Mapping Software for Habitat Improvements

By Seth Gibson, Water Resources Coordinator

Most experienced hunters know that there is no off-season if you want to make the most out of the upcoming fall. Mapping software can be an incredibly useful tool in your hunting repertoire, and it can be easier to use than most people think. If you’re looking for an app to show property boundaries, I suggest onX Hunt. If you’re looking for something to show elevation or points or interest in the field, I suggest Navionics. While those are both beneficial apps for use in the field, they don’t really provide a way to edit/draw on the maps at all to get a site plan established.

Google Earth Pro provides all the basic mapping capabilities of more complex system at the same relative ease of use as Google Maps. It’s free to download and includes instructions on how to install it, plus it works on both IOS and Windows operating systems Some of the basic functions can help you plan out work on your property as well as document movement during the season.

Polygons

Creating a site plan for your off-season improvements is as simple as drawing your boundaries. Use the polygon function in Google Earth Pro to draw out a plan for your property at whatever scale or detail you wish right on top of the map of your property.

A habitat grant site made using polygons. Green – Switchgrass, Orange – Grain Sorghum.

Polygons will also allow you to see the exact acreage or square footage of the area you’ve drawn. Right click the polygon, scroll to properties then click the measurements tab. This information is useful when figuring out how much seed you need to cover the field or fencing to close an area off. For waterfowl hunting, we use this function to help us remember what crops went into each field that we have permission on.

Pins

Google Earth Pro also allows you to drop pins when you want to mark a location on the map. We use this to mark occurrences. It can help you see patterns on your property, such as the number of times you saw a certain buck on a camera, or locations where morel mushrooms were found, for example.  

Here we have the occurrences of “Forks” a 4 point that we saw out at our spot. The red markers indicate he was seen by someone who was hunting while the orange are tail cam pics.

While we didn’t learn a ton about “Forks” in the first year watching him, if he makes it back next year we’ll be able to add that data to the same folder with the number 2 on each icon in hopes of eventually figuring out his pattern.

Add Path

The “add path” feature is useful for measuring distances. By drawing the path, this allows you find distances for objects both as if you were going to walk there or as the crow flies. We use these distance measurements to estimate safe firearm distances. A rangefinder is recommended to ground truth these distances, especially when ensuring you’re 450 feet away from an occupied dwelling.

One of my duck hunting spots. We can see that we are safe to hunt anywhere south of the lane.

Finding your hiking distance is just as easy. Draw your anticipated path, or a path you’ve already walked, and do the same as above to see your measurements. Using this feature, I was able to find out I had a mile hike to get to a duck hunting spot I wanted to try. It looked much shorter on the map, so thanks to mapping ahead of time I was able to have a friend bring his UTV.  

Using the path feature, we were able to map the distance if you were to walk around Big Clinton Lake and the Clinton Lakes Prairie.

These are just some of the basic functions, but there are a ton of resources out there to help you familiarize yourself with the app. The Google Earth website can help but I’ve found YouTube videos the most useful as they allow you to follow along.