; however, the fundamentals remain the same. You have an area that needs camera coverage.  In order to get the most out of your camera, you need to set it up properly.  To get the maximum use from your camera you need to think about three steps.

  1. cover your target areas entry/exit points
  2. conceal the camera
  3. install the camera in a place you can easily reach

Obviously you need the camera to cover a particular area, for the purposes of this I am going to use my tool shed as an example. When you place the camera, do it in such a way that you can see as many approaches as possible to that target, i.e., the tool shed.

Make sure you can clearly see what’s on the display.  The most likely place someone will attempt entry will give you the best possible opportunity to get a picture of the subject gaining entry. Take a look at your target and think like a thief.  It requires some work on your part. But that’s like field testing. You could even bring your friends and family in on it. Set up a mock breaking and entering.

Covering points that leave them no option but to be on camera is the goal here.  Find a way to box them in if possible. The layout of your area will dictate where you can and cannot place a camera. Think outside the box and get creative, the bad guys are going to be creative so be a step ahead of them.

trail camera for security:  Setup for Small, Unlit Areas

Sometimes you have a small area to cover, such as that side yard we saw in the video above. It could also be your tool shed or a part of your fence. Here’s where a trail camera can come in handy.

Again, remember the concealment principle. In general, the camera should be 20 feet away from its target. The nature of the layout of your yard limits you in regard to this arrangement. The camera you need will not only need to be able to be triggered at least 20 feet away, it also needs to have enough power to be able to take a picture at more than 20ft. So consider all of these options before you make a purchase.

Some of the cameras out there will flat-out not work for you.  And from my experience, if you pick the wrong camera you’ll find yourself frustrated. There are cameras out there that have a trigger distance that may be 25ft, however the camera may only have the ability to shoot images at an equal or lesser distance. This just leaves g you with bad pictures that serve only one purpose: to remind you that you got the wrong camera.

If it seems like I am stressing a point – I am.  Mess up and get the wrong camera and you are going to end up hating cameras. We don’t want that! So get the right camera and avoid that problem.

Home security setup: Patience is key

The more you become accustomed to paying attention to the details I have described, the better use you get out of your cameras. With time, you’ll improve in other areas of home security.

You will naturally start to think more about flaws and weaknesses within your security network. You will develop better situational awareness. You’re not only training yourself to use these cameras you are training yourself to think more about your personal security. In doing so you will just see things differently. So make sure you war game some scenarios so you can see where that camera needs to go. And again, make sure the camera is concealed, but in such a way you can access it without drawing attention to its location.

Trail Cameras for Security: Final Thoughts

This dead horse I will continue to beat, me constantly reminding you that your security is your personal responsibility. There is a reason for that, no one else in the world cares more about you and yours, than you…and yours. We can rely on the fire department to come put our house out when it’s on fire, and we can call the police to come do an investigation when our home is broken into, and we can call insurance companies to recoup most of our losses. All of those services take time and only serve as a REACTION.

Pro-action

Security is all about being PROACTIVE, being a step ahead. Life is unpredictable and as much as people say you need to “expect the unexpected” they are being dishonest. If you expected the unexpected then it would just be expected, and life does not work that way. So you need to be prepared for the unexpected. That is all you can do and being planning for the unexpected is more realistic and reasonable. You do not wear a seat belt in the car because you are a poor driver. You wear one because other drivers might be poor…or unexpected situations come up beyond our control.

 

That is all this Game/Stealth Camera is, it’s a seat belt. It will help keep you safe when life changes lanes without signaling and runs you off the road. So rather than being left with a broken door, lost property, and no answers. You have a picture, a video, and some audio. You know exactly when it happened, and that is a lot better than relying on a police investigation. So don’t react to the unexpected, be proactive. Stay safe and stay vigilant out there.

See Our Picks for Trail and Game Cameras


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