photo of mourning doves

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NEXT TO A good pair of boots, the most valuable deer scouting tool I own is my handheld Global Positioning System receiver. My GPS stores every bit of information I can glean from maps, satellite images, and in-field observations. At the press of a button, it shows me a big-picture perspective of my hunting area, the likes of which I can’t get any other way. • What’s more, I can scout unfamiliar areas remotely. Using mapping software or Web-based satellite imagery, I locate promising terrain features and create corresponding waypoints on my GPS. Then I walk right to them—even in the dark. • Today’s best units for deer hunters feature sharp color displays, sophisticated mapping capabilities, and a host of other useful features including sun-and-moon calculators, electronic compasses, and barometric altimeters. I tested all four of the great units below. Here’s what I found:

DeLorme Earthmate PN-20
($369; 800-561-5105;

The Skinny: The PN-20 excels at displaying detailed topo maps, aerial photos, and satellite images. It includes DeLorme’s Topo USA 7.0 software, which makes exchanging mapping information between your PC and the PN-20 easy. You also get a $100 credit toward downloading aerial images. The page and menu system is refreshingly simple, and the color display is clear and bright. This is the only model here without an electronic compass or a barometric altimeter. But it’s also the lightest, by far, at just 5.1 ounces

Lowrance iFinder Hunt C
($359; 800-324-1356;

The Skinny: Made for hunters, the iFinder Hunt C has a Realtree Hardwoods camo exterior, hunting-specific waypoint icons, and three user modes: Easy, Advanced, and Hunting. The last has a Scout Plot function that’s great for exploring new areas. Other useful (and fun) features include weather alerts, an MP3 music player, and a microphone that lets you add audio notes to waypoints. Available MapCreate software gives you custom topo maps, which are a pleasure to view on the large, bright display. Other than an awkward battery cover, this is a solid GPS.

Garmin Colorado 400t
($640; 800-800-1020;

The Skinny: Garmin’s newest handheld has a huge color display and an innovative Rock ‘n Roller input wheel that’s easy to use even with gloves on. It comes loaded with topo maps for the entire United States, plus a 3-D View shaded relief map. Other features include hunting-specific waypoint icons and an SD card slot that lets you view images recorded on your trail camera. It has a high-sensitivity receiver, which in my tests remained locked on in spots where others lost their satellite fix. It’s a great GPS, even if the display is a little dark for middle-aged eyes.

Magellan Triton 2000
($500; 800-707-9971;

The Skinny: The Triton 2000 is the sole GPS compatible with National Geographic’s superb Topo! software, and it has several unique features. A large touch screen makes manipulating maps a breeze; a microphone and 2-megapixel camera can record audio, still images, and video clips, all of which can be appended to waypoints for unsurpassed note taking. The sun-and-moon calculator only works for the current location, limiting its usefulness. Otherwise there isn’t much not to like on this smartly designed unit. It even has a built-in flashlight with three LEDs.