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Rifle Magazine
September - October 2003
Volume 1, Number 5
Number 5
On the cover...
Cover photo Mike Barlow
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There is nothing worse than being lost in the outdoors. First, fear sets in at the prospect of spending the night in a very strange place or perhaps inhospitable environment. For some, panic takes over when you realize perhaps you don’t have the right clothes or gear to get you through the night or perhaps into the next county and/or back to familiar surroundings.

Naturally the best way to avoid all this is to know exactly where you are and try to retrace your steps. With a compass this could be an iffy prospect, especially in the dead of night, but with a hand-held GPS unit you’ll be back at your pickup and home in no time. Even in a featureless landscape, like the desert or a snow-blanketed western plain, the GPS unit is a valuable tool whether you are familiar with the area or not. Many have been lost by mere complacency; having a high-tech navigation unit like this assures you will always find your way back regardless of weather or unfamiliar territory.

A modern GPS unit is a marvel of engineering. Not only will it get you back to the road, but most also contain a compass, altimeter and barometer. The electronic compass is accurate to within 2 degrees and with the attached bubble level will assure accuracy even when taking a reading from a static position.

For this report, Magellan and Brunton sent samples, and while each has its own features, when it gets down to basic operation, both yield the same end results. When purchasing a GPS unit, it’s wise to shop around for the best unit that will suit your particular needs and price. Naturally, the more you spend, the more features included, so shop carefully taking note of what you really need to fulfill your navigational requirements while out hunting or hiking.

To get started with any electronic unit, install fresh alkaline or lithium batteries. If the unit will take rechargeable batteries, that’s fine too, but make sure everything is either fresh or fully charged before you even think about using the unit. Take note of how long the GPS unit can be on before the batteries go dead; the Brunton, for instance, while being used in the average on/off operation under normal conditions, will last 100 hours.

Like a mini-computer, the GPS unit will have a menu selection. Reading the book, or purchasing and viewing the video most companies offer, before turning the GPS unit on is highly recommended. Once the basic knowledge has been attained, it’s just a matter of scrolling to the right menu for the information desired.

Now go outside and power up the unit so it can get a “fix” on its/your position. Pick an area devoid of trees and allow it to “acquire” the location relative to the satellites above. This will take only a few seconds, and when that’s done, a “position” message will appear.

When the unit is new or when you change batteries, you have to calibrate the compass, which on most units is nothing more than pressing a button on the menu section. Additionally, there will be what some call “pages” that store such data as current longitude and latitude, current bearing and speed over ground. It will also show course, distance traveled and distance to destination.

You can enter in the current date and time, and there is a barometer with the current pressure and if it’s rising, falling or steady. Altimeter readings within 3 feet are available, as are weather forecasts to keep track on your trip and even the time of the next sunset and sunrise. You simply can’t ask for a better friend on the trail.

While all the details on navigation are too numerous to mention, I can tell you there are a few ways to use the GPS unit. The basic way is what some call a straight or back-home system. The more advanced method is to use topographic maps and plug in the coordinates before you get to your destination. I’d recommend the first one to start, especially in your local area, to build confidence in using the unit.

Later you can drive a local area, planning the trip via a map, before you head out to a remote area. This is referred to as the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) system that divides the Earth into 6-degree zones. More for the advanced hunter or hiker, this method takes planning, setting up your trip and good navigational skills.

To help get around, GPS receivers let you save positions or “waypoints” in memory like electronic markers to get you back to your campsite, pickup truck or the main road. Once a position is stored in memory, it can be referred to as a “destination” or “return-to-point” at any time.

The first thing you want to do when you are about to leave the vehicle is set the “home” (or waypoint) position, making it the straight-home setting. Walking down the trail, the GPS will keep track of the starting point, so in case of bad weather or your getting lost, you will know exactly how far you need to go to return “home” - sort of a counter in reverse. Once reaching the final destination, you may want to save this favorite hunting or fishing spot as a waypoint for future reference. Most new units will store up to 1,000 of these waypoints, so go ahead and record this location; you can always delete it later.

To return to the vehicle, just turn the GPS unit on, hit the compass button, and the unit will show you the way back. Some units even have side arrows to help you keep a true setting. When there is no arrow, you are heading in a correct setting; a right arrow means turn to the right, same with the left. Aligning yourself with the arrow will not only show you the direction to travel, but as mentioned will also show you the distance to go before reaching your starting point. Once there, delete this waypoint so you don’t use it by mistake the next time around.

Is the GPS unit the ultimate, never-get-lost navigation system? Nothing is guaranteed. With any electronic gadget, you must understand the basic operation. Is it better than a compass? I’d say, yes; I feel more secure with it, especially with the weather, time and compass settings factored in.

Some other things to keep in mind: it is electronic, and it can be fragile, especially if you fall    and land on it; batteries can drain down in cold weather, so it’s a good idea, like a camera, to keep it under your jacket until you’re ready to   use it.

Finally, GPS units give you only point-to-point, straight-line guidance. If you are traveling in a remote area, there will be no substitute for good map reading skills and plenty of common sense to keep you on your general heading, especially if you come across rivers, lakes or other natural obstacles that you may have to go around.

Those of us who treasure the outdoors always like to have a safe and successful hunt. A GPS unit increases the odds of having an enjoyable outing without incident. I like that.

American Rifle
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