Should deer Hunters Carry a Handheld GPS?

We all know that technology has changed so many things in our lives, and hunting is just one of them. Modern hunters aren’t shy about using advanced technology, as it helps them focus better on more important things. Why worry all day long about not finding the way back home when you can use a GPS unit? With that source of stress cut off, hunters may focus on their hunt and have a steady hand when aiming.

Buying yourself a GPS unit for hunting has become the norm, but that’s not enough. It would be ideal if you took the time to learn how to use it and get the most out of it.

Do deer hunters need a handheld GPS for hunting?

If you call yourself a big game hunter, you know that a handheld GPS with detailed mapping is necessary for navigating the steep areas that deer love too much. Some whitetail hunters often undermine the benefits of handheld GPS units and their features, so we may have to remind them how these tools can best ease out their efforts.

For example, deer hunting (and any other type of hunting) should start with scouting by utilizing a computer map for topographic data and aerial views, in order to get an idea about the landscape. Google Earth or Garmin’s Basecamp are some of the many resources you can access online.

When you’re done with scouting, you should mark the places that look interesting for you, transferring the waypoints to the GPS unit. While hunting, you will get on foot and see how these places are for real. Sites may look different from how they are on the map, so you should always see them with your eyes. Mark the waypoints with the GPS, without skipping any trail, scrape, or travel route. You may delete them if scouting on foot reveals better waypoints.

See also: Garmin eTrex 32x, Rugged Handheld GPS Navigator

How will one use the GPS when deer hunting?

When you’re using the GPS device, it’s going to be easier to identify the direct routes to the hunting place/tree stand. It’s also effortless to mark some new signs to try throughout the deer season. You may use the handheld GPS for taking notes as you go. Apart from being safer with a GPS, the tool also helps you identify details when scouting. You should also pay attention to the deer sightings, typing in the new data into the GPS. A notebook could also be useful for marking down the deer sightings by your waypoints.

Once you’ve scouted and hunted the place with the GPS, you will have plenty of data. Once you have the waypoints, it will be easier to add new points on the go, paying attention to the deer movement. It would be best if you also saw patterns to comprehend better where your whitetails are, where it is heading to, and how it uses the land throughout the season.

Scouting, hunting, and planning take some time, but good hunters know that rushing into things is never a good idea, especially when it comes to deer. Once you’ve mastered the handheld GPS, it will be easier for you to keep your eyes on the game.

Many whitetail hunters like to use the handheld GPS to mark the significant waypoints and utilize the GPS for navigating to tree stands at night. You no longer need a flashlight for finding the tree stand when you have a handheld GPS. Plus, you don’t let other hunters find out about your best spot using the bright orange markers or the reflective pins.

Moreover, a handheld GPS will help you pick the stand to hunt out of every day. When you have three stands, one of them will be the best choice, depending on how the wind is blowing. If one stand is excellent for when there’s a north wind, you should take notes. We all know that hunts begin early in the day, and you may not be very awake at 3 am. It’s effortless to forget details when you’re sleepy. However, if you have it all marked on your handheld GPS, you will have your precious data one click away, or few presses on the buttons (it depends on the model).


What next?

If you’re an entry-level hunter and sit on the fence about whether you should buy yourself a handheld GPS unit or not, take some time to think. GPS units for hunting will help you go back home safely and sound every time, but they also provide you features that ease your hunt and eliminate guesswork.

You may use your handheld GPS tool for marking the waypoints, figure out how your deer likes to travel, and which stands work best at times. Using a GPS tool for your deer hunt takes a lot of time and practice, but it also gives you more time to practice your shoot.

How can a handheld GPS help you hunt?

Any GPS device will tell you where the rest of the world is in relation to you. Even if you don’t think it’s much information, it will mean the world to you when you’re in the middle of the woods or trying to return to your truck in the dark with your buck. At night, all trees and ridgelines look the same.

If you’re hunting home ground, you might not need to use your GPS. However, you will want to use your handheld GPS more often than not. Here’s how it can help you:

Hanging the stand

Let’s say you have discovered enough clues to establish your hunting area in deer season. You will also find the trees that will take your stands while minding the wind direction, your typical approach, and other essential information. You will want to record a waypoint and use labels such as North Wind PM Gun South Wind Bow, or use the provided icons; you will return later to install the stand. You might have six tree stands spread around the hunting land in the end. Your GPS will take you to them at any moment, whether it’s daytime or complete darkness.

Once the hunting season is over, you will want to remove the stand but not lose the locations since you’ve recorded them in your GPS. You might want to get rid of some of the stands that proved to be unsuccessful so that you discover better ones in the next season.


If you go hunting in a new land, you will definitely want your GPS to help you with scouting. You can use the device’s touch screen pad, waypoint a spot you want to come back to and begin exploring. While you check out the new land, you might want to add new waypoints with the icons included in the unit or type out specific details that help you identify the waypoint efficiently. Some examples are gobbler wind drag marks, Rub line, Six White Oaks surrounded by pines, 10-pointer Jumped place, etc. It’s an excellent way to note locations for further examination. At the same time, you begin to make a mental picture of the new hunting land. It will matter when you decide where to install the new stands.

Staying on track

It goes without saying that your GPS will help you get lost. At times, audio details will help us keep the bearings: planes taking off and landing at an airport, traffic noise from a highway, a train passing on a railway, etc. The GPS is beneficial when you hunt new ground or vast land areas where you don’t have such reference details. It will inform you of your current location, how far you’ve walked, etc. Don’t forget to always pack a compass for emergencies. On the off chance your handheld GPS goes out, you want to get back home safely. Pack some AA backup batteries as well.

Blood trailing

Ideally, your buck will fall only a dozen yards away from where it was hit. However, your deer can actually walk for many miles until it falls and it can be completely dark when it happens. The chances of you having to wade through the water along the way are high. Sometimes, the blood trail isn’t consistent. However, you can make the last sure sign and use it as a reference point. Once you get to your buck, getting back to your vehicle will be a breeze (almost!).

Handheld GPS or mobile phone?

In theory, your mobile phone can perfectly work as a navigation tool when hunting because you can download several map sources. Most handheld GPS units, on the other hand, have smaller screens and require additional subscriptions and purchases for map sources. If you don’t know which one to use for your hunting, the following comparison will help you decide.

Handheld GPS or mobile phone


Most of the functions on your handheld GPS will also be present on your mobile app. However, the GPS units will have better functionality. If you collect information for a scientific study or need the data in a specific coordinate system, you should rely on your GPS unit. If you don’t care much about the coordinate system, a mobile app will be just fine.

For example, a $40 mobile app will let you record tracks, sync your record on the device to your online account, upload data, and mark points. Syncing the data to the cloud is one of the main functions most handheld devices don’t have. It’s possible to back up the handheld GPS, but you need to do it manually and you will need to find a cloud location.

Many handheld GPS units have buttons as they’re easier to use than touchscreens, especially in cold temperatures. You can still use some touchscreen-compatible gloves, but you will find that buttons are easier to operate in freezing temperatures.

All in all, the handheld GPS units work excellent with projections, coordinate systems, and cold weather conditions. For data management, it’s the mobile apps that do it better.


You will pay anywhere between $0 and $150 on a subscription for mobile GPS applications, with applications for outdoor navigation ranging between $10 and $40 per year. Any of them should give you essential features for navigation and outdoor activities.

For handheld GPS units, the prices start at $75 and go as high as $700. Let’s say you buy a GPS app subscription for $40 per year; you will pay in six years and three months around $250 for a subscription, which is the same price for a handheld unit. The handheld GPS unit might not come with preloaded maps, whereas the mobile app will let you download several maps.

All in all, you will pay less for your mobile devices than for the GPS handheld units.

Ease of use

When you use a mobile app, you can download several maps and check them out on your device. Some apps allow you to get topographic maps, aerial images, weather maps, and big boundary data worldwide.

On the other hand, the handheld GPS comes with a pre-installed topographic map that will cover just one part of a country. You will have to buy other maps separately and even pay a separate subscription for aerial imagery. You can see the data on your GPS, but you will have fewer details than on your smartphone.


Mobile devices and handheld GPS units can be long-lasting, mainly when used with protective cases. However, the GPS units are made especially for the challenging environment of hunting and outdoor activities. They have a rugged build and impressive water resistance.

You can also find mobile devices that are rugged, long-lasting, and waterproof. However, you will need to use a protective case, which isn’t required for GPS devices.


Both mobile devices and handheld units can have long battery life, but the battery life is longer for handheld GPS units. If you use the GPS app on your phone, you should put the phone in airplane mode to save the battery.

Handheld units have built-in, non-removable batteries and can run on the cheapest AA batteries. Finding a unit that meets your preferences isn’t going to be tricky.


Robert Dwayne

Robert Dwayne

To say that I am an outdoors enthusiast is probably an understatement. I am hyper passionate about everything outdoors: hiking, survival, hunting. On this website I am sharing my stories and experiences, and I hope you'll find inspiration to take up your own adventures!