By Naomi K. Shapiro
OK, so you're from the 19th century and still trying to book that trip to meet Sacagawea with Lewis & Clark, promising them you'll bring a good compass, and that you can "read the stars," so you'll end up for sure West of the Rockies, and not in New Orleans. Guide Phil Schweik has used a compass continuously for decades. They're basic. They'll tell you what you're direction you're moving to or from, and they can save your life… also like chart-reading "by the stars".
But the pages of time and technology have turned. Yes, compasses are still small, cheap and useful. But if you want to save time and effort, turn the page and opt for a GPS unit. GPS stands for "Global Positioning System." What a GPS does is literally pinpoint where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. Your position is established through the use of an orbiting satellite and tasked to put you within a short distance of where you want to be. Now, note we said "short distance of where you want to be." The GPS units available to the public are NOT as accurate as those provided to the military and governmental entities and deliberately so. You're not going to be able to program anything with absolute accuracy. You'll be close, but it's more a "scratch bull," then a total "bull's eye," if you get my drift. But it's good enough for hunters.
GPS units come in a wide variety of designs and capabilities. You can get vehicle-mounted units, portable units, combos of both types, and units which are part of other gadgets. You can buy a simple hand-held unit for between fifty and a hundred bucks. The more detail you want or need, the higher the cost. Units come with maps showing terrain, roads, streets, contours, elevations, and lakes. For instance, if your unit shows tight contour lines you know you're going up a hill. If the contour lines are spread out, you're flat-landing it. Indeed, any number of these GPS units "talk to you." So if you're out in the woods and you're lonely, think how nice it would be to have some Hollywood starlet telling you which direction to head to get back to camp or your truck. As for me, I'd personally opt for George Clooney. The bottom line is that GPS units have long battery life, are rechargeable and can save you hours of time and exertion, as well as giving you total peace of mind.
As a hunter you may know a particular woody area then again, you may not. Either way a GPS is a real helper. You are able to lock in a position of a tree, a cabin, a stand, a blind, a vehicle, and then move out, having your GPS leave a "dotted trail" on it, which you can pull up at any time to see your position or how to get back to where you were, or where you'll mark a good hunting spot… all of it. In addition, let's say you've hit a deer, and are now tracking it -- you can easily lose sight of your buddies or become disoriented. With a GPS unit, you'll always be able to find your way back, and know exactly where you're going and where you've been. With a GPS, being lost is a thing of the past.
I've been told by many hunters that a GPS is almost a required accessory, particularly when there is heavy snow or pea soup fog. Even if you know a wooded area inside-out, heavy snow changes everything. Boughs bend, trees, outcropping, and reference points that you've always known and relied upon are now covered and hidden. Your GPS will remember the right way to go, and then the right way to return to where you want to. In fog, you can be turned around and become disoriented at every turn. And if there's an accident or someone needs assistance, and if you must go for help, you can assure your buddy that you will be able to return quickly right to where they are.
Guide Phil Schweik says that the GPS units that are sold by the major outfitter store where he works are becoming ever more complex in the type and amount of information that can be displayed and used; and he says, the units are really very simple to use. With technology changing rapidly, Phil suggests paying a few bucks more and getting the newest model; controls become friendlier, new types/kinds/formats of information are retrieved and can be used more quickly, battery life is longer, and contrasting colors literally bring things to life.
If "you're good to go," you'll be "better to go" by using either a basic compass or preferably a GPS unit.