The weather during the first week of deer season proved to be quite different each day. Opening day was almost balmy, and by midday, I had shed most of my insulated outerwear and hunted that afternoon in a heavy flannel shirt and a pair of camouflage jeans. Chillier temperatures and a persistent drizzle made raingear necessary Tuesday morning.
Those conditions also made it possible to sneak about the woods almost silently and therefore were perfect for still hunting, which is my preferred hunting method. That strategy proved worthwhile as I used a DMAP permit to take a nice doe from our property.
Wednesday morning revealed the higher ridge tops in the area covered with an inch or so of snow. I always enjoy hunting when there is fresh snow on the ground, so I decided to use that situation to explore some new territory on a state game lands in Cambria County I had scouted earlier in the fall.
As I drove up the mountain, the transition from bare ground to snow was a distinct and dramatic line, somewhere around 2,000 feet in elevation.
Once inside the snow zone, all the trees and bushes were coated with wet snow, giving the landscape a surreal appearance.
I then spent several hours prowling about the wintry woods, and although I didn't see a single deer, I did find some interesting locations that I will certainly investigate in the future.
I will have no problem doing that because of the help of one of my favorite outdoor gadgets - a handheld GPS unit. In fact, I would have never even thought about tramping about such unfamiliar territory under those conditions without such a device.
The terrain was relatively flat, and with the snow cover, most places looked monotonously similar. The sky was shrouded in heavy overcast, with no hint of where the sun might be.
Overall, those conditions were perfect for disorienting even someone with excellent navigation skills. Using a GPS unit, however, made it a no-brainer.
Whenever I set out on a trek such as this, the first thing I do is mark the location of my vehicle with the unit. This is called setting a "waypoint." Most handheld GPS units will allow the user to store a hundred or more such locations in the device memory.
I've taken advantage of that feature to set waypoints for most of the parking spots where I hunt and fish, favorite deer stands and other personal landmarks I might want to find months or even years from now.
Once you have the waypoint to which you want to return stored in the unit, getting back there at the end of the day is simple and precise. GPS units also allow you to track your route in real time, which I find invaluable when exploring a new area.
Even when out and about in relatively familiar territory, having a GPS unit with you can provide a little extra of peace of mind, especially if you are alone. If you were to become sick or injured, for example, you might be able to summon help with a cell phone or two-way radio, but telling the 911 operator you are about a half mile up the trail past the big oak tree won't help much. But providing your exact GPS coordinates can assure emergency personnel will find your location as quickly as possible.
Handheld GPS units range in price from around $100 to $500. Even the lower-priced models now are packed with most of the features the average outdoors enthusiast will need, while the higher end devices are nothing short of technological marvels complete with built-in digital cameras and other sophisticated features. Most manufacturers also offer specialized mapping software to complement their units. This allows you to share GPS information between your unit and your computer.
These are only a few of the dozens of ways a handheld GPS can enhance your experience in the outdoors. That's why so many of us now consider these devices an indispensible piece of outdoor gear.