A hunter can never have too many useful tools in his arsenal.
The key word in that statement is useful. Many of us probably have more junk than we need, like the 10-in-1 gizmo with only one tool we use with any regularity. Or the coat with so many pockets and pouches that an item stashed in one of the pockets isn't found until a year later.
When a truly useful tool comes along it deserves a look by the serious hunter.
Order your PhotoMaps online at TheMinnesotaStore.com
One such tool to hit the market in recent months is PhotoMaps, an aerial photo atlas of Crow Wing County. Published locally by Evergreen Press, the atlas was compiled by three hunting partners from the Brainerd area who decided the time had come for a comprehensive land atlas that would show the user the exact features of any given piece of county land. The atlas also tells you if it's private or public property, what the road numbers are and the locations of township and municipal boundaries.
In some ways PhotoMaps is the ultimate atlas. It's not only geographically accurate but what you see on each aerial photo map is what's actually down there -- the trees, grasses, marshes, farm fields and buildings. The detail is so fine you can even see docks jutting out from lake shores. Study the maps long enough and eventually you'll find yourself asking, "What the heck is that?" PhotoMaps pique your curiosity, a function of all good maps.
But PhotoMaps isn't just for hunters. Anyone who wants to better understand the lay of the land will find the atlas useful.
The basic tools for land navigation include a compass, GPS receiver and map. The aerial maps in the PhotoMaps atlas of Crow Wing County have "tick" marks that allow the user to set precise orienteering information into the GPS receiver. Getting from Point A to Point B is a sure bet. (Dispatch Photo by Vince Meyer)
All the black-and-white maps are at a scale of 2.5 inches per mile. Township, section and "40" lines, road numbers, public land unit boundaries (including Wildlife Management Areas) and global positioning "tick" marks have been transposed over the maps, making them unique among aerial maps. The atlas also has these user-friendly features:
-- Page 2 explains how to use the public land ownership plat features of each township page as well as how to understand and find legal descriptions in the atlas.
-- Page 3 explains how to navigate on land with compass and GPS.
-- Pages 4 and 5 have photos of the various types of vegetation and waters found in Crow Wing County and explains how each type shows up on an aerial photo.
Greg Kvale, a co-founder of PhotoMaps, demonstrated how easy it is to find any place in the county with the PhotoMaps atlas and a GPS unit.
We drove to Center Township and located public land. Kvale pointed out on the photo map an area where the vegetation changed ever so slightly -- probably a transition from a mix of hardwoods and conifers to hardwoods. Kvale then punched into his GPS unit the coordinates for that area and we hiked to it. When the GPS unit said we had reached our destination we looked around and, sure enough, we were surrounded by taller, mature white pines that bordered smaller aspen growth. The maps truly are a precision tool for the hunter or hiker.
Many outdoorsmen have the Minnesota Atlas and Gazetteer published by Delorme. PhotoMaps is a good companion guide. In fact, cross-referencing between the two books is helpful. Some of the smaller roads and trails criss-crossing Crow Wing County are not numbered on aerial photos but are represented on the Minnesota Atlas. By cross-referencing the aerial maps with maps you already are familiar with you can quickly get used to the new system.
PhotoMaps are a logical progression in mapping and the idea to compile them into a single atlas began in 1998. "The technology and information to make economical maps didn't exist before then," Kvale said. "The government and some high-tech businesses in the private sector had it, but it wasn't available to the average outdoorsman. You can get aerial photos on the internet but the resolution is fairly low and you can't get the geographic reference, tick marks and numbered roads. Our maps not only have all that but also lake names, where the public boat ramps are, the section lines and section numbers. The only thing missing is the private property owners."
Kvale said the company started with Crow Wing County to test the market. A Cass County atlas is expected to be ready for sale in November. "But we also can make custom photo maps like these of any place in Minnesota and at any size," Kvale said. "If a customer wants a 16 by 24-inch photo map of just his hunting land, we can make it. If he wants a 3 by 4-foot wallhanger, we can make that too. Our slogan is 'we're your custom map outfitters.'
Kvale said PhotoMaps sales have been steady and that feedback from buyers has been positive. But the atlas may be ahead of its time. "A lot of people don't understand what they're getting or how to put it to good use," Kvale said. "But people familiar with maps and their legal descriptions, they know what they're getting. It's so much easier to use and it really helps with pre-season scouting. I just checked out some grouse hunting land today. I found it first in the PhotoMaps. I couldn't do that with a regular land atlas or plat book."
PhotoMaps ($34.95) can be purchased at retailers throughout the county. Call 828-7974 for retail outlets or to custom-order an aerial photo map.
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