I guess it shouldn’t have taken me as long as it has to take a close look at the Global Positioning System (GPS), since my dad was familiar with its forerunner, the Ground Positioning System. Of course the only reason my dad knew anything about the original GPS was that he was a sailor during WWII, because the unit that housed it was so big it could only be deployed on U.S. Navy warships.
My how some things have changed. Dad’s room-sized GPS relied on triangulating radio waves and could locate his destroyer’s position within a dozen miles–or at least it could when everything worked just right. Today’s pocket-sized GPS bounces signals off of four or more satellites, and even the civilian versions are accurate to within a few feet.
Conversely, some things haven’t changed at all. In 1945, knowing about where your ship was on an ocean the size of the Pacific could be a matter of life and death. In 2015, knowing — and being able to communicate — exactly where you are can be equally vital.
I know whereof I speak. When I took my infamous flying dismount from a treestand several years ago, the stars were aligned in my favor. My cell phone landed only a few feet away, and I was able to crawl to it and telephone Amber. Miraculously, I had been hunting on a good friend’s property out of one of three stands Amber not only knew how to find but could also drive a passenger car right up to.
But what if I’d been hunting on the 900-acre Marshall Junction Conservation Area and simply didn’t show up back home? There are only two roads through the CA, so finding my car would have been easy. Finding me not so much.
Using GPS was a logical solution, but I absolutely did not want a unit that talked, and I much preferred not spending so much money that I couldn’t afford a tank of gas to go hunting. After trying one allegedly “easy to use” unit that came with a 37-page totally incomprehensible instruction manual, I’ve settled on a Bushnell HuntTrack ™. It’s a bare bones GPS to be sure, but it stores up to 25 way-points and can display an infinite number of current positions.
Given that I remember to stick it in my pocket — I’m still working on that — and assuming I’m conscious and have cell phone service, I can summon aid to my exact location. As any first responder will attest, time saved equals lives saved.
I have dozens of stand sites I’ve used repeatedly over the years. All of them are already identified in my record keeping system by a letter designating the property and a number for that specific stand. This is still very much a work in progress, but I’m gathering GPS coordinates for each stand and have indicated the location of each stand on a Google Earth photo of the property.
Now if I’m going to Marshall Junction to hunt out of stand site M23, I can leave Amber a photo of the area that includes M23’s GPS coordinates. If I don’t check in when I’m supposed to, she can tell the cavalry where to start searching.
Please note that this system only works if I’m where I said I’d be. It’s incumbent on me to make sure she knows if I change my mind about where I’m going to hunt or if I’m going to be late getting home.
I do most of my deer hunting alone, but the photo and GPS combination is a great way to direct somebody else to a stand site whether we’re hunting together or not. Let me rephrase that. GPS is a great way to locate a stand site if the person who has the information also knows how to use a compass. The HuntTrack solves this potential problem by having the GPS coordinates and a compass on the same screen display.
This year I’ve found yet another way to use my GPS unit as a deer hunting tool. I carry it with me when I’m squirrel hunting or gathering mushrooms. If you’re a deer hunter, you’ll know what I mean when I say I can’t count the times I’ve stumbled onto a “perfect” tree for a stand while I was in the woods doing something other than scouting. Then when I go back later to hang the stand, I discover that the tree has mysteriously disappeared, oftentimes never to be seen again.
As you can tell, I’m pumped up about what my baby GPS unit can do for me as a deer hunter. But I still neither have nor want onboard GPS in any of my vehicles. Of course I reserve the right to change my mind about that. In fact, if I’m still around at the start of the 22nd century, I may give serious thought to wholeheartedly joining the 21st.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]