Getting Game Online

May 13, 2014

Since the advent of smart phones, thousands of applications have come on the market.  You can buy one to help identify bird calls or constellations.  Another makes random sounds -- a drum roll or a sad trombone for example. 

I-steam fogs up the screen of your phone, allowing you to write things with your finger, and now Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries is working on an app to make hunting and fishing simpler. 


Why would get anyone get excited about an app promising to put all the hunting rules in one place? That's what Kenny Hale is trying to fathom as he flips through the official Virginia hunting pamphlet at the counter of his gun store in Albemarle County.

 "A lot of the good ole boys aren't plugged in, like me, you know."

Not everyone who wants to harvest wildlife has such confidence in page-flipping. Consider Andrew Sneathern. Although he's an attorney certified by the Virginia Bar association, this recent arrival to Charlottesville wonders about his own ability to sift through of the thousands of federal, state, and local rules that regulate fields and rivers.

"I have found myself not going trout fishing as much because I'm concerned about violating some regulation."

Whenever anglers stop angling and hunters stop hunting, that's a worry for Jackson Landers. A new hire with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Landers points out that his salary as a hunting educator depends on licenses and fees collected from sportspersons-- whose numbers have been falling in recent years.

"If we run out of hunters, we run out of funding to pay for conservation in America."

Enter Waldo Jaquith, Landers' twin brother to Landers. Their equality-minded parents gave mom's last name to one and dad's last name to the other. Fresh from a stint at the White House and heavily armed with more than half a million dollars in grant funding, Jaquith just launched something called the U.S. Open Data Institute. Its first major effort is a project to turn all Virginia laws affecting hunting, fishing, and boating into a single, user-friendly app.

"Knowing what you can hunt and when you can hunt it, and with what weapon is really pretty challenging," says Jaquith.

No stranger to making the intricacies of government a little easier to understand, Jaquith was the driving force behind Richmond Sunlight-- a user-friendly guide to the General Assembly-- as well as Virginia Decoded, an open-source look at the Commonwealth's laws.

Jaquith says he appreciates the existing hunting pamphlet, but he worries that in the rush to the rivers and deer stands, some might breeze past its 72 pages and rely instead on rumor.

"Hunting is a muti-billion-dollar industry in the U.S., but most of how hunters learn about what they're allowed to hunt is based on this received wisdom, the same way anybody knows about any laws. Like, well, how do you know that that's illegal? Well, somebody told me once. And that's a really terrible way to find out the law."

Jaquith hopes the app, which he anticipates finishing in a few months, becomes a model that will be emulated by all 50 states.