One of the best things to happen to upland bird hunting in the past few decades are state-implemented walk-in hunting (WIHA) programs. And one of the worst things to happen to upland bird hunting in the past few decades are the printed maps telling you where to find these hidden and widely-scattered temples of feathered Nirvana.
It’s not that they’re inaccurate; they’re not…mostly. What they are, especially to those of us with, uh, maturing eyesight, is unreadable. I know it’s difficult to cram a county’s worth of section lines onto one page, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you’re trying to count how many section lines you need to drive to get to another piece of nowhere, it certainly doesn’t help the cause (the cause being, “where the hell are we?”) when you discover you need jeweler’s loupes for eyeballs to read the damn things.
I live in Oklahoma, which, despite having some the best remaining wild quail hunting in the nation, inexplicably doesn’t have a WIHA program and probably never will.
Luckily, I live just south of the border with Kansas, which has one of the best WIHA programs in the nation. So, during bird season I spend an inordinate amount of time cruising down lonely Kansas section roads squinting at a map, counting tiny squares and cursing.
Kansas game wardens must have encountered and subsequently reported to their superiors on so many of us lost, near-sighted, cursing bird hunters that Kansas, Montana and many other states now offer digital downloads of the GPS coordinates of every single piece of public hunting ground in the state.
You simply go to your respective state’s wildlife department page and download the files to your Garmin GPS device. Since most states’ WIHA programs change yearly, you do need to download the updates, but once you do, you’re set.
So this year, after spending the first half of the season lost, I decided to finally join the present tense. I got a Garmin Nuvi, placed it on the dash, and within minutes and without so much as a glance at the instruction manual (I am a man, you know…) I had a disembodied, spectral but strangely comforting voice guiding me directly to the nearest WIHA block. It was like the hand of Magellan himself descended from the heavens, pointed a finger and said “Here be pheasants, knave!”
There are times to grouse about the debilitating influence of technology, and there are times to embrace it, and I’m wrapping this one in a bear hug. For a notoriously poor navigator like myself, it means more time hunting, more time on the ground for the dogs and less time driving around aimlessly and wasting that precious, precious gas.