Of all the somewhat technologically advanced gear I take into the field, my handheld GPS unit has a sort of special status. While useful for hunting, this is something I carry mainly to ensure that I make it back to the truck. Some of the areas that I hunt are thousands of acres in size, and a lot of it looks the same. Dense woods, few trails, and no real landmarks. Add to that the fact that I’m usually walking in the dark on one end of the hunt.
As much as I’d like to believe that my time in the Boy Scouts permits me to navigate unerringly by the sun or stars, I know it’s not true.
Using A GPS for Hunting
A handheld GPS makes a powerful tool for modern-day hunting. Here are some ways that I use mine.
- Mark and revisit important locations. That starts with the parking lot and goes all the way to my stand. I’ll also mark trail heads, landmarks, bedding areas, deer sign, turkey feathers, that sort of thing.
- Precise directions and waypoints. Let’s say I mark a bedding area, and follow a game trail to crop field. I can put in the waypoint and know the exact distance and direction to the bedding area.
- Track paths and routes. A GPS will track your entire path in the woods, and show a map-level view of the route you’ve taken along with points marked along the way.
Choosing a GPS for Hunting
Unlike many kinds of hunting gear, there are not 30 different options for a handheld GPS. There are about five, and most of those are made by Garmin. I happen to own one of the Garmin eTrex series; it’s proven to be very durable and has helped me find the stand or parking lot many, many times. Some important considerations for a handheld GPS for hunting include:
- Durability. It’s going to get banged around, dropped, wet, muddy… so you want a rugged, waterproof GPS.
- Speed/accuracy. Quick satellite acquisition and precise positioning are important, because every minute of hunting time is, as we all know, priceless.
- Updates. The map updates are usually how GPS makers “get you” by making you constantly pay to upgrade. Even so, I’d like the option of getting updated city/topo maps as they become available.
- Battery. Long battery life is important, but something I can replace with spares (AA or AAA) is essential.
Garmin Handheld GPS Units
If you look around, most GPS handhelds for hunters are in the eTrex series by Garmin.
|Garmin eTrex 10
||Garmin eTrex 20
||Garmin eTrex 30
|Screen:||2.2″ monochrome||2.2″ 65K color||2.2″ 65K color|
|Memory:||Download GPX files to unit||MicroSD slot + 1.7GB memory||MicroSD slot + 1.7GB memory|
|Feature:||Rugged and durable; battery lasts 25 hours||Load TOPO 24K maps, BlueChart g2 cards, or satellite imagery||Wireless sharing w/ other Garmin GPS devices, built-in compass|
GPS and Topo Maps
Topo maps and satellite imagery are incredibly useful in analyzing past hunts and planning future ones. Combine those with the precise positioning that a GPS offers and you’ve got a pretty advanced system. For example, when I find a new area to hunt, I’ll usually:
- Pull up satellite imagery and topo maps in Google Earth, noting parking areas and possible hunting sites
- Scout the terrain in person with binoculars and GPS, marking points of interest and getting a look at the sites
- Pick a stand or blind location, mark it in the GPS. Do the same with a backup location.
- Back home, load the waypoints into Google Earth. Then I can measure distances, choose routes to/from the stand, plan for wind direction, etc.
Other Hunting GPS Options
So as not to seem completely biased toward the Garmin eTrex GPS series, I’ll cover two other models, both of which are solid options for hunting, and a GPS case.
|Magellan eXplorist 310
||Garmin 72H Floating
||GPS Carrying Case
|Size:||2.2″ QVGA color screen||120 x 160 pixel grayscale LCD||Fits all eTrex models|
|Memory:||2GB internal memory||500 waypoints and 50 routes||Clear vinyl covers display|
|Feature:||18 hours of battery life with 2 AA batteries||IPX7 waterproof, sun/moon tables, and it FLOATS||Velcro flap closure, belt clip and lanyard connection|
I hope you’ve come to realize, as I have, that a handheld GPS is invaluable for scouting and hunting. Which model are you using, and how do you use it? Please leave a comment and let me know.