A guest post from Mike Poddo.

Context is everything.  I’m a big fan of finding alternative (and practical) uses for items I already have, especially when it comes to hunting.  If you already have an iPhone, the 3 apps I cover in this article certainly should not be new to you, after all they are installed and included with every phone.  But perhaps you never considered using them in this way while you are in the woods, or maybe you never really thought of your iPhone as valuable tool in your daypack.

I plan to discuss useful non-native iPhone apps in future articles, this article focuses on the common use of 3 native iPhone apps, and how I use them before, during, and after the hunt.

Disclaimer: If you own another type of smart phone (blackberry, droid, etc), you may have apps with similar functionality that just go by a different name.  Hopefully this article will inspire you to use those “basic” apps in new and creative ways. If you have suggestions on other related apps you use while in the woods, I’d love to hear about them (please share them in the comments).

Google Maps (Built in)

Common Use: As the default mapping application on the iPhone, the primary function of Google Maps is to provide localized search capability and directions.

How I use it:

1. Safety – Tell someone where I am

This is probably the most important and valuable use for Google Maps on your iPhone.  If you are like me, there are probably only a few people that know where you hunt.  Sure, they may know the general area…but they don’t know exactly where we are.   Can you imagine how hard it would be for them to find you if there was an accident?  Enter Google Maps and the “share location” feature.

Each time I get to a new spot I use the “share location” feature to share my current location via email with my wife and brother.  This is critical when I’m exploring new land, and especially when I’m hunting alone.    If I have an accident I want to ensure someone knows where to find me.  I also use the “Add To Bookmarks” feature to mark my favorite trees (I use a climbing stand) on public land.

2. Scouting & Preparation

I utilize the satellite view to scope out potential good spots and routes in and out of the property I hunt.

3. Validate I am where I think I am

Hunting on public land, I occasionally have had to make some last minute adjustments to my original plan based on what I’ll call “unforeseen circumstances”.  These adjustments often mean I am forced to move to a new location.  Using Google Maps helps me to verify that my new location is in a good place, and more importantly, within the designated hunting area.   Google Maps also came in handy early this season on a scouting trip to new land where I became disoriented after following a creek upstream.  It turns out it was the wrong branch of the creek, but once I pulled out my phone I knew exactly where I was.

4. Look around without leaving my stand

Have you ever been up in your stand and ask yourself, “what is on the other side of that hill?”   That happens to me from time to time, and when it does I’ll pull up the satellite view in Google Maps to have a look around without even getting out of my stand.  Most of the time I’ve done this prior to getting in my stand, but it’s always a good refresher to remind myself what the neighboring property looks like.

5. Dropping Pins on key points or interesting items

If I park somewhere new I’ll usually “drop a pin” where I park my truck to make sure if I get turned around somehow I can still get back.  I’ve never needed this, but it does give me some sense of comfort.

If I’m scouting, or just walking around on windy day and find something interesting (scrape, rub, food source, etc), I’ll bookmark it by selecting “Save to Bookmarks” and plot it out later.

Compass (Built in)

Common Use: The obvious use for the built-in digital compass app is to get your bearing for navigational purposes.  However, with all the other apps that are out there that add to this functionality I doubt many people use it for that.  Besides, if you’re really out in the woods for any extended period of time I wouldn’t recommend relying on your cell phone battery to hold up long enough to get home.

How I use it:

1. Leaving the main trail in new or unfamiliar locations:

We have some pretty thick woods in my part of Maryland, and it’s pretty easy to become disoriented.  The public land I hunt on has established main trails from which I have to leave and hike through thick cover to get to my spots.  I like to use the compass to get my initial bearing as I leave the main trail to ensure if I get disoriented I can find my way back.

2. Confirm the direction my stand is facing

We all know how important wind direction is in bow hunting.  Few things can be more frustrating then getting to your stand that you chose b/c of the forecasted wind only to find out that it’s not going the direction you anticipated.  It’s easy to blame the weatherman, but have you ever wondered if your stand is really facing the direction you thought it was?  Sure, you may have an outstanding inner compass, but I don’t.  So while you may not need the compass app to validate the direction your stand is facing, I certainly do.   For example, this year I thought my favorite stand was facing North East because on some early season hunts I saw the sun come up a little to my right, only to find out after breaking out my compass that I was facing due North.  In my situation this had to do with the terrain playing tricks on me.  The combination of a very steep hill with tall trees in front of me and the tree I chose had obscured the sun for more of the sunrise then I had initially thought.    It’s OK to trust your inner compass, but don’t be afraid to validate it every once in a while.    “Trust but verify”

Text Messaging (Built in)

Common Use: Text messaging is everywhere, and in most cases has replaced traditional phone conversations with Instant Message style communication from your phone.

How I use it:

1. Notification that I’m safely in and out of my stand

Tree stand hunting can be dangerous and accidents happen when you least expect them.   My brother and I both hunt out of climbing tree stands, and this year we decided to add an additional step to our routine before and after climbing our stands.  Just before I start to climb my tree I text one word, “climbing”.  Once I’m safely in my stand I will text “safe”.  Then, when I decide to get down I will text “climbing down”, and again “safe” to let him know I’m safely on the ground.

2. Communication between hunters

Texting has pretty much replaced the need for radios in most hunting situations.  Think about it, with your phone on vibrate you can quickly and silently communicate with anyone you want to.   Sure beats using a radio.

I primarily hunt with my brother, but my father also hunts with us on occasion.  The three of us will use text messages to communicate deer movement, interesting things we’re seeing, or just to check in on each other from time to time.  I have found it really beneficial in helping me keep focus on those days that I’m not seeing much at my spots but others or seeing a lot of action.  I can live vicariously through them while sitting in my stand.  Early this season a doe and two fawns moved past my Dad’s stand heading my way.  He text’d me to let me know they were moving towards my stand and I kept a close eye on the thicket to my left.  Sure enough, about 20 minutes later they arrived.  They didn’t move in close enough, but the interesting part is that there is no way I would have seen those deer in that thicket had he not given me a heads up.

3. Deer Down!

There is no better text message in the world then the one that says “Deer Down!” Just last week I took a doe and was able to solicit tracking help from my father in just a simple text message.  I was able to silently tell him to wait about 45 minutes and where to meet me to start the track.  I was also able to text my wife and let her know that I was going to be late getting home.

Hopefully the explanation of how I use these 3 native iPhone apps in the context of hunting will help open up a few ideas on how you can use your smart phone as a valuable tool in your daypack.

Mike Poddo lives in Maryland and is the co-founder of MDfishing.org.  He is a husband and father to 4 (soon to be 5), has a passion for bowhunting, and river fishing on the Upper Potomac River from his jet boat.  He works in the Computer Security field and has combined his two passions to create a dangerous new breed of outdoorsman tech nerd.  (@muskalungee on Twitter)