Lost Without GPS? Real Hunter Use a Compass!

It is imperative for anyone who engages in outdoor activities to have a good command of map reading and using a compass, but this is especially true for hunters. Hunting usually involves going off the main road, veering away from the paths generally taken, and often, going very far into isolated woodlands. Unlike a backpacker looking for a lakeside campsite or a mountain climber confidently seeking a summit, a hunter’s goal is to find where their prey is hiding–something that can take them deep into untamed terrain. Especially in places where hunting is prominent, the wildlife therein has come to be classified as very reserved and keeping to itself.

Make sure you take your topographic map and compass with you and know how they work before you set off into the woods. Additionally, feel free to bring any battery-powered tools that could be useful. For this post, we will go through the basics of using topographic maps, getting to grips with compasses, and finally, using that knowledge to craft topographical-based hunting strategies.

Hunting With a Topo Map

topographic map

A topographic map is an effective navigational aid when used with or without a compass, which will be discussed further in the article. In this part, I will discuss how topo maps can indicate game routes and behavior, which can be useful while strategizing, searching beforehand, and in pursuit.

Ridges are traditional transportation routes for various animals, from deer and elk to cougars and wolves. One advantage they have is they are less steep and usually are not full of bushes, debris, and large stones like other slopes or gullies. Domesticated pigs are given ready escape routes, such as downhill on either side, when a predator, including a human hunter, challenges them. Deer and elk are attracted to the high ground of ridgetops due to their escape terrain and safety benefits.

Midslope benches are smoother or flatter areas visible in the contour lines of a mountain slope or ridge, often act as corridors for animal movement and offer animals hiding spots.

You can find holes or dips running along a slender ridge that appears as dips in the line of heights. Deer and elk frequently use these paths to move between different waterways.

Maps of the topography enable you to figure out how the interaction between weather and land shapes the motion of wildlife. Consider the slope aspect, for example. In cold temperatures, one may go to the hillsides that face south or southwest, as they offer much more heat from the sunlight. It is the preferred spot for large mammals to stay warm. During strong winds, the contest can find respite on the sides sheltered by wind, such as tucked away inlets or enclosed areas.

In contrast, the windward side of slopes may attract herbivores in snowy climates, as winds regularly sweep away the snow and uncover the food. People who hunt bears during spring know that south- and west-facing inclines should be thoroughly examined early on since these slopes that receive more warmth and sunlight provide the best foraging for bears who have just emerged from hibernation. In contrast, the north or east sides are still covered in snow or lying.

The portrayals of the land area displayed on a topographic map are not as exact as the hills and valleys actually seen. It is understandable since wetlands and vegetation are more susceptive to change than topography. However, they can still support your hunt planning. For instance, investigating a section of green surrounded by a mostly open area (such as sagebrush steppe or alpine grasslands) could be beneficial since these patches of timber can provide thermal protection or a place for animals to hide. Damp areas found at the starting point of a river can be attractive to bull elk, who use them for mud baths.

When you are hunting, your map can be used so that you can make alterations to your strategy if weather or other conditions alter. If it gets hotter than expected, it could be beneficial to search for forests on the north side of hills, shaded by thick vegetation, which often provides refuge for deer and elk looking to escape the warmth. If a powerful winter storm is raging, it might be beneficial to search for sheltered areas that are not facing the full force of the wind. Using a detailed topographic map, one can research before their trip to pick out promising locations to hunt, change their plans and pinpoint spots depending on the weather conditions, and monitor their whereabouts while they do it.

Compass Basics


A good compass should be paired with a properly selected topographic chart, yet even without the chart, it can achieve many advantageous route-determining activities.

Similar to a topographic map, it is impossible to use a compass fully if you have not familiarized yourself with the basic principles and invested time in its practice. These include a breakdown of various kinds of compasses, an article about the anatomy of compasses, a lexicon about compasses and navigational terms, and a post about the essential elements of using compasses. Taking a bearing is not an issue I’m delving into.

Declination is the divergence between genuine north, the base point for maps, and magnetic north, the point toward which a compass’s needle points. If you want to use your compass with your topo map, you must account for declination. You can do this by manually adjusting the declination on your compass, if your model lets you, or by adding or taking away degrees when you take a bearing, depending on what you need to do.

The Art (and Science) of Orienteering

Since our earliest days on Earth, primitive maps have served as a guide for mankind. What drove us to explore distant lands, making sure we could get home again and assisting in allowing us to find the enemy in combat, has eventually transformed into the contemporary map and compass.

During the 1930s, Björn and Alvar Kjellström, two Swedish siblings, excelled in orienteering, necessitating a person to accurately and rapidly navigate using a map and compass to spot several control points sprinkled throughout the terrain. In collaboration with Gunnar Tillander, the Silva compass was designed, and the Silva Organization was created in the Swedish city of Stockholm to make and market their invention. A unique quality of the Silva system was its distinct foundation, an integrated protractor, and a levitated compass capsule that allowed for a more rapid interpretation. Current-day field compasses have advancements that allow for the fast and precise taking of bearings, which is especially important in orienteering.

Now, most individuals have become skilled at decoding maps and becoming acquainted with compass pointers so that they can easily traverse urban roads, highways, and metro network maps. Due to our current reliance on GPS, maps, and compasses are often viewed as being outdated and unnecessary.

It is still necessary to comprehend and employ classic techniques. Relying entirely on GPS navigation systems takes away the vital ability to figure out where you are in your surroundings without any help. What do you do if you leave a hotel in NYC and have no idea which way to go? Even though technology may develop to the point where every individual has a GPS in their cellphone, a deficiency of geographic knowledge in the local area and worldwide could cause someone to become reliant on a device or somebody else when traveling.

A deep understanding of your location gives you a feeling of strength and control. By mastering a compass and map, you can develop navigational skills that are helpful regarding your geography. It will enable you to figure out the location of the bus stop or work out the way back after a bike ride.

GPS systems can break down, malfunction, or become lost. It is difficult for a GPS to determine its exact location in areas with fog or where trees, mountains, canyons, or other objects stop the signal from the orbiting satellites. Many of us have a television service dependent on a satellite. We are familiar with the problem of bad weather or technical issues preventing us from viewing our most liked program. Your GPS could leave you stranded in nowhere or even in a flooded area. 

Too many potential situations exist that could lead to GPS malfunction, particularly when you are outdoors.

Having a backup plan for your GPS is essential if you are camping, hunting, or otherwise enjoying the outdoors. Due to their simple design, which does not involve any mechanics or electricity, compasses rarely malfunction. The red arrow is practically unerring in pointing north due to its dependence on the infallible magnetic field of nature. You should acquire the ability to use a compass so that you can stay away from getting lost in circles. Go in a direct path; eventually, you might discover a recognizable point of reference, an avenue of salvation, or a location to request advice.

A map and compass are essential for one’s safety, but they are also excellent ways to have a great time. With a map and compass as reliable guides, the ability to employ them properly allows the pursuit of orienteering – the competency of determining the best way to traverse woods, fields, and mountainous land as well as circle around lakes – to quickly become a convenient ability, a fascinating pastime, and maybe even a refreshing activity.

Orienteering on the top-tier global stage advances as an ultra-complex task, surpassing what this book covers. 

Being an expert with Map & Compass can educate you on the abilities necessary for enjoying secure hiking and hunting trips in the outdoors. It might spark your curiosity about participating in orienteering at a local level.

The Map and Compass in the Outdoors

Our forefathers anticipated the future and safeguarded wilderness areas, meaning that many parts of the planet now have and will continue to have parks and reserves. Residents of North America have access to vast expanses of vacant space and wild landscapes, together with national, state, and local recreational areas where various outdoor sports can be played. A growing crowd of environmentally-minded individuals anticipates the thrill of venturing into unknown territory, navigating on scarcely traveled trails, and traversing the countryside.

People can know what to anticipate in any given location by studying an accurate, comprehensive map. They can utilize a basic compass to make sense of the map while out in the field. They will be sure to abandon annual highways and indicated paths and keep their GPS for the most suitable highways.

Skilled nature lovers have no qualms about journeying through unfamiliar terrain—they understand that their skill with their map and compass will ensure they make it to their destination safely back.

People who work in forestry, surveying, engineering, scouting, and the military must receive comprehensive instruction in using maps and compasses for navigation and orienteering. 

Organizations, including the Virginia Search and Rescue Organization (www.vsrda.org) and lists, Be Expert with Map & Compass as essential reading to ensure members can utilize a map and compass correctly while navigating the wilderness. Outdoor enthusiasts like hikers, hunters, and riders must be aware and acquire the skills of reading a map and using a compass so that their four-legged companions won’t have to look for them!

If you are an avid hunter or fisherman, chances are you have spent plenty of time trekking to your favorite destinations by studying a map, using a compass, or hiring a guide knowledgeable in map reading and navigation. You will have become familiar with the terrain of a place you have traveled to many times. You’ll know the location and orientation of the various points of interest. When you enter unknown land, carefully studying maps and utilizing your understanding of compass navigation will be necessary to discover a desirable hunting spot or a body of water abundant with fish.

If you’re a traveler who carries a backpack, your map and compass will grant you complete autonomy and a free range of motion. Experience the sensation of being a pioneer like no one has ever. You can travel off-road with assurance when you want to venture away from the regular route. You can wander and investigate to uncover a lake or cascade unknown to many, trusting that your guide and skills will lead you back to the pathway.

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