By Nick Simonson
Drawing on nearly two decades of technology experience and a love of the outdoors, Korey Kirschenmann, owner of Kirsch’s Outdoor Products in Fargo, has created a tool for hunters, anglers and outdoors enthusiasts which keeps them on the right track to enjoying their favorite pastimes.
However, it wasn’t the commercial viability of Kirschenmann’s TRAX and TRAX+ GPS map chips that spurred the creation of his company. Rather, it was his love of the outdoors, paired with degrees in mathematics and business from Jamestown College and 18 years of technical expertise gained while working at Great Plains Software and subsequently Microsoft in Fargo, which helped him create a map chip to assist hunters like him in getting more out of their time in the field.
“Fifteen-plus years ago, I was an early adopter of GPS technology; I created my own GPS maps to find fishing structure and follow my boat tracks,” related Kirschenman about the advent of hand-held GPS use by outdoorsmen in the early 2000s and his first forays into digital cartography.
After creating his early GPS maps for his own use from publicly-available information, Kirschenmann was approached by three friends heading to Wyoming for an archery elk hunt, asking if he could provide something similar for their use in the area of the state where they’d be hunting. Putting together overlays of public lands, he provided them with a detailed GPS map of their hunting area prior to their trip. The trio returned from their adventure with three excellent bull elk and high praise for the solution Kirschenmann had created. From there, the idea for TRAX began to take shape and Kirsch’s Outdoor Products was born.
“From that I figured I could create [a detailed GPS map] for a whole state which could be used for virtually any outdoor activity,” Kirschenmann recalls, “but the commercial aspect didn’t click right away; I just figured it could help me find coyotes faster,” the avid furbearer hunter concluded with a laugh.
His first map of North Dakota did just that, helping him identify boundaries and high percentage areas based on data available from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, the Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies. Creating various map layers and overlaying them has allowed for a customizable GPS map which has become a hallmark of the TRAX and TRAX+ chips that exist in their seventeenth edition today. After using his own GPS map, he then recognized the need in the market.
“It made my [hunting] process so much easier and effective,” Kirschenmann stated, “and then the commercial aspect came to be.”
Kirschenmann created his first GPS map card for sale in 2009, and since that time has expanded his offerings from North Dakota to include 13 western states. In the years since that first map, various overlays have been added to include state and federal lands, water resources, topography, roads and trails, and other points of interests that not only benefit hunters, but many other outdoor recreationists as well. Currently, the TRAX maps have 12 layers which can be turned on and off depending on what users are looking for.
“Identifying public lands for do-it-yourself hunters, that remains one of the primary reasons people are buying it,” Kirschenmann said, but “users who do serious big game hunting live and die by topographic maps, so that remains a key feature,” he added.
The biggest benefit of the TRAX maps, according to Kirschenmann, is the sense of comfort they provide, in a small reliable package. All in one hand-held unit, those in the outdoors know exactly where they are, and whether they are within the bounds of where they are supposed to be hunting. In his discussions with customers, Kirschenmann has found that the TRAX maps have prevented multiple confrontations
with landowners over boundaries between public and private lands, and have helped save lives, through the marking of dangerous areas in the process of making hunting and fishing endeavors more efficient and successful. As one hunter told him, the greatest efficiency comes from the elimination of a closet full of various maps, in numerous editions from multiple agencies over a number of years, and the assembly and constant updating of all that information in a GPS memory card the size of a fingernail gets him back to the right place, every time.
Each year brings new features to the maps now covering 13 states in the western half of the country, and regular updates add changes to lands, such as PLOTS land (ND Walk In Access properties), along with other features, but at its heart, the product remains focused on giving sportsmen the features they want. The recent introduction of the TRAX+ line of map chips features private land owner information for counties where that information is available. At least 50% of those records include telephone numbers so that hunters can call and ask permission to access the land. Kirschenmann’s customers remain a valuable source of ideas and suggestions.
“We started adding game warden contact information a few versions ago, now [hunters] can call the local warden if a wounded animal goes off public land and they can’t contact the landowner, or if they simply have a question for the warden,” Kirschenman stated, “this feature came through talking with customers and vendors,” he concluded.
TRAX chips are updateable from year to year for a fee via download, or sent in to Kirsch’s Outdoor Products before each season to get the most recent changes implemented by the company. Additionally, the cards can also be traded in toward larger package purchases, when hunters need information for hunting excursions in other states. Customers can buy the individual state that they hunt in most, and then upgrade to a package of states, such as the company’s TRAXWest or TRAXNW cards. Kirsch’s Outdoor Products will then take the customer’s first map or maps back and provide credit toward the new package of states, with cost efficiency kicking in when hunters start eyeing a third state for their collection.
“We try to make the product affordable so the outdoorsman saves time and money, as they aren’t required to buy multiple types of maps,” Kirschenmann explained of the all-in-one aspect, “for $79.99 per state, a TRAX+ map will help any person with their outdoor adventure; we provide a money back guarantee to back it up,” he concluded, stressing that the company’s goal remains the same as it was when it started out a decade ago: helping sportsmen enjoy the sometimes limited time they have in the field and ultimately be more successful.
TRAX and TRAX+ chips can be purchased at a number of retailers in North Dakota, including Scheel’s, or they can be ordered directly from Kirsch’s Outdoor Products online.
(Featured Photo: Bulls on Parade. It was a memorable trip for Kirschenmann’s friends hunting bull elk in Wyoming with the help of his prototype that launched the modern TRAX and TRAX+ line of map chips. Photo Submitted)