First-hand experience of HAMS.online - an interview
[Translated from the original]
"Do you know a good gunsmith?"
"Do you know this kind of scope? And what's your experience?"
These are questions we ask our friends and acquaintances when we're considering a new product or a new service provider. Like many, I do the same, because we all want to make the right decision and spend our hard-earned money on a good product or service.
Personal referrals and recommendations are always better than reading anonymous reviews.
The situation is similar to the electronic wildlife management system. Some people are already predicting the death of the beauty of hunting without ever having tried such a system or even spoken to someone who uses one on a daily basis.
So I decided to look into this topic because I would like to talk to someone who has actually "tested driven one" and not just seen it from pictures.
After some searching and phone calls, I managed to find the Szuhavölgy Landowners’ Hunt Club in Hungary, which was one of the first to start using the electronic wildlife management system on a daily basis. They use a system called HAMS.online, and their members have 5 years of experience in using the system.
We talked to the head keeper of the club, Kálmán Galambos.
Can you tell us about your hunting club?
We are a Landowners’ Hunt Club with 34 initial members (today we are only 28). We manage 5880 ha of land in Borsod with membership fees but without guests paying for stalking and rough shooting. We have mainly big game species, with an average of 120-150 harvests per year (red deer, roe deer, boar), but we also hunt pheasant. On a yearly basis, we have about 50-100 pheasants culled
With these capabilities, how often do you use the system and how much data do you record?
1500-2000 check-ins are recorded in HAMS. Each of these will include at least one report containing all the mandatory data (depending on what event took place and what happened we record: time, location, species, sex, estimated age, estimated weight, photo proofs, hunting tag number), and we also have the possibility to record additional bio-indicators (e.g.: cannon bone length, heart girth, total body length, etc.) If nothing happens during the hunt, then this will also be recorded.
What were your specific criteria for choosing HAMS.online?
We were in both a difficult and an easy situation because there was no choice in 2016-17. We didn't know of any systems at that time that worked well. So, the development of this software which had already started was developed partly in response to our needs.
So you decided what the system would look like?
We talked a lot with the surrounding clubs about how, if we thought and worked together, the combined area of the 5-8 clubs in the area would be large enough to really manage game in a meaningful way. However, cooperation requires data exchange, regular joint consultation and planning. Sustainable management is only possible if we have data on which to base long-term decisions and on which to analyse changes. This cannot be done with paper-based notebooks nor with Excel tables.
It takes a lot of time and effort to extract data from paper notebooks that can be analysed, but you also have to learn how to use a spreadsheet. And we are hunters first and foremost, and not great with computers. We needed a ready-made solution that was designed to serve the needs of people like us.
Fortunately, one of our members was working with an IT specialist who had been thinking about how well the administrative part of game management could be digitalised. So he and his company embarked on the development of HAMS. We didn't decide how the system would work, but we talked a lot about technical aspects and what kind of system we would like to use. But we are no exception, the club pays for the service on the same market basis.
What are your experiences? Was it difficult to get used to and learn how to use?
We used to joke that if you can read, it's easy, and if you can't, how did you get a hunting licence?
Even the older members of the hunting club have taken to the system very quickly, although we have some elderly hunters who had to start by learning how to use their smartphones. But the young people were very helpful, and it's not that difficult to use a phone. But, as I said, if you can read, you shouldn't have a problem with either the smartphone or the system.
We always have a good laugh when some people use the excuse that older hunters won’t like using the technology, when Uncle Ede Kertai, who is nearly 80 years old, loves using HAMS.
Were there difficulties?
The initial setup and adjustment to the club’s needs and rules, the drawing of the map, the zones and the setting of the high-seats and feeding areas is a time-consuming process, but it only needs to be done once. In addition, we have 150 zones in use. Obviously, it was time-consuming to draw them one by one, but the map drawing part of the system is also easy to get used to and learn.*
(*HAMS.online now provides a service to support our users through this process)
How did you manage to set up the facilities?
We asked the gamekeepers to turn on the GPS on their phones and take photos of all the facilities when they went out in the field. Within a week, we had photos and the location of every facility. Each day, we uploaded that day's photos to the system, which reads the GPS data from the image as it is uploaded, so we have the exact location and photo of everything on the map. The naming and linking to the zone took half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, every day. If one jumps into it in one go, it takes 1-2 days to do all the settings, which then don't have to be touched for a couple of years. We don't move all the high-seats and feeders every year, we just move the high-seats for game damage control over the years.
Have you experienced any difficulties in daily use?
Checking in and out, and reporting are now routine and very easy for everyone. It takes 30-40 seconds to complete a check-in, one of our members measured it. I, for example, can be out in the field for 1-1.5 hours or more, because I no longer have to drive to the notebook and bother with paper administration, flipping through pages and spelling out who is where, who has booked where, who has shot what, etc. I just look at the land occupancy map in the system and check myself in. The fuel costs saved by our members more than cover the cost of the HAMS subscription.
Some people argue that a computer system can break down, and then the life of the hunting club stops because they can't check-in.
In 5 years, there have been 2 occasions of service outages, which lasted maybe 10-20 minutes. Power outages are much more frequent and last longer. I think on both occasions there were major upgrades to the system, and we had been informed about them in advance. Anyway, a hunter who cannot wait fifteen minutes every couple of years lacks the patience to hunt.
If we had any questions or problems, the team at HAMS always responded quickly to emails and phone calls. As I have heard from other clubs, they have had a similarly good experience.
You wanted to use an electronic check-in system for management. How does the system help here?
The preparation of the annual management plan, the hunting tag register, and the preparation for the trophy evaluation became incredibly easy and fast. Previously, year-end reporting took about 1 week of continuous work and overnight stays to transfer all the data from the notebook to the electronic document that was sent to the authority. And accidentally misspelt hunting tag numbers always caused a lot of headaches. These problems have disappeared completely. Now, the data is all in one place, and in just 3 clicks, half a minute, the system produces the spreadsheets (in the format required by the authority!) that we need.
We also use the system to estimate game numbers, and then the annual plan is produced in the system in 30 minutes. Everyone can keep track of the plan-fact data, so there is no need to constantly inform members how many of what they can or should still shoot.
The work of the gamekeepers is finally very transparent, and they record in the system every time what happened, what they saw and what they did.
During hunting seasons, we inform and ask members through the system where they are most needed due to game damage issues.
Although it was not common, it used to happen in the past that members would run into each other in the same area due to a clerical error or accidentally, but this has been eliminated.
What do you think is wrong with the system?
Nothing for us. It has made it worse for thieves and poachers. Over the years we have had 2 cases where we have prevented poaching thanks to HAMS.
What we find is that when we talk to other hunting clubs about this, almost everybody is fighting with the thieves who are doing everything they can to make sure that there is no transparency in management. They are terrified of more organised, more accurate administration because they cannot document a hunt without a trace, after the fact, if they do get caught.
What is your most pleasant experience with the system?
When our German guests were amazed at the modern tools we use for management.
Everyone should draw their own conclusions.
However, for the sake of impartiality, in a forthcoming article, I will also talk to a company that has no personal contact with the owners of HAMS.online and find out what they expect from an electronic wildlife management system and what problems were they looking for solutions to and why did they choose HAMS.online.