How to use Google Maps to Your Advantage for Bird Hunting this season.
In almost every aspect of our lives today, technology has crept in and changed the way we view it. Upland bird hunting is no different. Even the timeless tradition of the gentlemen wing-shooters of days-gone-by has been infiltrated by gadgets and gizmos, apps and automation. Some may ask if technology has a place in the uplands. I think so. For the most part, I have embraced this change. I mean, I’m a millenial—it’s in my DNA. I’ve always had a fascination for tech and have never shied away from it. Sometimes to a fault. Still, we can find a purpose for just about anything (in moderation). That being said, Google Maps for bird hunting is no exception.
The purpose of this multi-part series from Project Upland is not to just focus on technology. Rather, I intend to highlight some of my favorite mobile apps that I like to use while Ruffed Grouse and American Woodcock hunting in the northern forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In my initial feature, I will highlight a killer app that has had the single-most significant impact on my hunting. Google Maps for bird hunting has been that.
Google Maps for Bird Hunting
If you don’t enjoy swiping around on the spectacular satellite imagery of Google Maps during the on and off season, do you even hunt, bro? In all seriousness, I spend more time than I should admit viewing Google Maps for bird hunting both on my phone and on my computer. I truly enjoy scouting for new covers, identifying habitat and uncovering hidden treasures in the digital forests at my fingertips. When I need a quick break from whatever it is I’m doing, I often pop Google Maps open. This leads to me getting lost halfway between reality and a daydream about hunting the most perfect cover on the most perfect fall day.
For the most serious of pre-scouting sessions, Google Earth is often the better choice. For example, you can manipulate the timeline of the imagery, a great way to find properly-aged timber cuts aka ruffed grouse habitat. There a lot of other great features besides. I prefer for casual use, however, the responsiveness and ease of the more simplified Google Maps.
I’m trying to utilize a new feature this season. The ‘places’ and ‘labels’ feature are great for denoting spots I have tried and spots I’d like to try. Now I hunt areas littered with little gold stars and green labels. My hope is that I’ll have enough places marked up by the time the season rolls that I can spend less time figuring out where to go.
A Google Maps for Bird Hunting Hack for No Cell Service
On top of the spectacular imagery and smooth operation, perhaps the absolute best feature of Google Maps is the ability to cache (store behind-the-scenes) maps for use in areas of low to no cellular service. If you’re not doing this already, trust me, you’ll want to start. It makes using Google Maps for bird hunting more practical than ever.
Essentially, if you know you’re going to be hunting an area with no cell phone service, you can go into the Google Maps app while you have service and pre-load the imagery of the area you’ll be hunting. In order to “load” the imagery, you need to do so systematically by zooming in to the level of detail you want. This will usually be full resolution or full zoom. After that, scan around the area to allow the blocks of images to load. The maps will continuously load up the images in perfect details as long as you scan over every corner of the area you intend to hunt.
I have stored rather large areas of the map in my cache on my iPhone and don’t ever recall reaching a limit or crashing the app. I suppose you could run into storage or memory issues at some point, but I have yet to do that so. Don’t be afraid to upload large sections of map that you might want to hunt.
Now that you have the imagery cached, you have to remember one thing. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT “close” the application. Just to clarify, you don’t have to stay in Google Maps constantly. It can be running in the background, but do not close the application (a.k.a. double tap home button and swipe up on iPhone). This is key to anyone using Google Maps for bird hunting.
Using Google Maps for Bird Hunting in the Field
So now that you have your map images loaded, what can you do with them? When you find yourself out in the woods the next day with no cell phone service, have no fear, your phone’s GPS system will still be fully functional. As a result, you now have high quality satellite imagery with your exact location being tracked on the map. How you use the imagery to your advantage is up to you. Yet, I can tell you from personal experience I have found some of my favorite bird covers walking through the woods while following my route via satellite imagery. In this scenario, Google Maps for bird hunting is one of my favorite apps for hunting.
When see and feel the cover with my eyes and feet, that is one thing. When I then take a pause, pull out my phone, and get the aerial view of my exact location, it adds another perspective. I get a great understanding of the terrain around me. Not only do I have the ability to see what lies ahead, I also have the confidence to navigate to specific points in the cover.
Could all of this be done without satellite imagery? Sure, but why not use the power of Google Maps for bird hunting with a device that 9 out of 10 of us already carry in our pockets anyway?
Google Maps is not meant to Replace a Compass
Of course, there are some concerns with relying on our phones as a navigation tool. What if it gets wet and malfunctions? What if the battery dies, etc? To start with, I never completely rely on Google Maps for bird hunting. I want to ensure my safety and my path back to the truck. I never leave the truck without a compass or two. Additionally, I always make a point of knowing (at a minimum) the direction I need to head out of the woods to make it to the nearest road. Just in case, I also carry another GPS unit entirely separate from my phone that I mark the truck on. You can’t be too cautious, in my opinion. I’ve never spent a night in the woods that I didn’t intend to—and I don’t plan on doing so anytime soon.
Because a phone battery tends to drain fast when it’s searching for cellular service, I will often run my phone in airplane mode. Airplane mode uses way less charge. Unfortunately in airplane mode, your GPS turns off as well which means you can’t see your location on the map. My solution is to turn the cellular service/GPS back on for a minute while my location is detected and displayed on the map. Then I’ll set my heading accordingly—and back into airplane mode the phone goes. Your last position will remain in static display until you fire up the GPS again at which point it will relocate.
Utilizing this method, most phone batteries today will last for many hours or days. As long as you keep your phone in airplane mode for the majority of the time. If you’re diligent about recharging devices each time you get back to the truck, you shouldn’t have to worry about battery life.
With each season that passes by, it seems that technology takes another significant leap forward. This is just as true with as timeless a sport as upland bird hunting. There’s always a bit of a balance to sticking with what works while implementing new technology that potentially could increase the effectiveness and enjoyment of our hunting trips.
When it comes to Google Maps for bird hunting, it’s safe to say that this app has firmly planted itself into the essential category for me. I navigate through the woods with a new-found confidence and sense of adventure. Some of the best grouse hunters I know have relied on satellite imagery and aerial photos. Even since the days of having to print the images out and carry them with you! Fortunately for us, we no longer need to limit ourselves to preprinted images. Now with adequate cell-service, we have access to satellite imagery that covers our entire hunt area via Google Maps.
If you haven’t yet taken Google Maps for bird hunting for a spin on your upland bird hunts, I highly recommend you give it a shot this year. You probably won’t be disappointed and you might even find your next favorite bird cover.
Nick Larson is brand communications director at Northwoods Collective. He is also the host and creator of the Project Upland Podcast. He and his family, which includes a pair of English setters, reside in Duluth, Minnesota. Naturally, his favorite pursuit is upland bird hunting. From the northern forests of the upper great lakes to the prairies of the west, he chases adventure across the uplands wherever his bird dogs and the people he meets inspire him to go.