Most hunters would tell you that they venture out into the woods and mountains to get away from the daily grind that is life. And along with that they want to unplug and have peace and quiet. However, there is a strong argument about what you should carry some technology into the field the next time you venture out. At the very least you should have something to help you find your way out if you get lost of disoriented. I, however, am not saying that you should be connected so that you can check into the office on a daily basis. But having some technology will not only help to make sure you return home safe, but may also increase your odds in the field. This is essential for those hunters that travel out of state for their next trophy animal.
The use of handheld GPS technology has increased over the years. At first the technology was expensive and limited to showing a user their breadcrumb trail and waypoints that they have previous saved. Navigation was done in a straight line and not on trails or roads. When a user was under a heavy tree canopy or in deep ravines the satellite connection was spotty at best. Fast forward to today and you have a plethora of options to choose from when selecting a unit. There are more satellites circling the globe than ever before and accuracy is within a few feet. Units now have high definition touch screens that lets users do much more than just simple navigation from point A to B.
Arguably the most popular brand of handheld GPS on the market is Garmin. They make units from very simple handhelds to units as large as most smartphones. Prices range from about $200 upwards to $700. Obviously as price increases so does size and features included in the handheld. I personally own an older Garmin 60csx and a newer Oregon 650t. Both units provide outstanding GPS satellite coverage and are able to navigate me from point A to B using trails, roads, etc. The Oregon 650t is a touchscreen unit that features a better screen, rechargeable battery pack, built in topography software, digital camera, and many more features. This unit is in the upper tier of those made by Garmin. I use it for marking fishing spots, navigating while backpacking in the National Parks, and while in the field chasing my favorite game animals.
The topography software that comes with most units works great if all that you plan to do is hike and measure elevation. However, there are many options out there for providing better maps for specific applications. My personal favorite are those from onXmaps(formally known as HuntingGPSMaps). They provide topography, borders of federal lands, specific hunting units, and land owner names (only in the premium state editions for $99.99). For hunters that venture out onto public land, knowing the boundaries is the difference between getting a ticket for trespassing and staying where you intend to hunt. Hunters in the western states that have to apply for a specific unit can now see on a digital map the actual borders of that unit rather than reading that it follows this creek and that trail.
I have used my onXmaps chips while hunting in Wisconsin and Wyoming. The amount of detail they provide is unlike anything else on the market. This past season I hunted in the wilderness areas of northwestern Wyoming while chasing elk and mule deer. The maps were extremely accurate with respect to the actual border of the wilderness areas. If you are an out of state DIY hunter, this is very important as you are not allowed to venture past this boundary without a guide. Mountains, creeks, and other points of interest are clearly marked for reference. National Forest land, BLM, and other federally protected lands are marked using different colors and are easy to find and distinguish from one another.
In Wisconsin, the vast majority of land is privately owned and can make hunting challenging. One benefit of the onXmaps software is that it provides the names of the private land owners. This is useful when scouting if you intend to knock on doors to ask for permission. In my area, most land owners won’t let you on to hunt deer, but if you ask for turkey or geese you have a good chance they will say yes. Knowing who you are going to be dealing with before you ring that door bell has proven beneficial. This technology replaces the old plat books that you had to carry about in your car. Now, you can plug the map chip into a Garmin handheld or a Garmin NUVI unit and have the information in real time.
In 2013, onXmaps came out with apps for mobile devices that can be used on Droid products as well as Apple. I have been using the app on my iPhone since it came out and it works great. It allows me to have all of the same information at my fingertips even when I don’t have my handheld Garmin with me. To download the app is free, but you then have to subscribe to each state you want for a total of $29.99 (from the onXmaps website or $34.99 from the app) per year. This gives you access to all of the public and private land information you get on the chips for the handheld units. In areas that users may have less than ideal cell service, you are able to download portions of a map to your device so that you have it in memory for later use. A user can also plot points of interests and add other information to their maps to user in the field. The app can be downloaded free from iTunes or GooglePlay as well as from the onXmaps website.
Anybody can argue that there is always a time and a place to unplug from our busy lives and connect with nature. However, the difference between tagging an animal and going home empty handed can be by the slimmest of margins. Having an advantage like GPS technology and maps from onXmaps can be the key to making you a more successful hunter. The ability to see the checkerboard of public lands and how to get to them will allow you to hunt some untapped areas that most hunters drive right past. If you are unsure just what onXmaps can do for you, download the app for your mobile device and you will get a free trial for 7 days for your state. With the hunting season many month away, scouting starts now. Get the leg up on the competition and use the technology that is available.