Idaho Elk, Mule Deer and Black Bear Blog

Here you will find information about our Idaho Elk, Mule Deer and Black Bear hunts. We will also blog about our area, as special offers, issues that affect us or are important to us.

Hunting with GPS/Map-Devices: Seeing Outside the Box

Don’t get me wrong, modern GPS/map-devices, or map apps that make smartphones function like GPS/map-devices, are wonderful tools for the hunter. Being somewhat device challenged, I can only wish I knew how to use them. Some tech-savvy hunters I have run into recently manage to get around in the woods quite well with them. Despite their usefulness at assisting hunters from getting lost, I’ve noticed many GPS/map-device users fail to get the big picture because they can’t see outside the little box held in their hand. Many hunters can pinpoint the exact spot where they stood that morning on a map-device with close-up detail, although they can’t name drainage where they stood. What they don’t see is how the drainages and ridges in their hunting area fit and flow together, or in other words the “lay-of-the-land”.

For centuries humans have divided the geography of the mountainous West by drainages, which includes the all-important ridges between the drainages. For example, the boundaries of many hunting units are based on drainages. The complete hunter must be able to pan-out in their mind and see the entire drainage system in their immediate hunting area. This wide-scope view will enhance your understanding of game movements, as well as enable you to discuss game movement and hunting pressure with people who are familiar with the area such as your guide, local hunters, ranchers, or Forest Service personnel. You can use a GPS/map-device to show where you jumped elk that morning, but you’ll have to pan-out too far to guess where they might have fled to on your device’s small screen. You’ll either have to pan the map out in your head or go to the topo maps. A good method for becoming familiar with the big picture of your hunting area is to hang topo maps in your home or workplace where they are readily visible on a daily basis.

Of course, the ability to see the big picture in your mind, combined with the savvy to operate a GPS/map-device, offers maximum view. A group of three, unguided hunters I met last fall were already well familiar with our hunting area, even so each hunter carried a GPS/map-device of the same make and model. The GPS units not only displayed the user’s position superimposed on a digital topo map, but also revealed the positions of the other 2 companions at the same time. Knowing your companion’s position in a large tract of wilderness can be extremely useful, as well as huge safety consideration. These hunters could dive off a ridge in unison on 3 separate spurs, and remain in parallel formation on the descent. The country here is steep, expansive, and well forested, so keeping track of one’s companion by sight is not an option. Usually one or two of these hunters would use elk calls on their descent, and one or two would remain silent. Without the devices, it would have been difficult for them to stay in formation, decreasing the tactic’s effectiveness, and difficult for them to regroup once they reached the depths of the drainage. Their exceptional unity resulted in outstanding success.

GPS units carried by hunters started out as devices that brought them back to their parked vehicles. Now they are much more, though they’ll still help you from getting lost. Becoming too reliant on them is not a good idea though, as the GPS itself could become lost or stop functioning at the wrong time and place. A GPS/map-device should complement your map-reading and woodsmanship skills—not replace them. Being able to see the lay-of-the-land, outside the box, can bring you back without batteries, as well as improve your hunting success.

Good hunting,

Joe Cavanaugh

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