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Maybe it’s time for a GPS

Mike Bleech Outdoors Columnist

Likely the situation with GPS is similar to that of high tech sonar when Lake Erie walleye fishing got very popular in 1980, a lot more people own them than know how to use them. Especially those among us who are not tech-heads, the hicks and the old. I am eminently qualified to write on this subject being both old and a hick. An old hick, which is a comfortable thing to be.

So why is it time to get a GPS?

Hunters especially, but outdoors people in general, are getting older. GPS can save steps. Certainly, there have been many times at the end of a day when you wish you knew the straightest route back to the vehicle. And what about those wonderful days when a deer must be dragged out of the woods and you can not remember whether you have to go up that hill, or up that hill?

I can tell you this, avoiding one unnecessary hill is worth more than the price of a simple GPS unit.

Do not start with a complicated, expensive GPS unit. My first GPS was the most useful one I have used, which is several. A Garmin e-Trex 10 is an excellent starter unit, and it probably will be all most people will ever need.

This is about the way it goes.

Once the initial set-up is complete, which is easily done just following basic instructions, you set waypoints beginning with your starting point, at your vehicle or camp. The unit will have specific symbols to identify certain key points such as camp. Then as you walk other waypoints are marked, such as a good stand, a creek crossing or any easily identified spot. You can pull a deer cart to a key position, mark that as a waypoint and easily return when the deer cart is needed. Then find the way back to the deer.

While doing this, a trail will be mapped on one of the screens called a crump trail. The scale of the crump trail map can be changed to suit the area where you have walked, so the map can show a square of 300 yards or a square mile or 10 square miles. This will be a map of your route, and this can easily be backtracked.

Or, and here is where it starts getting cool, you can click on a waypoint, click a go-to and the until will point the direction you must walk to get there on a straight line. Now, in our hills, there are not many places where walking that straight line would be difficult because of the terrain. But this is easily solved by taking a practical route and rechecking the go-to function from time to time.

You can look at a topographic map screen and see the kind of terrain that lies between you and where you want to go.

One of my first hunts using a GPS unit was a deer hunt just east of Algonquin National Park. The land is very flat and one can cross unnoticed between three large watersheds. One watershed drained into the St. Lawrence River, another into Hudson Bay and the other into the Arctic Ocean. A tiny mistake could send an unsuspecting hunter hundreds of miles into the wilderness. I did not get a deer, but neither did I get lost.

A GPS is a great comfort for anyone who travels to far-flung outdoor destinations.

The good old compass and topo may still are relevant. Complete navigation in the wild requires all three: GPS, map, and compass. There are other reasons, but this one should suffice. What is the GPS battery goes dead, and the unit suffers one of those electronic malfunctions that can cripple an operation where electronics are the only option.

A handheld GPS works just fine as a boat GPS. Once the data is plugged into the unit, you can find your way right back to that great fishing spot. The unit does not care whether a waypoint marks a rock pile that attracts bass or where three deer trails intersect.

We have only scratched the surface of what can be done with a GPS. Exact spots can be communicated between GPS units, computers, and maps. Injured people can contact rescuers and tell them where you are. Tight waypoints can be used to mark unmapped trails.

GPS is not too complicated for you to use. Keep things simple and it need not be overly expensive. While you are calculating what value GPS may be to you, consider the expenses of getting lost in time, frustration and overexertion. Might it prevent a heart attack or rescue if one occurs?

Research before buying. Read the instructions. Practice in an unfamiliar area. Consider attending a class at Chapman State Park. As questions and read. Get into the 21st Century.

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