Deer Intel Goes High Tech
"At our camp, everyone has an iPhone," says the founder of an Arkansas deer camp that's been around for 13 years now. "We all have the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission iPhone app on our phones, too, and we can register our deer online with it. We have our deer checked in before we even get it out of the woods!"
This app also lets you receive breaking outdoors news, check state hunting regs, and even buy a hunting or fishing license.
At one Kansas deer camp, the Field & Stream Deer Camp app is used by all ten of the camp's core group of hunters. The app lets this camp's hunters share "intel" about what they see on the 1,100 acres of crops, brush, food plots, and trees by creating a map that only these hunters can access. Deer sightings, scrapes, trails, and game-cam photos and more can be plugged into the map.
Bonus: the app automatically supplies weather conditions, like wind speeds, temperatures and moon phases. Add it all up, and the app essentially lets deer campers create their own e-hunt journal, one that can be constantly updated and easily reviewed.
But, as we all know, cell service isn't universal. Just ask the group of mule deer hunters in Central Oregon who've deer camped in the Ochoco National Forest for the last 15 years. The land here's wild and rugged, a mixture of towering rock formations, conifer-studded slopes, and deep ravines. Not surprisingly, this deer camp is "portable," a collection of wall tents and campers pulled in by four-wheel drive vehicles.
"If you climb up on a mountain peak, you might get cell service," says the son of one the camp's founders. "Might. So for the last several years we've been using Garmin's new Rino radios. Big help."
These radios use GPS technology to send a hunter's exact position to all the other hunters in the party. Texts can be sent and received between units, but they also operate as traditional FRS/GMRS radios. The built-in cameras not only take high-quality photographs, the units also automatically "geotag" each photo's location for future reference.
"Before, we were using those giant walkie-talkies with the C batteries and those really long antennas," the Oregon camp member says. "They were bulky and pretty finicky. You'd have to set up specific times of the day for all of us to check in and hope you were in a place where you could get reception."
Tracking in the age of GPS
"Google Earth and Terrain are huge with us," says the member of one deer hunting camp in New York State's Chenango County. "As the gun season goes on, we do a lot of deer drives, often on large tracts of public land we haven't hunted before. So we use the maps and terrain feature to plan our drives. I like to locate valleys and other natural funnels, great places to set up guys as standers, while the rest of us do the driving."
On these drives, he adds, hand-held GPS units are also the norm, to lessen the chances of anyone getting turned around in unfamiliar country. More accurate today than ever, these GPS units also allow hunters to mark where they parked their vehicles, where their stands are, and, for tracking purposes, where that buck was when he was hit. The technology is needed and appreciated by the New York camp. Chenango County is home to 80,000 acres of public lands, rolling hardwood and pine forests, cut by streams and rivers, and studded with swamps. It's an easy place to lose one's way!
The Oregon hunting camp uses Google maps, too, to decide where they should hunt—and areas they should probably avoid.
"We go really far back into the wilderness areas," says the camp member. "We can go a day or two without seeing another hunter. That's pretty cool. But that's because the terrain's really steep and very tough."
"So we'll use Google Maps to see where we'd like to hunt," he continues, "and where the terrain's so steep we just say to ourselves, if we get a muley here, how the heck are we ever going to get it out in less than a day? Google helps us avoid some areas we really should stay out of."
When looking at new areas, he notes, Google also helps them scout for water, a key to finding deer here.
Wireless Scouting's Big Payoff
"They get a deer, they're right on Facebook with it posting pictures," says the New York camp member. "It lets them keep in touch with their friends. And they can do some of that bragging we deer hunters like to do."
At the Kansas deer camp, some members do post deer pics via Instagram to friends and family. But the camp has an un-official rule against posting to Facebook, notes the camp's co-founder.
"Facebook's a little too public for us," he says with a laugh. "We want to keep our big bucks more of a secret than that!"
Game cameras aren't new, but the current generation of wi-fi capable game and trail cams are important newcomers to deer camps. Both the New York and Kansas deer camps use these game cameras, and members instantly receive photos through text or email.
"If I get a photo texted to me at 6 p.m. of a buck by one of our food plots, I can pretty much guess where he's heading to bed down for the night," says the New York State deer camper. "So if I use the wind right and get into position quietly, I have a good chance of hunting him the next morning."
"I actually live in New Jersey," notes the co-founder of the Kansas deer camp. "Our game cams let me keep track of what's going on even though I'm half a country away. How cool is that?" Before these super-high-tech game cameras came onto the market, the Kansas camp had to arrange for a local person to pull game-cam SD cards once a month or so, download the images to a computer and then email them. Today, the pics come right to him.
Wireless game cams have also improved the hunting at the Kansas camp in another way. Camp members want to create as little human disturbance on camp property as possible. These cameras not only allow them to keep tabs on deer, but to monitor things like how well food plots are or are not growing. All of it from afar, with no need to have someone tramping over the land, scaring deer and throwing them off their daily patterns.
Another tool the Kansas camp uses is computerized aerial photos of the land. Camp members superimpose the locations of stands, blinds, food plots, and feeders onto the maps, for handy reference before each hunt, and to use when doing longer-range deer and conservation planning.
Tradition & Tech Meet Coffee Table
Technology allows the Kansas deer camp group—ten hunters who've been together for a dozen years now and stay in an old farmhouse—to keep each individual hunting season alive by creating their own annual hunt book. Photos, maps, hunting stories and other reminiscences are downloaded onto the camp co-founder's computer; he then prints it up and has it bound into a coffee-table-style book.
"We write down the names of everyone who hunted there that year, how they did, the size of the animals, with photos," says the camp owner. "One neat thing about the book is, year by year, we can go back and see all the changes and improvements we've made over the years."
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