By John Dingell III
If you are going to be hunting in a new area this fall, you can obtain free digital topographic maps offered by the U.S. Geological Survey at their ‘Map Store’ web site. They also sell paper versions which you can have mailed to you
To map your area, you’ll want to blow up the map locator image (using the + button) until the square sections representing the different available topographic map quadrangles appear. Then click on the quadrangle representing the area whose map you want. A red marker will appear and you can click on it to get a bubble which shows what maps are available. Then click on ‘download’ and the specific map will be placed in your ‘download cart’. Then you can click on the blue ‘download cart’ button and the download will begin.
You’ll want a map with a 7.5 minute grid, which will be drawn to a scale of 1:24,000 and usually have 5 foot elevation contour intervals in flat lands like Michigan. This is the USGS’ finest detail standard map. Larger minute grids (15 minute and larger) will lack sufficient detail to get a good feel for the land you will be hunting. The bubble will offer you 7.5 minute grid maps which date back to the 1930’s; even earlier in some quadrangles.
The most detailed maps are usually those from 1945 to 1992. USGS put a lot of time and effort into detailing various features present on the land in that era and most are still there. The maps drawn by USGS since 1993 are more accurate in their description of terrain, but fail to identify a lot of details present in the earlier maps. Post 1992 USGS topographic maps omit details and features such as trails, ruins, mine locations, springs, wells, power transmission lines, telephone lines, railroads, recreational trails, pipelines, survey marks, and buildings. It is no coincidence that Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993.
You probably should download two maps of the quadrangle you are interested in. The most current map to get the most precise placement of terrain features and a 1945 – 1992 vintage map to see a lot of the lost features and details. You can do this by placing both maps in your download cart and downloading them together.
These maps are big files, typically running from 10 MB to 40 MB. If you have high speed internet they will download without any problems and you can save them to a file on your computer. They are in .pdf format and take a little time to load in a pdf viewer; especially in older computers. Generally, they are too detailed for viewing in smartphone pdf browsers as they are supplied by USGS, but you can create separate files of small sections and view them on a phone satisfactorily or decontent them in a pdf manipulation program.
If you’re uncomfortable interpreting topographic maps and their symbolism, here are three good web sites which can help you:
If you want the full course on topographic map interpretation, USGS Professional Publication 60 [Salisbury, Rollin D.; Atwood, Wallace Walter; The Interpretation of Topographic Maps; 1908] is still one of the very best learning tools:
This is a large file (about 60 MB), but it’s 80 pages of well written text and over 150 pages of color plates to illustrate the text. Well worth your time.