Dick Wills

Dick Wills

Know Your Location


I always carry a GPS unit to mark the location of the fossils I discover, but more importantly to know exactly where I am at all times.  Every legitimate fossil hunter must know exactly where he is searching. He must know the Longitude and Latitude of his location in proximity to State land, BLM land, a Reservation and the property line for which he has permission to search. There are no excuses. You can never say to a landowner: “I’m sorry I did now know this was your property”. 

I mark my manual parcel maps with all of the “out of bounds” L&L coordinates. This is “must do” homework before I leave for an expedition. I found it helpful to learn my Longitude and Latitudes down to the 5th decimal place or about 3-4 feet in my search area. I usually try to stay at least 50 feet away from the neighboring boundary just in case my published maps are not accurate.

I used an older eTrax GPS unit from Garmin for several years until I learned about the “onX Hunt” app for my iphone. This was developed primarily for game hunters and provides a hiker with their exact location in proximity to game preserves, open game hunting areas and the bounties to areas with specialized game restrictions. I found it works just as well when you are hunting fossils rather than live game. 

OnXHunt is available for lease or rent by the month or on an annual basis. See www.onxmaps.com.  This system has now replaced all of my other locations systems. My favorite feature is that I can download maps of my potential search areas offline at home and use them in the field when I do not have cell phone signal. This has been invaluable. My iphone screen shows my location on a satellite image of the search areas and my proximity to all parcel bounties along with the names of the parcel owner.

“onX Hunt” image on iphone
“onX Hunt” image on iphone

On a recent field trip I uncovered a cash of fossils eroding from a knoll 60 feet North of a fence line. I was all ready to dig in, but first I checked my location, and in one of those rare cases, I found that I was already 100 feet South of the true parcel line. I had to retreat back to the to the North side of the true parcel line. Remember fence lines can be misleading. They are not always parcel lines.  I knew the individual who had search permission for this new fossil site, so I was able to provide him with photos of what was there and the exact coordinates. He plans to check it out on his next field trip

These units also help me find my way back to my van. When I start on a search hike, I first log in a Waypoint for the location of my van. After hours of walking up and down draws, ravines and around points of finger washes I can lose track of the location of my van. I always orient myself to the sun and have a general idea of where I am. But after a long hike my direction instinct can be off by 60-90 degrees.  I have learned to not argue with the GPS unit. Just hit the “find” button and follow the pointer back to my van.

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