Official Montana Hunting Safety Course Link to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Hello, hunter! Montana's online hunting course has moved. Click here to go to the latest version of the Today's Hunter in Montana course—the official hunting safety course of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

The following course material is for reference only. Please go to the new course to complete your Montana certification.

Understanding Declination

Topographic maps are drawn to true north (North Pole), which is indicated by the grid lines on the map. However, a compass will always point to magnetic north, which is in the Hudson Bay area. The difference between true north and magnetic north is called “declination.”

When true north and magnetic north are aligned, you’re at zero degrees declination. Your compass needle will point to true north. However, if you’re east or west of zero degrees declination, your compass will not be in line with true north.

To compensate for declination:

Topographic Maps

Topographic maps are available at many outdoor stores or may be ordered from:

U.S. Geological Survey
Branch of Distribution
P.O. Box 25286
Federal Center
Denver, CO 80225

National Forest Service Travel Maps show forest road networks and restrictions. They are available from the U.S. Forest Service.

  • Center the north arrow (the “N”) of the compass dial along a north/south line of the map.
  • Check the diagram at the bottom of the map that shows whether magnetic north is to the left or right of true north.
  • Turn the compass dial the correct number of degrees left or right as indicated on the map. The “N” is now pointing at magnetic north.
  • Hold the compass level in front of you and rotate your body until the tip of the compass needle aligns with the “N” on the compass dial. The direction arrow on the base plate now points in the direction you want to go.


If you're an experienced map reader, you can:

  • Read terrain.
  • Determine direction.
  • Follow rivers, valleys, and ridges.
  • Find your location in relationship to your camp.
  • Identify areas preferred by game animals.
Montana Fish, Wildlife,
& Parks
White-tailed deer tracks
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Official hunting safety course for Montana hunters last modified: November 16, 2011
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