with Horse and Hound

Foxhunts Exploit New Technology

tax map captureA typical county tax map overlayed on Google Maps. Street names and route numbers are shown and parcel numbers may also be displayed for owner identification.

Late in the Twentieth Century, advances in radio communications infiltrated the traditional sport of foxhunting, whether welcomed by all foxhunters or not. Today, hand-held radios and cell phones are as much a part of most hunt staffs’ kit as the horn and the whip.

More recently, online Tax maps and Google Maps, two Twenty-First Century high tech developments, are being used to assist Masters and staff in better organizing their hunting country. Epp Wilson, MFH and huntsman of the Belle Meade Hunt (GA) and his members take advantage of the technology to assist in landowner relations and improving the sport. First, let’s consider what the technology offers, then how Wilson uses it.

Tax Maps
I suspect that most counties in North America now make online tax maps available to residents. I can type a search phrase such as “tax maps clarke county, va” into Google and easily find a website that displays the county map showing the boundaries of all taxable properties. I can also layer Google Maps on the screen and see the outline of every parcel of property in the county, complete with parcel number, superimposed on a high resolution photograph taken from space. If I have previously enabled the location of my phone to be shown (Settings, Privacy), I can enable that function on the county tax map. Now I can see exactly where in the county I am and on which piece of property. I can use the image on my screen to find every corner and every jink and jog of that parcel. (Wilson has found the accuracy so good that he can often find the old surveyor’s pin in the overgrowth within a ten-foot radius of where he stands.) The parcel number will lead me to the taxpayer’s name and the acreage. Conversely, if I know the taxpayer’s name, I can find the parcel number and locate it on the map.

Landowner Relations
Suppose you have two landowners owning two abutting parcels of your hunting country in a large, wooded area. Permission to hunt has been granted on one, but expressly forbidden on the other. Or, the field is welcome on one, but only staff and hounds may cross the other. Or there are deer leases on both and one of the lessees is friendly and the other not. Or you’re simply opening new country and are unsure of the property lines. There may have been no survey in the last fifty years, and what was once clearly marked is no longer visible.

You may wish to post signs to warn your field. You may want to find the corner where the forbidden parcel ends so you may cut a trail that you know is on safe ground. For whatever reason, you may wish to know where you can cut trails, and which terrain you need to avoid. A tax map superimposed on Google Maps, on your hand-held device, showing your location on that map, somewhere in the middle of the woods, can be a help on a hunt work day in the country.

Improved Sport
The ability to stay with hounds in a wooded country has become a bigger challenge since the invasion of the coyote than it was when hunting the fox only. Wilson, who maintains a comprehensive trail system in his country, still finds himself “running detours back around his butt simply to reach his elbow” when trying to keep up with a coyote chase. He wants to cut connectors from one trail to another to get where he needs to be more quickly, but has to be aware of any parcels he may not cross or topography he may wish to avoid. Or he may simply use Google Maps to show him the best location for the shortest path to cut. Again, Google Maps combined with the interactive tax map is a boon.

Other “Apps”
Today, there even apps available that allow you to create a map showing all the existing trails in your hunting country. Wouldn’t that be a boon to every hunting member? Especially those, like me, who are always getting lost. Valuable, too, for new staff members new to the country—huntsmen and whippers-in.

The creation of such a map could be a useful and enjoyable summer project for any hunt. Members and subscribers could be assigned the task of riding the trails in their own home country, using the app to record their tracks, and uploading the data to the overall hunt territory map. By overlaying topographical contour lines from the Geodetic Survey map—that can be done as well—any hunt could have a complete and truly useful map of their hunting country.

As experienced as Wilson is in using tax map technology in his country, he would like to know just which app is best for mapping his existing trails. Contact him directly, or help others by leaving your recommendations in our Comments field. What other apps have you found useful for foxhunting in the Twenty-First Century? A hint: find your most tech-savvy member, and put him/her in charge of your Hunt Map Project.

Posted July 19, 2018