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It was 29 years ago that my wife and I purchased a piece of property in the foothills of North Carolina. At the time, we considered it a forestry investment and possibly the site for a future retirement home. For 23 of those years, a rather well used mobile home was our weekend retreat, possible bug-out location, and hunting lodge.

It was also the time when I learned a lot about human nature and the hardships of maintaining property from a distance. More than once we would drive up to find that we weren’t the only people visiting the site. We had gone to the trouble of putting “posted” signs along the entire property line, but very few people paid much attention to the words “Keep Out.” To most people, those signs merely read, “Come see what we left for you.” Burglars invaded that poor trailer so many times we finally quit locking the doors in hopes of not having to replace door frames.

Call 911?

Each time I would call the local sheriff, but there was little deputies could do. If I installed an alarm system, who would be there to hear it? Even if it were high-tech enough to self-dial the police, it still wouldn’t matter. Call 911 in a city… According to American Police Beat, the average response time for an emergency call is 10 minutes. Atlanta has the worst response time with 11 to 12 minutes and Nashville comes in at 9 minutes. Do that in a county where only a few deputies are on duty, and you can imagine the results. All we could do was hope someone would be caught trying to sell our stuff, but even then we’d need a way to prove they were the burglars.

To add insult to injury, an outlandish number of dirt bikes and ATV riders used the property as their personal test tracks. Their weekly outings were doing untold damage to my logging roads and adding to my liability concerns. It also gave them the “Oh-I’m-just-out-for-a-ride” excuse to case the property for future thefts. The very low-life scum I wanted to avoid during a catastrophe had already ruined my plans to prepare the land for an emergency retreat. Stockpiling supplies for desperate times would be a waste.

Off-The-Trail Cams

Fortunately, I finally found a solution in a product developed for deer hunting—the trail camera. No, it didn’t take me that long to think of using trail cameras; it just took a while for advancements to make them useful.

I’ve hunted deer for more decades than I want to admit, and I always tried to use the latest tools to help bag the perfect buck. But 30 years ago the greatest gadget was nothing more than a cheap digital watch that would stop once a pin was yanked free. You would tie a string to the pin and place it along the deer trail. Once a deer (or anything else) appeared, it would step into the line, which pulled the pin and marked the time. Yep, that was the latest technology then, but little use for security.

It wasn’t very long, however, before actual trail cameras emerged and improved the potential for on-site security. The first cameras were in 35 mm; you could get 24 or 36 exposures per roll of film. Of course, you could spend a week’s pay just trying to keep batteries in those first cameras—about as often as you replaced the film. Besides, being a photographer, you will never hear me brag about the image quality of those first cameras.

Digital Age

But when photography entered the digital age, advancements soared in cameras, including trail models. “Going digital” took trail cameras out of the realm of gadgets, making them very useful security tools.

These innovations took place about the same time my wife retired, and we built a new house on our property. Since this was going to be our primary home, the importance of security increased tenfold. You can say that we got tired of planning what to do should society collapse and just went ahead and bugged-out on our schedule. For the past six years, I have been using a selection of trail cameras to keep an eye on my deer trails and my home. They have not only improved my hunting results, but also alerted me when anyone visited my property unannounced.

However, even in the past year or two cameras have improved so much that it is time for me to update my security. Hopefully, my research into the latest offerings and my experience in using cameras will be useful knowledge for anyone considering a few extra sets of eyes on their belongings.

Limitations

Anyone considering trail cameras for security should realize their limitations and benefits. First, please allow me to discuss some financial realities. I know there are a few high-end trail cameras that can send an image to your cell phone, and I’ve seen dedicated security systems that gave views of all my property in a high-tech room like a Vegas casino. Just take my word for it; if I had that type of money there would be something other than a 17-year-old pickup in my carport, and I would be out vacationing instead of writing.

The cameras I recently tested have a “street price” in the $50 – $285 range, and each has merits. None will stop an intrusion, but they will record visible proof of who trespassed. Police can use the images to help prevent future crimes and maybe recover your property. They will also give you advanced warning of anyone sneaking around and watching your activities.

Since I have had good luck with Bushnell, I picked up two of their Trophy Cam HD Aggressor models. The Aggressor with the No-Glow Black LED flash system costs around $200 range. You’ll pay about $20 less for the Aggressor model with the Lo-Glow system. Shop online for even lower prices. Both units offer a 14-megapixel-image resolution and claim a one-year battery life under optimum conditions. To add a nice mix to my test, I also shopped Primos for the Proof Camera 03 that retails around $100 with a 12-megapixel resolution, and the Bullet Proof 2 with 8 megapixels for about $55.

Benefits

All of these cameras are capable of recording video or still images and all, but the Bullet Proof 2, can be set to record multiple images each time the trigger clicks. You can also set the delay, or reset the time between each string of pictures. Mounting straps came with each camera, but only the Primos Proof Camera 03 came with a secure digital (SD) card. You have to buy SD cards—think of them as “digital film”—for the other trail cameras, as well as AA batteries. Thankfully the battery life on all of the cameras was very acceptable. In the past month, I have recorded hundreds of images and had yet to change any batteries.

If you’re using a trail camera to record deer movement, don’t worry about hiding them. Deer don’t shop at Wal-Mart and have no idea what a camera is, so they pay little attention to them. But for security, place the cameras where they aren’t obvious. Think of the insult to go to your property only to find that someone stole the camera.

Testing

Test your cameras around the house before you depend on them for watchdog duty. Take test shots day and night to see if a camera emits visible flashes. Of the four cameras I tried, the flashes were unnoticeable unless you were close up and looked right at the cameras. The Aggressor with the No-Glow Black LEDs cast no flashes at all. But some cameras will have a red or green LED on the front that helps you line up the area to be watched or show battery usage. Cover LEDs with electrical tape to prevent giving away the camera’s location.

All cameras gave decent detection ranges, but watch the shutter’s trigger speed, which is the time from when an object is detected to when the shutter fires. A trigger speed that’s too long might let something pass through the detection zone before the shutter fires. You’ll get a picture of nothing; to avoid that, mount cameras at an angle so that passing animals or people will be in the “cone of vision” long enough for the trigger to fire and capture the image. Trigger speeds, as well as resolutions, all improved as the retail prices increased. Both Bushnell cameras had a .2-second trigger speed, while the Primos Proof Camera 03 had a .4-second trigger.

Record Times and Placement

The other cameras could all be set to record multiple images for each triggering, which gives you a better chance of capturing the proof you need. I tested each one along the road leading to the house and set them at an angle, which would cover the greatest area of the road. Whenever anything came by it would trigger the cameras, which were set to capture three images. Normally I would get a good shot of the front of the truck or car, a middle shot, and then a shot showing the license plates. The resolutions of each camera enabled me to enlarge images and read license plates.

The trick to camera placement is to hide it without any foliage near the camera’s sensor. More than once I would check a camera only to learn I just took a few hundred shots of a leaf blowing in the wind. I also found that mounting them on the side of the road, away from the driver, improved concealment. Or place the camera where something draws the driver’s eyes away from the camera’s location, like the point along the drive where they get the first view of the house. They will be paying attention to the house and not in the brush next to the driveway. I’ve even used foolish “deer crossing” yard signs to draw attention away from the camera.

Frequent Checks

A spare camera can enhance another camera, but at different spots on the road entering the property. Place the cameras apart but still facing each other. That way if thieves steal one camera, the second one has taken their picture. You can do the same thing around your house, barn, or storage shed. Buy extra SD cards. That way, cameras keep operating while you check the images on the cards you removed.

Also frequently check the cards. Even if you haven’t had any problems, someone may have entered the property. They may have made a wrong turn, or they may be casing the place one last time before tomorrow’s robbery. It’s nice to know beforehand who has been a nosy neighbor.

This article is from the fall 2017 issue of Survivor’s Edge Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

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