By Wes Venteicher
A digital atlas tool released last week brings a wealth of data to Montana hunters’ fingertips.
The Montana Sportsmen Atlas is available for free online. The tool uses maps to show publicly accessible lands, hunting districts, harvest statistics from past years and other information.
Bozeman company Gage Cartographics designed the atlas for the Missoula organization Hellgate Hunters and Anglers. Josh Gage, the Bozeman company’s owner, said he assembled publicly available data from several sources to produce the user-friendly project.
“We just tried to bring it all into a kind of one-stop shop,” Gage said Thursday.
The atlas launched Tuesday, October 16. The general hunting season for deer and elk started Saturday, October 20 and runs through Nov. 25.
Hunters in recent years have taken advantage of technology in new ways, a recent Hellgate Hunters and Anglers press release states. Some have used Google Earth to help scout new areas — locating potential food sources, bedding areas and water before exploring on foot.
The atlas builds upon new technological trends in the sport. It includes a mobile device option, which shows a user’s location on the atlas maps. Gage described the mobile side of the project as still in development. He expects a 2013 version to include a number of upgrades.
The tool drew about 500 users per day Tuesday and Wednesday. Users spent an average of four minutes with the tool, Gage said.
Gage noted one unique feature of the tool is information on Land and Water Conservation Fund projects. The LWCF is a federal program that dedicates tax funds from offshore drilling projects to enhance public lands and public access around the country.
In Montana, LWCF funds are commonly used to provide public fishing access, Gage said. But the funds are also used to purchase private lands adjacent to public lands that enhance public access to those lands.
The atlas shows locations of LWCF projects. Additional information on some projects is available, and Gage hopes to add more information on LWCF projects in the future.