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  • Writer's picturePatrick Durkin

DNR Shelves ‘Hunt Wild WI’ Mobile Hunting App

Barring mass outrage by users of the DNR’s mobile app, Wisconsin hunters will never again tap the “Hunt Wild WI” icon on their tablet or smartphone to register deer or remind themselves when legal hunting hours end.


The popular app “retired” June 29, the Department of Natural Resources announced. Just to verify the claim, I tapped the app’s button on my iPhone on June 30. Sure enough, the DNR’s retirement announcement filled the screen, telling me the agency no longer supports the “Hunt Wild Mobile Application.” It also said not to rely on any information found on the deceased app, should I proceed further.


The message suggested I instead consult the DNR’s “Hunting” web pages — https://dnr.wisconsin.gov/topic/Hunt— for current regulations and other information.


In other words, thank you and goodbye, you 170,000 loyal app users.


Sigh.


Then again, this wasn’t a unique experience for longtime tablet and smartphone users. When these devices update their operating system’s software, older apps often go extinct. As victims of technological Darwinism, they just can’t adapt.


To be fair, a DNR press release June 20 announced the retirement nine days in advance, a lifetime in today’s digital era. The announcement urged hunters to download the 2023-24 rules and regulations pamphlet once it’s available in early July. It also noted that the DNR’s hunting web pages are mobile-friendly, which I verified by taking those pages for a test spin with my iPhone’s web browser.


Still, some of us seldom used Hunt Wild WI to read hunting regulations, and the press release ignored the three basic tasks many folks relied on when using the app: easy and convenient game registration, pre-check for CWD samples, and GPS-assisted hunting hours. Even Luddites like me figured out how to quickly register a deer or turkey without pestering our kids or grandkids for help, and liked how it automatically filled in several blanks on the registration form for CWD samples.


The app also worked in real time when in the woods or marsh, assuming you had cell-phone coverage. Instead of wondering how late you could hunt, you just clicked on the app, watched it pinpoint your location, and then learned the precise time to quit hunting whether you were near Potosi, Peshtigo or Pewaukee. That service kept things friendly between you and the nearest DNR conservation warden, and eliminated any excuse for shooting late.


And so I’ll keep pouting about the DNR’s decision to dump Hunt Wild WI. If nearby states like Iowa, Ohio and Michigan can provide helpful hunting/fishing apps, and Minnesota is rumored to be working on one, too, why couldn’t the DNR update our app rather than euthanize it? I even have Michigan’s app on my iPhone, given that I fish there occasionally.


True, the Illinois DNR doesn’t have an app, but “Pffft!” So what? Wisconsinites don’t cite Illinois to validate anything.


Unfortunately, the Hunt Wild app has apparently been on life support the past year or so. The DNR’s technology geeks say the life-expectancy of most mobile apps is three years, and Hunt Wild has been in service since 2018. Old age ain’t for sissies or apps.


Diane Brusoe, the DNR’s administrator of fish, parks and wildlife, said Hunt Wild needed updates beyond mere tweaks. She said it required a rebuild that couldn’t be ready in time for fall’s hunting seasons.


Brusoe also said that summer is basically Hunt Wild’s offseason, its quietest and least-active weeks. Turkey season ended the day after Memorial Day, and hunting doesn’t resume till September. So, June 29 was a good time to pull its plug.


Besides, complaints were mounting. Hunters using Hunt Wild’s more advanced features were growing annoyed as the app grew increasingly “glitchy.”


“We were hearing from frustrated people who reported it wasn’t working well or meeting their needs,” Brusoe said. “Our product was no longer getting it done. It wasn’t accommodating updates from vendors whose data were vital to the app’s operation.”


In contrast, the DNR’s website and its “Go Wild” platform offer reliable help, even though you must use a browser app to reach them. The DNR is adding web links to those sites to speed the process when hunters return to the field in two months and need quick access to regulations, deer registration and CWD sampling.


Eric Lobner directs the DNR’s wildlife-management bureau. He said Hunt Wild was struggling to handle updates to maps and GIS (geographic information systems) information, causing it to limp along the past year when hunters tried “e-scouting” new areas or exploring known hotspots in greater detail.


“The app was on borrowed time, and we had to evaluate the agency’s entire online portfolio to learn what’s best for the long term,” Lobner said. “Technology has advanced so fast, and Hunt Wild just wasn’t keeping up with private-sector apps like onX Maps. That was a reflection on our app. When Hunt Wild launched five years ago, some hunters were still using paper topo maps and plat books. With onX Maps, hunters get all that information on one screen. They can even store huge maps on their smartphone for when they’re off the grid.”


Might the DNR one day launch a “Hunt Wild WI, V2” app?


Lobner said the DNR hasn’t ruled out that possibility, but added there’s no plan or timetable for a better version of Hunt Wild.


“We were one of the first states to develop a hunting app, and we led the pack for a while,” Lobner said. “But we had to make a change. Through our website’s ‘Hunting’ page and our Go Wild site, we can still provide hunters a one-stop online shop for agency help and information.”

The DNR retired its “Hunt Wild Wisconsin” mobile app on June 29, but hunters will still be able to register deer online with smartphones and other mobile devices through the agency’s website. — Patrick Durkin photo

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