Depending on whom you ask, the answer to this question is a mixed bagged. Many hunters will automatically answer “No,” but return with a quick, “Well…” and list off a few ways they use their phone out in the woods. However short or long that list is, more and more hunters are heading out into the woods with their smartphone in tow. Does this mean that technology is taking away from the hunting experience or actually adding to it?

What about getting back to nature?

On Twitter, Jacob Powers said it best, “Hunting season needs to hurry up, [sic] I do my best soul searching when I’m in the woods #metime.” We asked our Facebook fans why they hunt, and a number of responses cited being alone and being outdoors as the primary reasons. In that same vein, Hunter Ed launched a contest promoting tree stand safety where we asked hunters to take pictures while out hunting. What we quickly discovered is that hunters — old and young — are using their phones to capture their hunting experiences and share them with others. Let’s not forget the sprouting number of amateur videographers who hope their next successful hunt earns them a spot in viral history.

Most hunters can find themselves with a lot of time on their hands — especially if they’re in the stand early and nothing is moving. Keeping your hands busy with a phone is the technological progression from twiddling your thumbs — and it’s better than falling asleep. Plus, how else will you get shots like this?

Taking It Higher

Selfies aside, why hunters use phones

You don’t wake up before dawn, walk for miles, and sit up in a tree stand for hours just to take selfies (pictures of yourself) while waiting for a buck. It’s only a small part of why phones are valuable tools for hunters. Jim Shepherd, the editor and publisher for The Outdoor Wire Digital Network, recently wrote an article on why he takes his smartphone into the woods. Listed below are ways he uses his phone while hunting.

  1. Compass – When everything looks the same, it’s easy to get turned around — especially if you’re not familiar with the land. Add in a sudden snowstorm or rainstorm and your surroundings can really get hazy. Now, you can always look up for the northern star or feel around for some moss on an oak tree. But with clouds and no moss, you’re still lost. Jim relies on a simple compass app to help him determine the wind and sunrise direction. He also uses it to establish his shooting lanes.
  2. Communication – You should always let someone know where you’re hunting before you leave. Even if you’re hunting with a partner, someone who isn’t with you should know how to find you in case of emergencies. Texting may be simplistic and sometimes impersonal, but it’s a great method of communicating deer movement, especially because it is silent. For larger hunting parties, the GroupMe app can help everyone stay on the same page.
  3. Guides – Every hunter wants to be a better hunter. That can mean buying more gear, more time spent at the practice range, or gaining more insight on what it means to hunt effectively. While in the blind, Jim read the techniques Navy SEAL firearms instructor Chris Sajnog discusses in his e-book, “How to Shoot Like a Navy SEAL.” Not only did he re-evaluate his shooting technique, he corrected an old habit that caused him to miss in the past.

Here are a few additional instances when a phone can come in handy.

  1. Managing Game – Many hunters, who share property or leases or hunt on club lands, must identify mature game before they are allowed to harvest it. Most often that’s done with game cameras, but cell phone or other photos can work, too. That way the whole group can decide if that’s really a 160-inch 6-year-old buck, or if it’s a 4-year-old buck that could be 180 inches and in the record books two years from now.
  2. Visual Proof – Did you really see that 8-pointer, and was it really a bad shot that no one could manage? Prove it with a picture or a video. Visual references are so important in how people process information. There are several apps on the market that allow people to record their successes with images. So, next time you see a buck the size of a mammoth, make sure you can prove it actually exists.
  3. Maps – On the boating side of things, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently announced its decision to discontinue printing traditional paper nautical charts after 151 years. Hunters, boaters, recreationist are not carrying around paper maps like they used to. Whether you rely on Google, Apple or another app, it’s never a bad idea to have a map handy.
  4. Games – If you’re not seeing action in the real field, there’s always a virtual hunting world you can escape to. The Deer Hunter Challenge apps by Glu Games Inc., are wildly popular. Just don’t confuse it with the real thing. Know when you can kill time and when you need to pay attention to your surroundings.

Whether you’re using your phone to connect with other hunters, check the local weather or just the time, it’s okay to make the off-button your favorite app, too.