October 30, 2019
By Darron McDougal
Before the advent of map-based smartphone apps, I relied heavily upon hard-copy maps and info tidbits found sporadically across the worldwide web to plan out-of-state whitetail hunts. This left so much to question, and it made learning new public parcels a steep task. Scouting was laborious and time-consuming, not to mention that it required extensive boot work — increased human intrusion and scent dispersal into key hunting locations. Consequently, success rates diminished with the introduction of these negative impacts.
Times have changed. A smartphone doesn’t give you superhuman powers, but it has become one of the most beneficial tools for DIY whitetail hunting. Remotely, we can learn much information on regions, properties, and even specific locations that can ultimately taper the learning curve when we arrive to hunt. Used correctly, map-based smartphone hunting apps can put you into key hunting locations more quickly. That alone can improve your success rate during a weeklong bowhunt in a new area.
Of course, Google Earth has been available since long before map-based hunting apps came along, and it certainly has helped many bowhunters connect the dots to trophy deer. However, map-based hunting apps are tailored specifically for hunting. More pointedly, they have features that apply to specific types of hunting. That means you can harness technology to the fullest extent and improve your success rate.
Let’s take a closer look at a couple of different hunting-app options that I feel are crucial components to any traveling whitetail hunter’s arsenal and discover how they apply to public-land hunting.
Of the available map-based hunting apps, onX and HuntStand are perhaps the most popular. For that reason, we’ll focus on these two as we move ahead. It should be noted that ScoutLook, another popular choice, recently merged with HuntStand.
Josh Dahlke, previously of ScoutLook and now the VP of content for HuntStand Media, believes the merger was a great move. “ScoutLook has officially merged with HuntStand to create the hunting industry’s single largest mobile platform,” he said. “This is a full merger, meaning all ScoutLook users will be migrated into HuntStand by early October, and the ScoutLook app will be shut off.
“This merger has a lot of implications, all of which are very positive,” Dahlke noted. “Most importantly, from the user’s perspective, all accounts, stored locations, and information will remain intact when users transition into the HuntStand ecosystem. All the same tools (weather forecasts, wind maps, etc.) will be there to harness for planning successful hunts, but users will find that HuntStand has even more to offer as we join forces!”
To help whitetailers more effectively navigate their road-trip hunts, onX has also made some notable changes this year. “We’re really focused on making improvements to onX Hunt that will help hunters organize their waypoints and app content,” said Zach Sandau, Hunt marketing manager with onX. “After listening to user feedback, we developed various new organizational features. First to be introduced are colored waypoints/icons that give users greater management of their hunting areas. This means hunters can now use different-colored icons to note sign found on different days.”
With the basic introductions of these apps out of the way, let’s get to the meat and potatoes of what each offers you, the DIY whitetail hunter.
Features & Functions
Beginning with onX, let’s look at features and functions that can help you individually decide if one app will serve you better than the other, or if you’ll gain merit from both. With onX Hunt, the top features for hunting whitetails on public land begin with private and public landowner information, which can help you find new hunting locations. The wind and weather forecast feature helps you plan your hunt around weather events and wind directions. Multiple tools help you stay organized and mark locations of treestands, trail cameras, and deer sign — among other things — with waypoint icons and colors. And, a line and shape tool can help you measure distances and acreage.
HuntStand is also rich with features and functions directed toward whitetail hunting, and the app’s Lanford Holloway explained them to me during a recent conversation. “HuntStand does several things very well,” he shared. “It provides free nationwide access to our parcel layer. Unpaid users receive 10 free parcel queries per month. Of course, users can upgrade to get unlimited parcel data for $19.99 annually.
“We also have a public-access layer,” Holloway continued. “It denotes all publicly-owned property in the United States. Once you zoom in, it becomes a topo map, and if you zoom in even closer, it becomes a very clear satellite image. HuntStand is very data-dense, to give users as much valuable information as possible.
“HuntStand has many exceptionally powerful map tools,” Holloway added. “And most are available in the free version, but with limits. We want the free version to be incredibly feature rich and exceptionally useful to hunters, of course with the option to upgrade for even more features and functions.
“We also provide useful weather tools,” Holloway noted. “Our forecasting is very detailed, including the patented HuntZone tool, which shows exactly where your scent will blow for up to three days in advance. The 72-hour forecast appears at the bottom of the screen. When you slide left with your finger, it shows exactly where your scent will go, hour by hour, throughout that 72-hour window. On one simple screen, Hunt Zone helps hunters effectively plan their hunts a few days in advance.”
Additionally, HuntStand has solunar information complete with peak activity times. To boot, users can mark-up parcels on the app with very detailed information related to stand locations, access routes, trail cameras, etc.
“We recently started offering ultra-high-res printed maps to complement our digital app,” Holloway told me. “I started this company with the intent of making printed maps obsolete for hunting. Interestingly, we received many requests for the option to get printed maps as a backup. We delivered. Users can create very detailed maps of any property, and then order a printed version up to four by six feet in size that will arrive on their doorstep within four business days.”
In a nutshell, those are the standout features of the two apps in question that pertain to DIY whitetail hunting. Now, let’s finish by discussing how apps can be applied to fortify your whitetail-hunting strategy.
Applying Technology To Your Hunt
Aaron Warbritton of the popular reality-based YouTube channel, The Hunting Public, shared some tips on how he and his compadres use onX Hunt to find regular success when chasing public-land whitetails across multiple states.
“We use onX Hunt a lot before we arrive at any destination,” Warbritton said. “We use it for many reasons, but for scouting remotely, it allows us to identify habitat diversity. Locations with water, multiple food sources, and timber-species convergences always stand out. We also look for places that are difficult to access. We mark what we believe are bedding areas, and we also download 10 to 40 miles of the area we intend to hunt before we go, because cell service isn’t guaranteed. That’s a huge benefit.
“We use onX Hunt constantly, whether we’re hunting, marking sign, dropping pins, creating access routes, or prospecting for new places to hunt,” he continued. “When trying to narrow down properties, we look for a central location from which we can easily reach multiple different public-hunting parcels. We want to have options. The problem with choosing one 2,500-acre tract is that you don’t know what you’ll experience when you arrive. Even if the habitat is excellent, it could be overrun with hunting pressure, or other variables that can ruin your plans. For that reason, we also map-out small properties, because they can be as productive as large chunks with thousands of acres.
“It’s difficult to give general advice on choosing stand locations using a hunting app, since every property is unique,” Warbritton explained. “It all boils down to choosing spots where other people don’t go. Mature bucks pattern humans and avoid areas with continual human disturbance. It could be the back corner of a large parcel, or it could be 200 yards from a parking area right alongside a road — we’ve had success in both scenarios.
“Because we hunt multiple states and dozens of public properties every season, onX serves as a database for all of the information we compile as we go,” said Warbritton. “When you’re bouncing around like we do, it’s easy to forget things, but the app keeps everything organized so we can return to exact spots.
“Now when we arrive to hunt, we take a full day to drive around and speed-scout a bunch of different locations,” Warbritton added. “The onX app helps us attack this more efficiently. Often, we learn that some spots look nothing like we imagined, but we just mark them off and move on. On the first day of a five-day trip, we usually don’t hunt. When you stop and hunt the first good sign you find, you’ll have to completely regroup if something unforeseen happens. If it isn’t hunting pressure, maybe it’s that your target buck comes in and you miss him. In these cases, you’ll be glad that you took time to locate backup spots.”
A smartphone equipped with one of the aforementioned map-based hunting apps undeniably streamlines your hunt, helping you organize data and plan your approach. If you haven’t been using one, you’re missing a critical component in your hunting strategy, and it’s ultra-affordable. It won’t put a buck in front of you, but it can certainly lead you to the promised land when you’re hunting unfamiliar whitetail country.