[Note: The following was first published in the May 2014 Alberta Outdoorsmen.]
Copyright © 2014 Don H. Meredith, All Rights Reserved.
It wasn’t that long ago that all you needed to get around on a hunting or fishing trip was a paper map, a compass and an official copy of the respective hunting or fishing regulations. Today, fish/depth finders, Global Positioning System (GPS) units, smartphones, tablets, you-name-it have become must-have assets for many to find their way and follow regulations. However, having to carry several different devices, let alone use them all, can be distracting. So, it was inevitable developers would devise mobile applications (apps) to gather much of this information under one roof on a smartphone or tablet. It turns out Alberta is a hotbed of much of this development. The following is my brief review of some of the most useful mobile apps for the angler or hunter in Alberta.
If you’re going to a specific lake to boat and fish, a map of that lake and its depths is very useful for planning your trip. Aqua Map has developed apps that download and display detailed depth charts for lakes around the world. Its Alberta version ($4.99 iOS only) has high-density maps for 189 lakes in the province, using data obtained from the Alberta Geological Survey. You can also download very detailed satellite views. Like many of these apps, you should download the specific maps, preferably before you leave on your trip, so you do not have to depend on the Internet where it may not be available. The app uses the GPS function on your phone or tablet to help you find specific sites. It also allows you to mark locations, measure distances and track your movements.
Back in 2010, Randy Chamzuk, the owner and founder of the QDI Group in Edmonton, saw how smartphones might help the Alberta angler. He and his company developed one of the first mobile apps for outdoors people: iFish Alberta. It provided basic information about lakes, what fish species could be found and what regulations applied.
Over the years, GDI has continually updated the app to include more information. It has also expanded beyond Alberta, offering iFish versions for B.C., Saskatchewan, Ontario and most U.S. States. The Alberta version ($4.99 iOS and Android) now covers more than 700 lakes which are easily found using the app’s search function. Other features include: a Google map of each lake including driving directions; a proximity search where you can find lakes within certain distances of your current GPS location; the ability to mark your personal “hot spots” on the maps and either keep them private to your device or share them with others; boat launch locations; and current weather and four-day forecast for each lake.
iFish also provides summaries of the fishing regulations for each lake. However, you should note the disclaimer in the app that emphasizes the summaries are not official. Always check the official regulations before leaving on any trip, either in hardcopy or online and note any discrepancies. Remember, any official updates or changes will be reflected in the official regulations first. It is your responsibility to know what’s current.
The hunting apps scene for Alberta is a bit more confusing. There are two competing apps with unfortunately similar names: iHunter and iHunt. The two differ in price, and at first look, have similar features. However, a closer look shows there are differences that might be important depending on what you want out of your hunting app.
As a dedicated Alberta hunter, Mark Stenroos saw how the smartphone could help the hunter by bringing together in one app the information already provided on the web and elsewhere. In October of 2012 he released the first version of iHunter for Alberta. He admits he rushed the release after only 30 days of development to get a “minimal viable product” on the market and gauge the response from hunters in the field. That first edition had maps with Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) boundaries and big game regulations for each WMU. It used the GPS function on the iPhone to put waypoints on the maps, but as Stenroos confesses, “it was very basic and quite rough.” Sure enough, he got immediate feedback and released two more versions before the hunting season was over. After six weeks, he had over 1200 “very enthusiastic and engaged” users.
Today, his company has added versions of iHunter for the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick. The Alberta version ($5.99, iOS and Android) provides you with the option of using three different satellite maps, two road maps and a topographic map with WMU, First Nations reserve and no-hunting zone boundaries overlayed on each. Four of the maps can be stored for offline use.
The app displays season and regulation summaries for bird and big game species for each WMU, but again, do not rely on these apps for up-to-date information. Always check the official regulations!
Other features include: current weather and sunrise/sunset times for each WMU, adding waypoints to known or current locations, e-mailing or texting your location to others, and storing photos or text in the waypoints. For an additional $9.99 (in-app purchase) you can add the Pro Tools features, which include GPS tracking, where your route is drawn over the map, including total distance traveled, duration and speed; the ability to draw lines over the maps to plan your trips; selecting WMUs by species; and saving favorite WMUs and waypoints for quick reference.
In September of 2013, QDI introduced its Alberta hunting app, iHunt ($2.99, iOS and Android). iHunt overlays WMU boundaries on two types of interactive maps: a standard map and a satellite map. It has a “Where am I button” that uses the phone’s GPS to instantly take you to the current WMU you occupy; or you can search for a specific WMU by number or name. You can also search for WMUs or cities/towns within certain distances of your current location. All downloaded information viewed is automatically stored on your device so you can use it offline.
Like iHunter, iHunt also presents regulation summaries for each WMU. But again, always check current official regulations for updates and changes!
Other features include: game species descriptions and tracks, current weather and four-day forecasts, and solunar calendar and sunrise/sunset times for each WMU. The app also provides access to videos and documents on relevant topics.
So, which hunting app should you buy? A lot depends on what you want to use the app for. Obviously if price is an issue, iHunt will provide much of what you might want. However, if you want to track your movements or use a wider variety of maps, for example, iHunter’s extra cost might be worth it. Keep in mind that both companies are constantly updating their apps, and the competition between them should make their products better.
The advent of the smartphone and tablet has changed the way many of us gather and use information. As it turns out, fishing and hunting are not immune. However, they do have their limitations, and users should always have handy, and know how to use, a map, compass and the official fishing or hunting regulations.