This past season, I drew a premium deer tag in northern Utah. My friend Shay Mann, who hopes to draw the same tag in a year or two, joined me for a few days to learn the country and help me scout. As the topo map on his iPhone guided us infallibly to another likely hunting spot, Shay paused and thoughtfully said, “These maps are amazing. They make scouting so easy. In a way that’s great, but it also makes me sad. With all the modern technology, everyone is on equal footing. There are no secrets anymore.”
When I started bowhunting some 50 years ago, “technology” meant a paper map and a compass, backed by strong legs and lungs. We found quality places to hunt through investigation, intuition, legwork, and luck. Exploration and discovery were a huge part of the fascination of hunting.
Not so much anymore. Over the past two seasons, I have hunted deer, elk, and antelope in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and Oregon, and in each I have found the same thing — no secrets. Maybe that’s good, maybe not. But one thing is for certain — big game hunting has changed.
The paper maps we relied on in past years are virtually obsolete. You can get detailed topo maps on any GPS units and, more astoundingly, on any smartphone. The past couple of years, I have done virtually all of my scouting and navigation with my iPhone. It’s convenient, accurate, and unbelievably detailed. Modern maps show not only every nuance of topography but also every waterhole, spring, two-track, and trail.
If that’s not adequate, you can study Google Earth and similar satellite imagery to identify game trails, mineral licks, vegetation types, and other natural features not visible on topographic maps. No guesswork. No secrets.
Perhaps most significantly, you can do it all at home. No glassing, no endless driving, no boot leather, no foul weather. Every hunter, regardless of physical condition, commitment, or desire, can go to his cell phone or computer and identify virtually all the prime hunting spots — before ever setting foot in the field.
Today’s off-road vehicle will carry hunters to the most hard-to-reach places. In Utah and Arizona, obscure tracks and trails lead everywhere. That means the most out-of-shape or apathetic hunter can explore and exploit the same prime spots as the most physically fit and driven hunters.
Sadly, some people will push the boundaries even beyond the logical and legal. Recently, a friend of mine was riding his mountain bike on a gated road when he encountered two guys in an ATV. To get there, they had torn down the “No Motorized Vehicles” signs and then winched aside boulders the Forest Service had placed to block the road. When my friend confronted them, they told him to pound sand and went on about their business.
At one time, access — more accurately, lack of access — was the limiting factor on hunting pressure that produced high-quality hunting. Modern maps coupled with go-anywhere vehicles have literally eliminated limitations and obstacles to access. Everybody is equal. No secrets.
MODERN TRAIL CAMS
In Utah, Shay and I checked many waterholes and springs, and we found only one that did not have a trail camera on it. Some had as many as five; one hunter told us he had out 10 cameras. No animal can come or go from a water source, mineral lick, or game trail without being observed, 24/7. No secrets.
Without question, that is fascinating and helpful. Who would not want that advantage? But what are the broader implications? Throughout the West, bowhunters place notes in their blinds or stands on public lands to let other hunters know their intentions, and (most) other hunters honor this information.
But, to my knowledge, no such system exists for trail cams. As I ran into more and more cameras, I wondered: Does that camera give this hunter priority at this waterhole? Does he actually plan to hunt here, or is he just prospecting? Can one hunter tie up numerous sites simply by placing trail cams there?
I HAVE NO ANSWERS to these questions. I just know that times have changed, and no one is immune. While Shay and I were decrying the changes, we also were employing and taking advantage of them. What breakthroughs! How efficient! No secrets. How sad.