THE DAYS of striking off into a public forest and walking miles just to locate pockets of aspen and other potentially good upland bird cover are quickly ending, for technology is about to revolutionize how we scout.

Hunters are now honing in on the best locations long before they hit the woods, thanks to a variety of high-tech habitat maps, land ownership apps and phone-based services.

The help is especially useful in years such as this, when the ruffed grouse population is at the bottom of the cycle and hunters might want to focus on learning new areas for future seasons.

At least that’s my thought this year. Why shoot the last of the few birds left in my favorite haunts closer to home? Those are the convenient coverts that you want to rebound quickly, so leaving them alone might be a good idea.

The first and best tool I’ve discovered for identifying young aspen habitat is located on the Department of Natural Resources’s (DNR) website. It’s called FFLIGHT, and it stands for Fields and Forest Lands Interactive Gamebird Hunting Tool.

The map on this site shows all of the young aspen age 5 to 20 years old on public land, including acreage owned by federal, state and county governments. It also shows all of the lowland alder and other brushy habitat that’s good for both grouse and woodcock.

It displays road names for the smallest of town roads and identifies every named lake and river, which should make it easy for hunters to locate these young stands of habitat no matter where they hunt on public lands in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, FFLIGHT documents young aspen and alder brush on public lands but not private industrial lands that are open to public hunting. But maybe the state will figure that one out in future years, for those companies must abide by a state-sanctioned management plan to get the tax breaks offered under the Managed Forest Law.

Just last week the DNR launched a new Hunt Wild Wisconsin App for both iPhone and Android users, allowing hunters to plot their location on aerial images, to store waypoints and to track routes on those same maps.

The maps are tailored for each user depending on which species they plan to pursue. It allows hunters to access satellite and topographic maps, public land boundaries and regulations with or without a cell signal.

“You’ll never have to ‘guess’ again on shooting hours,” the agency states, “For they are displayed automatically based on your location.”

The app offers an easy-to-read summary of regulations and allows direct access to your GoWild Account if you want to purchase new hunting licenses, tags and permits.

Besides these free services for locating habitat and hunting locations, there are several private phone apps available that provide similar maps with customized features — including one that’s an up-to-date record of all platted property in Wisconsin.

With such an app right on the cell phone, hunters can determine property lines and current landowner information anywhere in the state. One of them, titled OnXHunt, offers an updated map of the entire state for $29.99 a year.

As a new corporate sponsor of the Ruffed Grouse Society, this company is offering special deals for hunters who join or rejoin the habitat group — in some cases a free year of service. 

By putting all of these modern tools to work at the same time, hunters have never been more equipped to determine exactly what public forest lands they want to explore on their next adventure.

It’s encouraging to know there’s a way to determine ahead of time, before you walk across two miles of hardwood ridges, that a lowland area of aspen and alder lies ahead that might hold birds.

There’s no telling if the FFLIGHT feature will work without a cell phone signal, at least not any kind of GPS tracking feature. It’s going to take months and years to figure out what the limitations might be.

One thing that’s already working on the cell phone is the health information app that tracks steps and miles walked, which is great information for gauging the hunting effort on any given day.

On opening morning of the grouse season, for instance, the app indicates I took 21,285 steps and covered 10.7 miles. So can you imagine how far Gracie traveled, with all the back and forth, on the same outing?

The only drawback of carrying a phone into the grouse woods is that occasionally, a call signal finds its way to your remote location. And there you stand, in the middle of the woods several miles from the nearest highway, talking on a phone.

But I guess its good to know the possibility of a signal exists in these remote areas, especially if you take a fall and break a leg or something. A phone with GPS tracking capabilities just might save your life someday.

Thank God we still get to walk on our own and aim the gun on our own, without the aid of any high-tech gadgets. There are still plenty of challenges out there to make the hunting adventure satisfying. 

And let me say once again that when it comes to upland hunting, there is no harder bird to find and to shoot on the wing than a ruffed grouse.

I believe that’s why we chase them with such passion, knowing that grouse are king of the northern forests.