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franklin county times

A basic guide to orientation in the outdoors

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
June 28, 2002
You gotta see this. How about technology that can pinpoint the precise location of any campsite, crossroads, waterfall, fence corner, abandoned cabin, mountain top or any land feature in a proposed hunt area that you have never seen, record its latitude and longitude in degrees, minutes and seconds and mark the information on a map that your computer printer cranks out for you in color?
And wouldn't it be handy if the computer entered all the locations into a tiny, hand-held Global Positioning System (GPS) unit that would tell you where the points were and guide you to them day or night in any kind of weather? Well, all this can be yours by way of a couple of compact disks accompanied by a GPS receiver the size of a cell phone.
Now all you outdoorsmen who are computer whizzes and who have been using this technology for years just hold those snickers, okay? I too have been using this stuff for over two hunting seasons, but it still amazes and excites me. I get dizzy just contemplating how Thomas Edison thought to turn electricity into light and wondering if he hadn't perfected the light bulb if the world would still be in the dark or would someone else have invented it.
And the only way I can explain a color picture coming through the air or a wire into my television set is by pure magic. There just ain't no other way. So goes my take on having the precise locations of points way out in the woods that I have never been to, and instantly available directions to get to any of them from anywhere I might be.
Much more
This system of keeping up with where the heck you are and how to get to somewhere you want to go has many associated functions, but I became so fascinated with the basic function, and it has been of such benefit, that I have not progressed past step one. You computer geeks have my permission to laugh at this point because even I know how elementary is my understanding of all this. It compares to the owner of a new Italian sports car becoming fixated on the car's cigarette lighter to the point of forgetting to drive the thing.
But here, for others who are electronically challenged, I'll share my severely limited understanding of how this orienteering stuff works.
The companies I know about who offer software that does this miraculous work are Maptech and DeLorme. I just learned of another product called Map Trails Explorer that covers Alaska and eleven other mostly western states. I use Maptech and it does for me in "step one" everything I have needed in finding my way around the western mountains and hereabouts.
I pop in the CD for the area of interest and pull up a visual index map of the area that shows the U.S. Geological Survey map names superimposed on the index. Three CD's cover the state of Mississippi for example. I can select a map name or simply click on the general location of my point of interest. Once the individual map of that spot is on the screen, I can scroll in any direction from the starting point to include adjacent areas and to locate landmarks which are called waypoints in my GPS receiver.
When the cursor arrow is placed on a given point, say a fork in the creek, the latitude/longitude coordinates appear on the screen. I simply note the coordinates on a piece of paper beside a short name I give the point. Later I enter the name and coordinates into the GPS unit. (I know. This can be done for me electronically, but I progress slowly with this stuff remember?) Then I print the color map and any adjacent area that might be helpful once I reach the hunt area. The program will mark my waypoints for me on the map with a symbol of my choice.
In-the-field use
When I get to the back side of Goshamighty Mountain in Montana and my waypoints have been entered into the tiny GPS unit and I find myself disoriented, here is what I do. I turn on my GPS, let it warm up until it has located 3 or more satellites and I highlight one of the waypoints, preferably one of the closest ones and one that will get me un-lost. Then I punch a button – on my unit it is the button labeled "Go To." (Now there is a button with a name even I can understand).
A window appears in my GPS showing a compass with an arrow pointing out the direction of the waypoint and a statement of how far away it is to the tenth of a mile. For those who prefer to read, the direction is noted elsewhere on the screen in compass degrees. At this point I turn off my GPS to save my batteries, set my hand compass to the degrees indicated and off I go to safety and a hot supper.
If you leave the GPS unit on as you walk, it will tell you how fast you are walking in miles per hour and how long it will take you to get to the waypoint at that speed. But that luxury is a bit much for me. When I get over my fascination with the cigarette lighter, then I'll look into how the stereo works. Learn about Maptech on line at maptech.com or phone (800) 627-7236.

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