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The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has rolled out some new tools for mobile hunters and anglers. (N.D. Game and Fish Department photo)

DOUG LEIER: NDGF rolls out free maps, apps

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I’ve tried to really determine if my wandering outdoor excursions are a genetic characteristic or just learned behavior that I enjoy.

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Some of my favorite trips out hunting, fishing or just exploring are nothing more than coincidence or luck. Many times, we’ll set off without even a predetermined plan of north, south, east or west, let alone a destination or a planned activity.

Such periodic randomness is nothing new. When I was in college at Bottineau and Fargo, my trips across the state from Stanley to Kulm, N.D., and points between were often long on miles and time and hardly ever by the shortest, most efficient route.

I’ll call it channeling my inner Lewis and Clark exploring mode.

At the same time, for 20 years in all our vehicles, I’ve kept a few maps and try to put in a new hard copy of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s PLOTS Guide each year (look for the 2014 version about early September).

But in a day and age where GPS has given way to smartphone apps and maps, I’m mostly still stuck in the compass and cassette tape era. It’s fine for me, but the majority of the next generation of hunters have always had a PLOTS Guide, and the mobile phone apps are a necessity to mark the X for ducks, bucks, walleyes and pike.

This summer, the Game and Fish Department has rolled out some new tools for those who are interested. First and foremost, I should mention they are free from the Game and Fish website. Logon directly at gf.nd.gov/maps or go to gf.nd.gov and click on “maps” on the top bar of the home page.

Some of these will replace the existing interactive map services the agency provided in the past. Many PLOTS users have known the benefit of the online vs. the hard copy version is that the online maps are updated every time a new PLOTS tract is added or subtracted after the annual guide goes to print in mid-August.

In addition, it is handy to have the entire guide in a small electronic device you can hold in the palm of your hand, and which you’d mostly likely have with you anyway, rather than carrying a full-size guide out across the prairie — as long as you still have cell service, of course.

These applications range from simple web maps to interactive maps that provide more widgets, tools and functionality. Each of these can be viewed with browser on a desktop or mobile device or consumed through a native mobile app as indicated on our website.

While I know many traditional hunters who don’t appreciate the electronic and mobile future of hunting and fishing, it’s your choice. You can still carry a hard copy of the PLOTS Guide. If you prefer, you can still print off lake contour maps and wildlife management area descriptions.

And don’t let it make you feel a little past the times, as even my kids print on paper the contour maps and stocking reports. We all can admit it’s just sometimes easier to see and read when you can examine it a little closer on a piece of paper instead of trying to zoom in on your phone screen.

And the best part of all is if you don’t want to use these, you don’t have to. Grab your compass and head out the door whichever direction you want.

Leier is a biologist for N.D. Game and Fish Department. Reach him at dleier@nd.gov. Read his blog at dougleier.areavoices.com.

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