Two of the most overlooked and underrated pieces of equipment these days are maps and GPS devices. No doubt, there are far more exciting pieces of hunting equipment out there that are far more fun to use and play with. However, when it comes to aiding to the success of any hunt (public land especially), a good map/GPS combo is as important as your weapon or optics.
While having just a map or GPS alone is better than having neither, the combination of both is critical to get the most out of your hunt, especially when hunting new areas. I actually still pack both even when hunting familiar terrain, for two reasons: 1) It can be hard to find your way back to camp or the truck in the dark without a GPS, and 2) I like having a printed map to make notes on what I experience, so I can keep adding to my log and help notice patterns and subtle trends.
This article originally appeared in Elk Hunter Magazine and appears courtesy of Elk Hunter Magazine. Elk Hunter Magazine is THE magazine for the hunter passionate about elk hunting, and is made up of the most experienced, well-respected elk hunters in the industry.
The reason I feel itís important to have both is that you canít get a good feel for the lay of the land (topography wise) by viewing a topo map on a GPS screen; there just isnít enough screen real estate to see much area in detail, and thatís important to be able to see how drainages tie into one another and spot possible travel routes, glassing points, etc. And while a printed map has its strengths, it canít tell you precisely where youíre standing and how to make it back to a particular location like a GPS can.
Another important aspect to consider is land ownership info. This can be displayed nicely on both printed maps and in GPS mapping software. There are some great custom map-making companies out there catering to hunters by printing maps with multiple data overlays on them, such as game management unit boundaries, BLM, state, Forest Service and private land boundaries on them. The great thing about these maps vs. a standard Forest Service or BLM map is that you have the ability to only print the area you want to see, whether itís your entire unit or units or a section of your hunt unit at whatever scale you prefer. Typically, a BLM or Forest Service map doesnít offer much detail in topography as they scale back to show large amounts of terrain. That makes it hard to see things like benches, subtle saddles, etc., with the scale of these maps in the range of 1:100,000 and greater. That translates to about one inch representing roughly 1.6 miles or more, where a good detailed topo map will be at a scale of 1:24,000 (referred to as 7.5-minute series), with one inch representing roughly .4 miles, allowing you to see far more detail in the topography. The problem with custom maps is that it can get expensive in a hurry.
My Mapping System
Whatís the solution? Well, there isnít a perfect one, but here is the system Iíve been using on my hunts, as it gives me all the data I could possibly need. For having access to data on land ownership status, I use two things: 1) a BLM or Forest Service map. This allows me to see large amounts of data at once and see the big picture on where the public lands lay and how to access most of them. I typically donít pack this one with me all the time, but just keep it in the truck or at camp in case I need it; and 2) a GPS, along with third-party software loaded onto it that shows all the land ownership status data, game management unit boundaries, and in some cases, the names of the private landowners. This is very powerful info, as it can do what no printed map can - show you where you are located in relation to a property line. This is a huge confidence-builder, as property lines are not always marked accurately, or at all.