Technology is constantly advancing, and this is changing the way we hunt, including the introduction of digital scouting. Every year new gadgets are introduced to the hunting market with the intention of making life easier. Some last, and some disappear faster than they arrived. Global Positioning System (GPS) is one of the things that has lasted and provided tremendous benefits to hunters.
Just a few years ago before the Internet revolutionized the hunting world, hunters relied on local television, newspapers, land line telephones, magazines, and word-of-mouth communication for hunting and wildlife activity information. The Farmer’s Almanac was a go-to for weather and migration predictions, as well. Today through technological advances, hunters have access to Doppler weather reports, gobble maps, migration maps, rut reports, and handheld GPS units. All of this information does present some problems. Hunters may not fully understand how to use this technology to their advantages.
The development of the Internet has been one of the most beneficial and detrimental technologies to hit the hunting world. It has provided an infinite amount of information and knowledge at the click of a button. Hunting information, once reserved for local people, is now available to anyone connected to the World Wide Web, but at the same time, this can be its downfall too. Long gone are the days of maintaining the privacy of premium public land hunting spots. The need for local knowledge is no longer required, and those prized locations are becoming as crowded as the county fair.
However, it is this very information availability that makes the Internet one the best tools or the modern hunter. The Internet is often the best place to begin your pre-season scouting efforts. This digital scouting aid puts aerial images, topographic overlays, GPS coordinates, online hunting communities, and social media at your fingertips. You can even track wildlife activity through digital apps, such as DU Waterfowl Migration Map, NWTF Gobble Map, Rut Reporters Whitetail Heat Map, and Realtree Rut Report Map.
Maps are indispensable for locating hunting areas and determining the best means of accessing them. Not to mention, they are huge time savers, especially when you combine multiple map types. With modern digital mapping systems, like Google Maps, Google Earth, and Polaris Navigation, you can unlock the exact GPS coordinates, attain directions, and plan for travel times to boat ramps, wildlife management areas, public land access points, or the nearest place to get a hot meal after a day of scouting or a cold morning in the blind. These Internet mapping systems offer highly detailed maps hunters can compare to the terrain and landmarks they see when scouting.
For those who have a high-end fishing boat, navigate coastal waterways, or fly into remote fishing or hunting camps, it is a good bet you have come to rely on at least some of the advantages of GPS. This is not a new technology, but it is one that has become increasingly more accessible and more accurate in the past few years. For hunting, GPS is most importantly an interactive mapping system. You can mark specific locations, such as deer stands, game trails, blinds, wildlife sign, or your hunting vehicle. You can also zoom in or out on your particular location to get either a more detailed look or to associate your location with a larger area. This technology gives you the power to review your marks, or waypoints, at a later time, compare them with aerial images, and combine this information into a master map or other various ways to aid your scouting efforts. You can then print this map or use them to plan stand placements, locate access points, or identify natural funnels or possible honey holes. Along with the digital scouting potential, GPS will track your travel paths, which can help keep you from becoming lost in the woods.
This just touches on the possibilities of a GPS unit and the ways hunters can benefit from using one. Unless you are only hunting or fishing from a boat, a handheld GPS unit will be more versatile than a large, hard-mounted unit. In the handheld market, Garmin, Magellan, and Lowrance are the main competitors. All three manufacturers offer reliable units, but like the Ford vs. Chevy debate, every hunter will have their favorite. However, there are a few features that will make them easier to use and even more reliable. The first feature is display size. Let’s face it. None of us are getting any younger, and our eyes are usually the first things to go. If you have vision issues, a GPS unit with a larger display will help. A color display is a good option that offers even greater map detail. While most GPS units are waterproof, only a handful are designed to float. If you have problems hanging on to things or tend to have butterfingers, a floating unit would be a great choice. Another option would be to attach the GPS unit to another piece of your gear or some type of floatation device or buoy. Many of us like to transfer our GPS data to our computers. This data can then be imported into other digital mapping systems. If you want to have this option, you will need to look for a unit that will connect to some type of computer cable or that uses some form of memory card. Perhaps the most important feature is ease of use. If you cannot quickly and easily access the features or data, the unit will be too much trouble to use in the field. No matter which feature-laden GPS unit you buy, it will only be as useful as your knowledge and ability to use it. Spending time to become familiar with your GPS unit will unlock its potential as a digital scouting tool.
Only a few years ago, the Farmer’s Almanac was the most common tool for hunters to predict weather patterns and animal activity. Now with the Internet and digital scouting, our mobile phones can radar-track real-time weather patterns, as well as up-to-date weather predictions and wind currents. Hunters can use this information to predict waterfowl migrations, deer movements, or determine when weather changes will eliminate food sources or block access points. This information can also be used to determine the best stand or blind locations for any given day.
One of the biggest advantages of digital scouting is following wildlife activity. These scouting applications allow hunters to attach local wildlife movements to an interactive mapping system. This is a quick and easy tool for determining how changes in weather or the photoperiod is affecting wildlife activity. Another digital scouting tool is the weekly state agency waterfowl survey report. Most state wildlife agencies provide these reports, and they are a great way to determine migration patterns and the numbers of birds in a given area. Do not overlook Pro-staff member web and social media pages. They regularly post wildlife activity, bird numbers, rut stages, weather conditions, and which hunting strategies worked or did not work.
Even though some hunters still rely on the Farmer’s Almanac and guessing about the best hunting spots, these digital scouting techniques can help put you in the winner’s circle. These innovative, precise, and interactive digital tools can save a lot of wasted scouting time. Although the Internet draws opposition from some hunters, those of us who use this resource and the wealth of information have a better chance of scoring big throughout the hunting season. Like hunting itself, digital scouting comes with some responsibilities. The information and knowledge you gain about specific locations should only be used for personal benefit and not shared with everyone all around the Internet. You want your hard work to pay off for you and not be ruined by a horde of other hunters following your directions and discoveries.