Hunting and spending time outdoors have evolved significantly over the past few decades. Our expectations are more specific and stringent. I credit much of this trend toward the information society in which we live and the constant enhancement of technology allowing everything we want to rest at the tips of our fingers or in the palms of our hands. 

Graduating from cell phones to satellite phones and through a hardwired Internet to Blackberry technology, we’ve become accustomed to more of a microwave-cooked society — essentially a right here, right now world.

But what happens when technology fails us? What do you do when your battery goes dead, or worse yet, a machine fails? How do we react? And more importantly, what can we do to limit these scenarios, especially when hunting?

When Good Things Go Bad

Inevitably we’ve all experienced technological let downs. If your office computer — professionally installed and maintained within a controlled environment — can yield to any of a number of potential glitches, why should we expect anything different when it comes to our global positioning systems (GPS), digital range finder, or even cameras and other electronic devices?

The reality is unflinching. And glitches are inevitable. But similar to following the advice and suggestions of our office systems engineer, we’re best served to adhere to manufacture warnings and follow their recommendations. 

If your GPS is not recommended to be used in extremely cold temperatures, don’t jeopardize your own safety by exceeding the boundaries. If you know your gun has jammed or gummed up in the past when exposed to moisture, then by all means don’t be surprised when you’re left with a malfunctioning weapon after inadvertently exposing your rifle to rain or snow. 

Even more so, understand that when your hard drive locks up at work, an engineer is probably just a phone call or short walk down the hallway from fixing the problem. That’s not the case when you’re thousands of miles from home, out of cell phone range, and the batteries go dead on a hand-held radio. There’s no way to call for assistance and it’s doubtful a local gunsmith makes in-the-field service calls.

I shudder when I begin to think of the complexity of how dependent we’ve become on technology while pursuing outdoor adventures, from correcting a firing pin and professional optic experts trouble shooting our spotting scopes to GPS units and a host of gadgetry which hunters ‘can’t live without.’ Even with the utmost preparation, you’ll still run the risk of some kind of breakdown.

How to Cope With a Faulty Scope

Before you head out on your hunting journey, it is a good idea to assess the possible weather and field conditions you’ll encounter. Conditions can range from rain, snow, sleet, and extreme heat to cold, damp and downright dirty conditions. The possible weather conditions for your destination and specific time of year must be considered when preparing. If the GPS works fine at home within the suburban flats, double check and make sure of the functionality of your device at higher elevations and during inclement weather. What kind of shock absorption is it rated for? Will it still operate after coming in contact with water or brief submersion? 

Even if you’re aware of the working parameters, again realize and understand that electronics even in their best kept, manufacturer-suggested conditions can, and do, fail. If your life depends on your GPS, then carry a spare, as well as a compass for backup. Don’t forget that if one can malfunction, the second one can also. 

When it comes to other electronics, some may not be as life dependent as a phone or radio communication. Such devices as digital cameras and video recorders are not a necessity. For those which choose to document their excursions, a stable, reliable power source is a must. 

Once again your device manufacturer will help you determine what you can expect. Beyond their recommendation, a few tips can help extend battery life and limit the scope of your frustration.

Aids and Advancements  

Without a doubt, exposure to the elements is enemy number one. But it is an enemy you have some control over. As rapidly as electronics have advanced, so also has the protection of it. One particular protective accessory is a version of a dry box. Think of your PDA, cell phone, or GPS snuggled inside something safe, completely air-tight, padded, and shock-proof. 

Compared to the price you’ve invested in your electronic arsenal, shock-proof dry boxes are worth their money tenfold. A short search on the Web and you’ll find an array of choices to preserve an array of electronic gadgets. For PDA and GPS users, water and shock resistance doesn’t need to be traded for functionality, some can shield and allow imprinting stylus use to essentially utilize these touchy electronic devices in rain and wind. 

The latest GPS devices are bypassing the need for these ‘dry box’ devices. They are engineered specifically for extreme, push-it-to-the-max outdoor usage. Jessica Myers a spokesperson for Garmin, one of the leading GPS manufactures, explains, “Our latest line of GPS are designed and put to the test to give hunters more security. Specifically these models are waterproof, to the degree they’ll maintain full working functionality even after being submerged.” Even the most careful of hunters realize how common inadvertent exposure to moisture is. The latest innovations remove some concern, but you’d still do well to limit unnecessary and extended submersion. 

Myers says power preservation concerns are also addressed in multiple ways. “Most of our current models run off of standard AA batteries. So be sure to pack several spare sets of replacement batteries. Many GPS models utilize features which allow for a back light, which can unnecessarily draw down your power source. In most instances you can set the unit to dim which will limit power usage.” She points out that the GPS is still tracking, but will not light up, eliminating some of the power drawn from the batteries. 

Good advice, as for most situations, you shouldn’t need to illuminate the screen. If need be, Myers also suggests turning off the unit between points, “But that depends on how comfortable you are.” Again your level of security is something only you know. When adjusting settings it’s best to do tests at home and not in the field as your life may depend on getting it right. 

Technology Tips

Protection from the elements is a moot point if the batteries are dead, and, conversely, a full strength battery is useless if your device has malfunctioned. Keep all batteries as dry and as warm as possible. One personal tip is to store spare camera batteries in a zipper-type plastic bag placed in a shirt pocket

I store electronics in my shirt in cold weather because it affords several layers of protection from moist or damp conditions. I store whatever there is room for — phone, camera, and extra batteries. Layered protection works best, not only for our personal warmth, but also in guarding electronic equipment. 

Keeping the items near my core, or center, generates heat from my body to maintain battery life and decreases the impact of cold temperatures on its electronic parts, which can succumb to extreme cold or wet environment.

Recently satellite phones have been looked to as a step closer to minimize safety concerns in extreme hunting travel. But harsh weather and rugged terrain can also limit its effectiveness. If the satellite phone is unable to connect with a signal, it’s just as useless as a cell phone. The bottom line is never to assume you’re completely covered and plan for the worst. 

In any outdoor excursion, no matter how near or far, the key is understanding that no amount of preparation or precaution will ever afford a 100 percent guarantee. The trick is to recognize the variables and potential pitfalls, and make every attempt possible to minimize their impact on your electronic necessities. Devices such as GPS or satellite phones are excellent safety equipment and give peace of mind, but the sole responsibility of a safe and efficient outdoor excursion is up to you alone.