Hunting with a GPS

Old Fashioned Hunter uses handheld GPS and Topo maps

Memory-Map Topoographic mapping software used on a handheld GPS

Old-fashioned hunter sold on new electronics

He labels himself “old-fashioned”. Still Murray Care says he’s now sold on the advantages of using new mapping software and handheld GPS.

Growing up in rural Waikato, the New Zealander has been hunting for over 30 years. He bought his first motorbike with money he made hunting possums. As a full-time builder, these days his hunting is restricted to casual hunting around Waikato and a few bush outings a year; dropping in by helicopter to blocks in either the Kawekas, Ureweras or Kaimanawas.

His two favourite rifles are a .17 HMR Volquartsen and a .300 Remington Ultra Mag. He knows the .300 is a bit of a cannon and takes a bit of stick on that. “But I like to have the option of an open top long shot,” explains Murray, “and the .17 is an awesome bunny gun.”

The bush hunting blocks are extremely rugged and remote. “Used to be, all we needed was a map in a plastic cover. But the younger fellows got me onto electronic stuff, so I borrowed a GPS from my brother and had a go myself.”

He admits he found the handheld GPS a bit intimidating at first, but says the more he used it, the easier it got. “I don’t consider myself good with technical stuff, but I’m not scared of technology, I’m ready to have a go, even if I have to put my hand up and ask for some help.”

Murray later discovered and loaded Memory-Map software to his PC with the full set of LINZ topographic maps and aerial photo maps. “I kept buying paper maps and trashing them, so when I saw in the hunting shop that I could get all the topo maps on CD for the computer, I figured I could just print off maps for where I needed again and again. That seemed a no-brainer at the time and turned out to be one of those better decisions in life. I use it all the time now, studding the maps and pre-planning trips, looking out for where the best places might be.”

One of the things he finds most useful about Memory-Map is that you can get a 3D view of the area. “I tell you what, it’s great to look at a map, but when you look at it in 3D you’re looking at a simulated landscape, you look at ridgelines, clearings, work out how to get in and out, see how the waterways flow… It’s great. I now always look at this before we go on a trip; it gives me a good idea of the lay of the land well before we get there and it saves a lot of time.”

Murray is aware that the software has other planning functions, and that he can load the GPS with waypoints marked on the computer screen. “I don’t really use that yet. I guess I like to keep it simple and haven’t yet explored all the things it can do. But I do print out a map or two with some spots marked out. I still like to use the paper map. The GPS is pretty clever but what if it breaks down? Call me old fashioned, but I’ll always take a paper map and these printouts look the same as the full sized sheet maps.

Just as Murray was getting used to these gadgets and becoming confident in his new skills, it was a bit of a surprise to experience a potentially dangerous technology failure.

“One time we went in a block up at the top of the Kaimanawas and one of the guys had a little GPS. After seeing some good sign the day before, we got up at 4am, it was pitch black. We were tramping across a plateau and suddenly came across some dense bush blocking our way. We looked at the map and could see it was just a finger of bush about 1km wide and 3km long. We looked at each other and said do we walk all the way around, or do we walk through?

“We had a GPS, had head torches on, felt confident and decided to cut through… Big mistake. The GPS stopped working and we completely lost our sense of direction. We must have been going round in circles as it took us two hours before we got to the other side!”

It turned out that the dense canopy overhead effectively screened the GPS signal from getting through “I was pretty cross that we had depended so much on the GPS and that I had left my compass back in the hut!”

Having learned this lesson, Murray was sceptical when a friend recommended he look at the Holux GPS advertised by Memory-Map. The web site said he could load the maps he already had on the PC to a micro SD Card and use these in the GPS.

“I confess I was a bit worried about doing that, but sometimes you just have to jump in and have a go. It was about time I returned the borrowed GPS and got my own. The deal looked OK, so I ordered one.”

Murray got an 8GB Micro SD card from his local home electrical shop and settled down to follow the instructions supplied by Memory-Map. “I don’t know what I was worried about, the instructions were easy enough to follow – it was basically a copy and paste from the PC to the card, even I can do that!”

He admits that the GPS is still a bit complicated and that he gets lost in the menus too easily, but at least he can get back to the map and see his position on the screen. “That’s the most important thing for me,” he says, “that and the compass.” He’s managed to set up the options so he can flip the screen between map and compass by a click on the side button. “It’s got more functions than I know what to do with.”

At first he thought the Holux GPS was a bit light and wondered how it would stand up to some hard use. “Remember, I’m a builder and I don’t have time for a tool that isn’t up to the job.” But having used it in the pouring rain, slipped down a few gullies and scrambled over some ridges, he has come to respect the Holux. “It’s not indestructible that’s for sure, but I guess its tough enough.”

On his last trip to the Kawekas, two of his mates also had GPS’s and this is when Murray discovered that not all GPS’s are created equal. They all had different makes of GPS and when they went into some dense bush with a thick canopy they each whipped out their GPS for an improvised test. It was interesting to see how they all lost the signal sooner or later. “I was pleased to see that mine coped best in this comparison and even when the position indicator had gone from the screen; it still showed a map and a compass. So we didn’t get lost this time!”

He says he’s very happy with the Holux GPS. “I’m happy that I can use it even if I haven’t fully mastered it yet. The topo maps look great on the small screen and it doesn’t reflect glare like the others I’ve seen. If I have any grumble, it’s the rechargeable battery.” The Holux has a Li-ion battery like a mobile phone that charges from a 12 volt car battery or house wall socket. It also comes with a portable charger that holds a couple of AA batteries for charging in the field. This takes about 40 minutes to deliver a 50% charge that lasts about a day. (Two AA batteries have enough power to do three such charges.)

Murray has seen spare Li-ion battery packs advertised on the web site and thinks he might get some of those. “I’m getting used to how small and light it is too and don’t miss carrying round that brick of a GPS I borrowed from my brother one bit.”

“Yes I’m still an old fashioned hunter and I still load my own ammo when I have time. Learning to use this technology has had it frustrating moments, but I think I’m better off for the experience and since we have these modern gadgets, I feel they do make hunting safer and more fun.”