The Value of a GPS

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Are GPS units worthwhile? For me, the answer to this question is an emphatic YES! Every year, I go through the process of evaluating what gear items should be in my packs during elk hunting season.  For most, this selection process is usually driven by hunting style and also by gear items that have “passed the test” from previous hunts. As I evaluate where a GPS falls on my list of must-have gear items, I would put it third only behind my hunting license and weapon.  Yes, it’s that important!

I wrote an article back in 2012, published here on, entitled GPS Basics. I shared an experience in that article about not properly using my GPS after parking my 4-wheeler en route to an evening scouting lookout. The consequences resulted in me wandering around in the dark for an hour trying to find my ride home. I committed then to become an expert in using my GPS.

As I write this article, I reflect back over the years on all the ways my GPS has been invaluable to me as a hunter.  Here are a few examples.

Navigation in the Dark

GPS_Mark Skousen1Often, I hike into a hunting spot well before sunrise and come out well after sunset. This means I do a lot of trekking in the dark to destination waypoints.  Also, on bonsai scouting trips where time is limited, I often check trail cameras well into the night. Getting in and out of those areas is much easier using my GPS.  For me, it’s not just about getting from point A to B.  With a GPS, I have the ability to mark trails and follow the easiest routes into nasty areas using a bright little screen.

After the Shot

After I arrow an animal, I always mark the shot and the ensuing blood trail.   A few years ago, I shot a bull right at dark.  After looking for the bull for a while, I decided it was best to back out and come back the next morning.  I was able to mark on my GPS where I had found the last drop of blood and pick back up right at first light.

Additionally, I always mark the kill site on my GPS.  Not only is this useful for future intel on hunting areas, but also some states require you to report the specific location of a kill. Giving them GPS coordinates is an easy way to provide them with accurate information.  Side note: Use discretion when giving out GPS coordinates so you don’t cannibalize your hunting area!

Private Property and Unit Boundaries

GPS_Mark Skousen2One of the most important reasons to use a GPS is to pre-load maps that identify private property boundaries and hunting unit information.  This is especially important if you are hunting a new area.  Remember, it is usually our responsibility as hunters to know where the private property boundaries are even if they are not marked properly. An SD chip from On X Maps coupled with a GPS unit is a powerful combination.

Bedding Areas, Wallows, Rubs, Water Sources, etc.

As I am trekking around the woods, I mark waypoints at most of the wallows, rubs and bedding areas that I find.  All of this information helps me know where I can find elk in the future. Having the ability to download these waypoints to a mapping software once I return home can make scouting even more effective.

Trailheads and Routes

A lot of my pre-season scouting is done on Google Earth.  I mark trailheads, create routes, identify bedding areas, and water sources.  These placemarks can then be downloaded to my GPS and easily navigated to when I get to the mountains.  Having a campsite marked, for example, is particularly helpful when arriving to a new area after dark and not knowing exactly where you need to be.


GPS_Mark Skousen4With the advancement in technology and availability of apps for most smart phones, I honestly think the bigger question these days is not if a GPS is worthwhile, but what type of GPS solution will suit your needs the best?  There are good arguments to be made that all you need is your smart phone with a HUNT membership/app from onXmaps.  I personally like my trusty Garmin 62s GPS ( because it is reliable and the battery life is incredible.  I do, however, also like the interface of the onXmaps application software on my larger smart phone display as well.

Whatever your personal preference, using a GPS will make you safer, more efficient, and ultimately, a more successful elk hunter.

And don’t forget, when you sign up for the University of Elk Hunting Online Course, there are a ton more resources for using a GPS, and combining the power of a GPS with other resources such as Google Earth, On X Maps, etc. Plus, you can get a discount code for 15-20% off in the Elk101 Store and from On X Maps. Those discounts alone can more than pay for the cost of the Online Course! Click here for more info on the UEH Online Course.