Before you take your trail cam to the timber, run two simple tests to help ­determine your camera’s detection and flash ranges, trigger speed, and ideal focal point.

1.) Program your camera for its simplest function. Mount it 4 to 5 feet high on a tree, telephone pole, post, or tripod in an open area. Stand next to your camera and pace off or measure 10 feet directly in front of the lens. Place a white stake or easily visible object at this spot. Pace off another 10 feet and repeat, until you have a straight line of stakes every 10 feet out to 60 feet. Turn your camera on and give it time to power up.

2.) Walk a wide loop off to one side, then walk by at the 10-foot mark. Give the camera time to rearm and repeat the walk-through at each stake. Repeat after dark. The images will reveal your maximum detection range in distance (the farthest stake at which the camera detected you) and width (how far into the field of view you had to walk before the camera shot you). The clearest photo will tell you the ideal focal distance.

3.) This simulates fast-moving deer. I have my son Bailey and our retriever Lucky stand off-camera together. Bailey throws a ball past the 10-foot stake and tells Lucky to fetch. As soon as Lucky gets going, Bailey runs after him. We repeat at each stake. Cameras with slow trigger speeds get Bailey just before he leaves the detection zone. Faster cameras get him early or dead center in the frame. The fastest get the dog.

From the August 2012 issue of Field & Stream magazine.