Apps that enhance the outdoor experience

Frantz Apps

In a profession that sometimes keeps me in front of a computer screen more than I’d like, I often turn to the outdoors as an escape from technology, soaking in the relaxing simplicity of nature, far removed from the plugged-in world.

But I’d be lying if I said I was completely off the grid, for I almost always take my smart phone with me. It’s important to do so in case of emergency, to be able to keep track of time, and to take stunning photos along the way thanks to advancement of built-in cameras.

But there are also several apps that I use fairly regularly in the field. Some are free, and some cost money, but it’s money well spent, in my opinion. Here are a few of my favorites.

onX Hunt

I got a free trial of onX Hunt at a conservation banquet several years ago, and when the subscription ran out, I realized it was too good to let go, so I’ve renewed every year since. The app has an aerial mapping system that allows hunters to see property boundaries, landowner names, estimated distances, and tracked routes. It does pretty much everything my expensive GPS unit does and more, while being on the phone I’m carrying anyway.

If I know cell reception is going to be an issue, I can download the area’s map ahead of time. I can mark the truck when I’m exploring somewhere new, check elevation and topography, and mark waypoints as I find solid hunting locations. I don’t know how many times I’ve used it to find my way back after venturing far off the beaten path or to figure out who owns a prime patch of woods that looks promising during off-season scouting.


Another application I willingly pay for is PictureThis. The app, which unfortunately only works in cell service areas, allows users to take a photo of plants. It then scans the photo into a database and uses artificial intelligence to identify the plant.

It will also provide other photos of the plants to help gauge accuracy and explains what animals might be attracted to those plants, whether it’s poisonous, and more. I’ve used it many times to help me with plant identification and better key in on food sources that might be attractive to the wildlife I’m pursuing. If I’m out of cell coverage, I can still take a picture and check it when I get back online. I’ll just have to hike all the way back in there if I decide I want to go collect the recently confirmed elderberries I spotted way back in the boonies.

Merlin Bird ID

I wasn’t raised much of a birder, but I’m trying to educate myself as I get older. Merlin Bird ID is a free app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that somehow works offline. It stores 8,500 species in its database, making it easy to identify unknown birds in one’s geographical area.

It has a bird ID option that allows users to narrow down location, bird size, up to three main colors, and a particular bird’s behaviors when spotted. Then it gives photo suggestions of potential candidates and asks if this is the bird you saw. Once you confirm, it stores that confirmation within the database to boost its research efforts.

However, its most remarkable feature is the sound ID. I love to sit by my pond in the evenings before roosting time and start sound ID. An audio recording begins and the app keys in on all the different species singing or chirping within earshot. It then identifies the birds by name and photo. It’s fun to see how many different species are around, and it even saves the recording for later and offers other recordings of the same birds.

I’ve learned a ton with this app, and even have been able to call in sound-identified birds for a closer look. It’s cool.


While I reference my iPhone’s built-in weather app frequently, I really appreciate having the free Wunderground app on my phone too, as it gives more detailed information that can help me plan a hunt. Using a network of localized weather stations, it gives real-time information about precipitation, wind speeds and directions, as well as temperature and radar.

I love that there is an hour-by-hour predictor of weather patterns coming in, so I know it might be worth hunting one corner of the property first thing in the morning but keying in on a different area for the evening sit because the wind is going to shift around mid-day. It’s also pretty accurate on when rain might hit and how long it will dump, helping inform me that I had better adjust accordingly.

As mentioned before, it’s nice to escape technology and unwind in the wild, but there are a few tech exceptions that can actually enhance the outdoors experience rather than detract from it. Just try not to be scrolling on Facebook when that big buck walks past the stand.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Tyler Frantz

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *