The Use of onX Mapping by Wildlife Biologists

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As an avid upland bird hunter who likes to hunt a variety of species, the onX Hunt application has played a vital role in my hunt success. With this tool in my pocket, I have felt much more confident when travelling around the country. I am sure that many of you can attest to the app’s utility for finding, both public hunting access and the appropriate habitat, when hunting away from your home coverts. Though this is true, my first experience using onX was not as a means for hunting but as a tool for research.

When I’m not following my bird dog through the field in search of the next covey rise, I am studying upland game birds in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes my work is done in the field and at others (more and more frequently) it is done from behind a computer. In the office, we frequently use powerful software for mapping and determining where a species’ habitat may occur. However, these tools are difficult to use when conducting work in the field. I have found onX Hunt to be a useful and convenient tool in these scenarios.

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Early in my career, I worked with sage-grouse across North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. At the time, I was at the lower end of the totem pole, which meant all my work tasks took place in the field. Day in and day out, I would monitor the sage-grouse in the area. It was a great way for a young man to learn about the natural world. I became especially familiar with the “here today, gone tomorrow” behavior of some sage-grouse. One of my primary responsibilities was tracking the grouse using various technology. An individual could remain in a general location for days or weeks and then pick up and move several miles at the drop of a hat. This often led me on a wild goose (or grouse) chase through an unfamiliar landscape.

Prior to onX, this scenario would have required numerous paper maps and extra time in front of the computer to come up with a course of action. The app combines all these layers and saves you from time spent in the office. The topographic layer of onX, helped me locate the best vantage points to search for sage-grouse from. Once I had a general idea of where the grouse resided, I used the road map to navigate through rural areas that I had not ventured into before. As I narrowed in on the believed location, I would consult the property owner feature to determine if the lands were public or privately-owned in an otherwise indeterminable mosaic. If bird occupied public land, then great. I would head onto the property, find another vantage point, and eventually get a reliable location on the individual. If not, I would use the app to obtain the name of the landowner and reference the local phonebook to ask for permissions.

While there are other resources and tools that can be used in situations like this, I think that onX Hunt is presently the most practical and compact one available. The team that I was working for during the time frame mentioned above was led by individuals who spent all their free time hunting on public lands. So naturally, they were familiar with and early adopters of onX as a tool for field work. I believe that this application has many practical uses in the field of wildlife biology. In the future, hope to see it adopted by more wildlife agencies across the country.

Trey Johnson

I was born and raised on a small ranch Northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. From a young age, nature always provided an outlet from reality. I have continued to cultivate this passion through formal education and creative writing. When I am not working as game bird research assistant, you can find my bird dog and I in the field chasing birds.

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