New DNR phone app harnesses technology for a better hunt

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. Part of me loves trail cameras, Bluetooth (when it works), computers and cell phones. I’d love to tell you I’m writing this story on a manual typewriter similar to the one Ernest Hemingway used, but the truth is that it’s written on a fairly new desktop PC.

I resisted smartphones longer than most. My wife bought me a very basic Tracfone cell phone shortly after I suffered an aortic dissection in April 2004, primarily so I could call for help if something happened to me while deer hunting. This primitive phone could make calls (reception was actually very good) and cost 25 cents per text (I remember the first time I sent a text with it; I was so happy I’d figured it out). The screen was barely large enough for three lines of text.

We left for a trip to Chicago, stopping for a dental appointment right before gassing up. I noticed I had almost no minutes left, so I called Tracfone headquarters (in the Philippines) and told the operator I’d probably need more minutes just to complete the call to buy more minutes. She could not get my credit card to work, even though I used the card a few minutes later to buy gas.

For the next two days, I ruined my weekend dealing with a multitude of Tracfone employees, none of whom could get my card to work (all the while using the same card to pay for restaurants, a motel stay and more). I finally used my wife’s cell phone to make a three-way call with the guy from my bank (English-speaking guy in Omaha) and the person from TracFone.

Mr. Omaha gave Tracfone Guy a transaction number to let me buy minutes, at which point the Tracfone Guy said, “What’s that?” Every credit card transaction has a number associated with it. The fact that he didn’t know that meant that I was officially done with Tracfone.

That led to my first smartphone with U.S. Cellular, a basic Motorola model that I initially loved.

Neither that phone nor my second Motorola had a very good camera, and of course, I’m a photographer at heart. I’ll never understand paying $1,000 for a phone, but U.S. Cellular recently offered a good deal on a Google Pixel 3A phone with a very nice camera, so I pulled the string.

I still love shooting my recurve bow, hunting deer with a muzzleloader, throwing knives and tomahawks into a stump target at our Fox Valley Muzzleloaders Club rendezvous in October, and many other low-tech activities. But when a beautiful sunset, pileated woodpecker or funny daughter situation appears, I love whipping out the cell phone and deploying the built-in camera like agent Maxwell Smart might have done on Get Smart. If you aren’t old enough to get that reference, just Google it.

Those of us who live in the boonies know that cell phone service is never a sure thing. There are many dead spots in rural New London, including most of our home. We saw AT&T install a brand new cell tower two miles from our house (on our muzzleloader club property, no less), but after waiting for months, they still aren’t offering service for us.

Apps like a free one being offered by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources look promising.

The DNR offered the Hunt Wild Wisconsin app last year, and has added many features to this year’s model. The Natural Resources Board recently promised to expand Chronic Wasting Disease sampling and deer carcass disposal locations, and the app can help hunters find those sites to get their deer tested and properly dispose of carcasses to help prevent spreading the disease.

The best part of the app is that you can access topographical maps, land boundaries and hunting zones with or without a cell phone signal once it’s downloaded.

You can find prime habitat “layers” based on the species you are hunting. This is ideal for those who don’t have their own land to hunt or want to try new public hunting areas. You can also save those spots and record trails, too.

Hunt Wild Wisconsin also shows shooting hours based on location and a summary of regulations. You can access your personal Hunt Wild account to buy licenses and register harvests.

To find links to the revised app, go to the DNR website and enter “Hunt App” in the search box. You can also find it in the iTunes or Google Play store, depending on the type of phone you own.

If you have trouble navigating the app, there’s a tutorial on the site as well. What would our hunting forefathers say if they could see us walking through the deer woods with a handheld computer in our hands?

Put a little bit of technology to work for you when the archery deer season opens next Saturday. Good luck afield and stay safe.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at