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Smartphones and Treestands

By Ken Piper / Buckmasters editor

Ken Piper
I took this buck last year while hunting with Dixon Farms Whitetails in Illinois. To be honest, I made a bad shot. Fortunately, I used my cell phone to call my guide, Matt, and get his advice on how to proceed. He told me to sneak out and meet him for lunch. Three hours later, we were standing over this beauty.

I haven’t missed an Illinois bow season opener in six years, but several home projects have kept me in Alabama this week.

Being stuck at home doesn’t mean my mind isn’t in a treestand, however. In fact, the wonderfully cool nights we’ve been getting have me daydreaming a lot more than is healthy. It’s a good thing my main work tool is a keyboard and not a piece of heavy machinery.

My job as an editor automatically qualifies me as a computer geek, but judging from the number of website fans Buckmasters has, I’m not alone. George Jones would be proud of the number of high tech rednecks out there these days.

While the very idea of technology is repugnant to some deer hunters, I’ll take anything I can get to make me a better hunter or make my hunts more enjoyable.

Technology helped me enjoy some of my most memorable evenings ever in the stand last year, and since I’m in the office right now, I figured it would be a good time to write about it.

It all started with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Much to the confusion of my southern coworkers, I’m a huge NFL fan. I bleed black and gold. If you’re from the South, you’re just gonna have to trust me that there is a really cool football league other than the SEC, and it even holds its games on different days than SEC football. It’s a real win-win deal; you should check it out. ;-)

Droid Incredible
My particular phone is a Droid Incredible (which was discontinued earlier this year). I avoid getting the latest and greatest phone. If you get a smartphone that’s been out for six months or so, accessories are cheaper and the designers have had a chance to work out the bugs with software updates and fixes. Whether you have an Android-based phone or an iPhone, apps are available that will cover everything I mention in this article.

Anyway, I hate not knowing how the Steelers are doing, so last year I decided to take my fancy new smartphone to the stand to keep up with the action. It worked. While I couldn’t watch the game, I was able to listen to it live. That worked so well I began to explore other ways to pass the time in the stand.

If you hunt bow season openers, you already know 99 percent of the action is going to happen really early or really late. Problem is, you can’t leave the stand at 8 a.m. in the morning, nor can you wait until 5 or 6 to head in for the afternoon hunt. That means you spend a lot of time sitting and waiting.

Last year while hunting with Hadley Creek Outfitters in Illinois, I was in a ladder stand in a finger of trees between two food plots on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon. It was about 3 o’clock when I decided to check the college football scores. I was shocked to see South Carolina was beating Alabama. I spent the next few hours watching my phone for updates on the game, and also texting back and forth with my daughter, who had just been accepted to Auburn University and was thrilled to chat about Alabama being upset by the upstart Gamecocks.

Later that evening, deer began to pour into the fields, and although I didn’t see any big bucks, it was a fantastic, enjoyable evening.

The following morning, I opted to take my earphones since I had loaded a nice collection of classic country and 1960s songs onto the phone’s memory card. By the time my guide came to pick me up, I had listened to about two hours’ worth of the 10 hours of music I had put on the phone — yet another pleasant sit, even though I hadn’t seen a deer.

Throughout the rest of the hunting season, I played around with several other phone apps which have since become year-round favorites. Thanks to those hours in the stand, I got to know my phone much better and became comfortable downloading and using apps, helping realize the full potential of this amazing little device. Android or iPhone, if you have a smartphone and aren’t using it while hunting, you’re missing out.

 Hanging Bow
My bow spends 99.9 percent of its time hanging from a hook. Why not make use of all those waiting hours by listening to some great music or playing a fun game of solitaire, blackjack or Texas Hold ’Em on your smartphone?

My 10 Favorite Apps for In the Stand

1. NFL Mobile / Free
Available from www.nfl.com/mobile or in the Android Market

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It allows you to keep up with NFL games as they happen. There have been some updates and changes for 2011 that I haven’t tried yet, but the site lists the free features as follows:
* Live Audio of All Games
* Live Gamecenter with play-by-play breakdowns
* News
* Video Highlights
* Fantasy Tracker
* NFL Schedule
* NFL Rosters
* Team Customization

2. ESPN ScoreCenter / Free
Available in the Android Market

If it’s a sport, ScoreCenter will allow you to keep up with it as it happens. There’s no live audio, and I had to restart the app several times while following college football games, but overall a great tool. One really nice feature is being able to set up favorite teams and sports.

3. WeatherBug / Free and pay versions
Available in the Android Market

There are quite a few weather apps out there, and I can’t say I’ve tried them all, but I definitely like WeatherBug.

This little guy gives you full animated Doppler radar, wind direction and speed information, detailed forecasts including hour-by-hour if you want, and everything a hunter needs in weather info.

4. Solitaire by Ken Magic / Free
Available in the Android Market

Allows you to play classic, Spider, Freecell and Forty Thieves versions of the game. I play classic and Freecell but haven’t tried the others. It’s a pretty simple but fun app. Time flies when playing, but don’t forget to pause to look around every few minutes.

5. Compass by Catch.com / Free
Available in the Android Market

Turns your phone into a compass. This came in handy when walking out from stands in the dark in unfamiliar territory.

6. PowerAMP Music Player
Trial version available free, but must pay to get full benefits
Available in the Android Market

My Droid Incredible came with a music player built in, but PowerAMP gives me a lot more options for controlling playlists and sound options.

7. Better Keyboard / Pay
Available in the Android Market

My phone doesn’t have a physical keyboard, and the stock screen keyboard was a real pain for texting. Better Keyboard was a big upgrade. There are a ton of skins available to customize the look of the Better Keyboard app, but I’m using the default skin and am quite happy with it.

It’s a blast to text your buddies about what they’re seeing or not seeing, but it’s a lot more fun with a decent keyboard.

One thing to keep in mind about texting from the stand: it’s illegal to use an electronic device to help fill a tag. In other words, you are not supposed to text your buddy that there’s a buck heading his way. According to the letter of the law, it’s okay to discuss what you’re seeing, but you are not supposed to share any information that would help someone take a deer.

Cellphone Photo
Don’t forget your smartphone makes a great little camera for capturing images from the stand.

8. Lookout Security and Antivirus / Free and pay versions
Available in the Android Market

Probably the best feature of this little app is peace of mind. I’m using the free version, which does a lot of good stuff like checking apps for viruses and spyware. My favorite feature is being able to register your phone online. If you lose your phone or it’s stolen, you can go to the Lookout Mobile Security website and cause your phone to make a LOUD screaming noise, even if it’s in silent mode (which it should be if you’re in a deer stand). No more worrying about dropping your phone and not being able to find it later.

9. Kindle by Amazon Mobile / Free
Available in the Android Market

If you have a Kindle device, you don’t need to take it to the stand. You can read any of your Amazon books on your phone, and it will keep up with where you are in the book as you switch back and forth from your phone to your Kindle.

I’m not a big fan of reading in the stand because I think readers tend to not look up often enough, but I have to admit to using this app from time to time last year.

Another benefit is there’s a lot less motion to reading on your phone than turning the pages of a book, which can look like a whitetail flicking its tail, something sure to catch a buck’s attention.

10. Flashlight / Built-in (free)
Availability of this app probably depends on your phone, but if your phone has it, make sure to put a shortcut on your home screen. There are also several other versions available on the Android Market.

A quick touch turns your phone into a surprisingly bright flashlight, and you can even change the intensity of the light. This was VERY handy for getting into and out of the truck in the dark and as I searched for my regular flashlight in my pack.

Of course there are hundreds of games and apps available, and your tastes are going to be different from mine, so don’t limit yourself to this short list. Also, while I avoid it like the plague, there are many ways to catch up on work and e-mails via your smartphone. I don’t recommend it, but you can take care of a surprising amount of business from the stand when necessary.

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Five Tips for Using Your Smartphone In the Stand

1. Preserve Power

Your biggest obstacle to using your phone for entertainment in the stand is battery power.

My Droid Incredible sucks power when I’m doing anything that uses the display screen, so adjust your screen to a dimmer setting when in the stand.

Note that you can listen to music and put the display to sleep and enjoy several hours’ of tunes without draining the battery completely.

Another big battery drain is a weak signal. Check your signal bars to see if your phone is struggling to find a connection. Make sure to turn off all unnecessary settings like bluetooth and wi-fi options, because these drain phone power.

2. Dedicated Earphones

Keep a set of earphones in your hunting pack.

After forgetting to take my earphones several times, it finally occurred to me to put a $10 pair of earphones in my pack and just let them stay there. Simple. Done.

3. Waterproof Pouch

Here’s a news flash: cell phones don’t like water. Sad thing is, I found that out the hard way.

At the least, carry a ziplock-type plastic bag in case of rain.

Even better, buy one of the little smartphone waterproof pouches now available.

I’ll be using the Aquapac this year, which is quieter and more durable than a sandwich bag. You can find more information at http://www.aquapac.net

4. Go Silent

Something else I learned the hard way is just because you turn off your ringer doesn’t mean all your phone sounds have been disabled.

On my Incredible, volume for things like music, games and apps is separate from ringer and notification volume. If you’re using headphones, that won’t be a problem. If not, make sure to turn off media/app sound.

I didn’t lose a buck because of phone sounds last year, but there were several times it could have happened if a deer had been close enough.

5. Put It On a Leash

Don’t you hate dropping stuff from your stand? You’ll hate it even more when it’s your $400 smartphone and it clangs and bangs off every ladder rung on its 25-foot plunge to the earth.

Use a phone case that allows you to attach a lanyard and/or clip and you’ll save yourself a ton of frustration and maybe some money, too.

Clip the lanyard to your belt or your pack, and try to do so somewhere that you can intentionally drop the phone without it making noise or damaging it.

If you happen to look up and see a buck, you don’t want to have to spend time looking for a safe, secure place to stash your phone. You can drop it and get ready for a shot if you use a lanyard and plan ahead.

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Brunton Restore
The Brunton Restore is a portable power source that will charge your smartphone or any other small electronic device with USB capability. You can charge the Restore at home via a USB cable, or while in the treestand with the built-in solar panels. www.bruntonhunting.com

A Must-Have Accessory

Brunton has a new product I wish I had last hunting season and one I’m already enjoying this year, even though I’ve yet to set foot in a stand.

The Restore is a portable power source you can use to recharge your phone while you’re in the treestand (or anywhere else away from a wall plug).

It is completely rechargeable via USB or the built-in solar panels, and it will charge your smartphone or any other small electronic device.

I never had enough power for my phone while hunting last year and completely drained the battery on several occasions.

A dead cell phone does you no good, and it also negates one of the best reasons to have a cell phone in the woods in the first place: safety.

The Restore lets you enjoy as much entertainment as you can handle and still have power left over.

It’s small and light enough to fit in a pack compartment, and it’s built to take the bumps and bruises of being carried to and from the treestand.

The solar feature is completely amazing, and it doesn’t have to be a bright, sunny day to charge the Restore.

This device took the biggest obstacle to using a cell phone while hunting and made it a complete non issue.

Brunton also makes several solar-only charging devices that are more suited to long trips into the backcountry, but the Restore is perfect for my morning/evening deer hunts and for all-day sits during the rut. Plus, I really like the option of charging the unit by USB each evening.

www.bruntonhunting.com

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