It wasn't that long ago that paper maps, mostly topographical, gave way to aerial photography. With the rise of the Internet, hunters suddenly gained access to a bird's-eye view of their hunting grounds. While this was a major leap forward and changed how all hunters (especially whitetail hunters) planned their in-field time, early aerial photography was still lacking valuable information.
For instance, it didn't contain any of the information you'd find in a plat book. Landowner names were absent, as was any designation of public hunting areas. This meant that to truly understand what was going on, we usually needed to have paper maps handy and then cross-reference them against the aerial photos. It was an inexact science, at best. And it was always a pain in the neck.
As is the case with technology, eventually aerial photography became better and the information we were seeking became easier to divine. However, it was still hard to figure out who owned what parcels and it was often nearly impossible to find small-but-important details, like hiking trails spider-webbing from trailheads, due to the resolution of the available photography.
Fortunately, that's all changing thanks to the veteran mapping experts at OnX Hunt who rolled out their first mobile app in 2013. This latest release opens a new era for OnX Hunt. It was a ground-up, custom, re-build of the backend infrastructure, and brand-new user experience driven by years of experience and listening to customer needs. In short, the #1 hunting app just got better with a whole new digital experience that is now delivering everything hunters and outdoorsmen have ever wanted in a mapping service including valuable boundary and landowner information.
The Best Tech Available
There are a few options out there, but if you want everything in one place on your phone you'd be well-served to check out OnX Hunt. I started an Elite Membership with them this spring during turkey season thinking I'd use it only on my over-the-road trips — I was wrong.
I use it all of the time to find public ground for whitetails, and to make sure that I'm on the right public ground. It allows for well over 400 map overlays, which is a crazy amount when compared to the competition. This is due largely to the fact that OnX Hunt was developed for hunters first. That matters, a lot.
Depending on the level of OnX Hunt services you want to dive into, you can select a state, multiple states, or all of them for which you want the best maps available. Want to try OnX Hunt out? No problem. There's a free trial offer waiting for you at OnX Hunt.
All hunters need to know a few things besides being able to simply see the terrain features via aerial photography. This goes for public- as well as private-land hunters who will never set foot on Uncle Sam's ground all season. What the public-land crowd also needs, is to be able to layer over the aerial images to see boundaries and various designations. As someone who hunts at least four or five states each season solely on public land, I can't stress how important this is. OnX does this for me.
It plays into hunt planning, of course, but at its most basic level this technology also shows you whether you're on the right side of the fence or not during your actual in-field time. This is especially true now that some of the best apps out there function with GPS, allowing you to see your exact location at all times - without needing a cell signal. OnX Hunt has you covered here as well.
I hunt elk in southern Colorado in an over-the-counter unit where getting a signal in most places is not going to happen. Being able to navigate in those mountains is not only convenient, it's also safer. Some of the public parcels I hunt in a few Midwestern states are also devoid of a signal, but that's not a big deal. Just be sure you save your maps ahead of time (either at home on Wi-Fi or wherever you have great cell service) before you head into those areas where signals are iffy and you'll always have all your mapping information with you.
A quick check on my phone and I know exactly where I am and how far I can go. This is beneficial for many reasons, but becomes something else when you try to navigate public land in states like Wisconsin, where much of the best ground is either poorly marked, or not marked at all.
This feature might not be as important to private-land hunters, who undoubtedly know (or should know) exact property boundaries, but there are other advantages to using OnX Hunt.
Game Recovery Realities
Let's say you've gained permission to rifle hunt a farm in northern Missouri and so you scout it all season. Opening morning comes and you're lucky enough to get a shot at a cruising buck. The bad news is, you pull the shot a bit and hit him in the paunch. Your buck will die, but the recovery won't be easy.
And it really won't be easy if he hops a fence onto the neighbor's place, a not uncommon occurrence in areas with smaller parcels and plenty of hunting competition. You might know the neighbor, or you might not have the foggiest clue who actually holds the title to the ground on which your buck has traveled. OnX Hunt will tell you exactly who owns it, and that is the biggest, and first step to gaining permission to retrieve your buck. Naturally, this feature also helps the public-land hunter navigate through similar situations.
It took three days of wandering Nebraska's public land in search of a gobbler this year to change my tune and see how valuable OnX Hunt would be for fall whitetails and for western game. Heck, I use it to find late-season roosters, hidden duck spots, and old logging roads that might host a few northern Wisconsin ruffed grouse, too. It has proven its worth, and now it's as if OnX Hunt has turned my phone into the most advanced portable GPS ever, which also happens to offer very hunter friendly information when I need it most.
If you're in the market for a new hunting spot, or simply want to understand the boundaries of your current ground better, OnX Hunt is the best choice. This goes for close-to-home hunts, naturally, but it's an invaluable tool to have when traveling out of state in search of over-the-road adventure. In that case, there is no substitute for this app, which is the most comprehensive and user-friendly tool you're likely to find.