Trails cams, when to starting hanging them?

Big Country

New member
Aug 29, 2013
Hey guys, looking for some input.  I got a decent trail cam last year and was able to put it out a few times just to see how the thing worked.  When it came time to do some serious scouting, the fire season was so bad here in NW MT that they were talking about closing down the forests.  Wasn't real excited about putting up my brand new camera and then not being able to retrieve it before the season started.  Just curious when people start putting out their cams and what they're looking for at particular times.  Anything helps and thanks for your help!
I put mine out around 4th of July. I'm mostly just looking to see what kind of pictures I can get. I don't use them so much to scout. We used to put them out to try to get pictures of bulls, but the bulls would usually leave the area to gather up there harems around the beginning of our archery season so whenever we would locate a bull he would be gone when our season started. When I am scouting for elk before the season I am looking for cow groups. I look for other things when I am scouting all new areas but the cams for me are just for pictures of elk, not really for hunting.

I do find them useful for deer. Deer have smaller home ranges than elk so if you are getting deer pictures on trail cams there is a good chance they might still be around come hunting season.

If you can find a place with food, water, cover, cows, and big bulls then that would probably be a good place to hunt but I only know one area that seems to have all of that and I rarely hunt there because there are hundreds of hunters there during season.

I would rather hunt a herd of 10 elk by myself than 1000 elk with 100 other hunters.
I understand that late in the summer I'm really only looking for cows on the camera.  Spotting bulls that early only means i'm in the wrong place come hunting season!  Just curious how soon I should get out them and start looking.  Found a couple great spots this past rifle season that I plan on hanging some cameras this summer. 
One thing I found in my area is that anywhere with elk sign and elderberries is going to be a good spot around archery season.

The elk seem to stay in an area until they have eaten the elderberry bushes down to just sticks, then they move on.

As for when to put cameras out I would do it now as an excuse to get out in the woods if you want to. As for hunting it seems to me like the elk in my area only stay in one spot for a couple weeks to a month before they wander around to a different drainage looking for greener grass. I don't bother looking for the cow groups till a couple weeks before the season.

I do like to spend a few weekends every Summer scouting areas that I have located on Google Earth to see if there is sign from previous years of rutting activity and if I locate an area that looks like it might be a good one I will hang cameras there in the early Summer to see what is around.

What kind of cameras are you using? We have a few bushnell trophy cams and am pretty happy with them overall.
I usually put my cams up as soon as the snow is gone, or at least navigable - mid to late June.

Agree that cows are a good sign of where the bulls will be come Sept., but you can also catch bulls pre-rut during early archery in the same places you get them on camera during the summer.

If you are looking at scouting a brand new area - I would look for the proper arrangement of feed, water, access to N. facing timber with elky topography that's the furthest from the truck you are willing to go. Then pick transition areas, saddles, travel corridors, water holes, or potential wallows and see what activity you get.

I'll put up 6 or so and check them every couple weeks.
Used to hang them as soon as I could.  Late June-ish.  Didn't have any advantage for me, unless you like seeing the antler growth, and coat phases.  Might run out of battery life. So I now hang them around July 31. In Montana, we cant have them up during the season so I take them out the last of August. Only once I have shot an elk at a wallow where I had a cam hanging the week before.  I usually look for cows! 

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