GPS Tips

Among the many equipment choices available today there is one piece of electronic gear that is embraced by both traditional and modern bowhunters – the GPS receiver. For many, a handheld GPS unit is their silent hunting partner, their navigator, and keeper of all secret places. I couldn’t agree more.

The technical breadth of information on the Global Positioning System – GPS for short – far exceeds the bounds of this column; however, I’d like to share some basic GPS tips that have enhanced my field success over the years.

Pre-Season Scouting

How many times have you ventured into a new area and stumbled into a hot bed of sign? It could be a secluded bedding area or a concentrated cluster of jaw-dropping rubs. It happens all the time. And finding your way back to the area can be difficult, especially if you’re off the beaten path. By simply logging a quick GPS waypoint (location) you can find your way back from any direction – an important point when considering the wind and terrain topography.

I use my GPS receiver constantly to learn and map out new areas. I log rubs, water sources, feed areas, bedding grounds, and any other notable features. This data is easily transferred to my maps for future reference. You can also download your waypoints to your computer for better record keeping and editing.

Finally, always leave the first waypoint available for your vehicle or camp. This will make retrieval much faster when it is time to head back.

Help Is On the Way

It was pushing 80 degrees and I was standing over a bull elk over two miles from camp in Oregon’s Hells Canyon Wilderness. No shade, no water, and no help presented the grim recipe for spoiled meat. I quickly logged the kill site and proceeded bone out the young bull. Knowing my hunting partner Stan was in the area, I scrambled to a high vantage point and radioed to him. I gave him my Latitude/Longitude location coordinates and it wasn’t long before I saw him coming on a dead run with two pack frames, water, and other necessary items. Stan was able to enter my location into his GPS unit, obtain a bearing and distance, then use his compass to stay on track, saving his batteries. Thanks to the simple use of GPS coordinates, we made short work of getting my elk on ice.

Mapping Unmapped Roads

Hunting the Pacific Northwest, logging roads are an integral part of the landscape. No matter where you are chances are there’s a logging road nearby, and there’s nothing more frustrating than popping out on a road not shown on your map. One way to minimize this occurrence is to plot unmapped roads during the pre-season. Bike or hike the new road, logging a waypoint every 100 yards or so (longer intervals for straight sections). Later, in the comfort of home, use your GPS unit to navigate from waypoint to waypoint noting the bearing and distance. By using a ruler, compass, and the scale legend on the map, you can achieve accurate results. When you’re done plotting the points, simply connect the dots to create the road on your map.

General Navigation & Safety

Let’s face it; no one wants to spend an unplanned night in the woods. This should be motivation enough to follow these five safety rules:

  1. Never entrust your life to an electronic device
  2. Become familiar with your particular make/model prior to embarking on any involved field exploits
  3. Become skilled with map & compass navigation
  4. Carry extra batteries at all times
  5. Always let someone know where you will be hunting

By adding GPS to your skill-set, you’ll not only broaden your knowledge about navigation and map reading, but you’ll breathe a bit easier when a bull elk bugles 30minutes before dark, three miles from camp.


About the Author

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle

Tom Ryle's passion for bowhunting has fueled adventures spanning the United States, Canada, and South Africa. He is an official measurer for the Pope and Young Club, NMLRA, NW Big Game Inc., and Oregon Shed Hunters.