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Staying found: using these simple tools and techniques, you never have to worry about getting lost.

YOU CAN AVERT many survival situations simply by knowing where you are and where you are going. In other words, by not getting lost.

Hunters familiar with an area often rely on "dead reckoning" to find their way around. Other hunters use GPS units, because they can, with these units, automatically plot courses and track movements.

But let's say your dead reckoning is dead wrong, or your GPS batteries are drained. Then what?

At that point you'd better hope you came prepared with a map and compass. Basic map and compass techniques are hot complicated, but I do not have enough space here to explain them in detail. However, some simple tips on how to use your navigation tools the right way will guarantee that you will always stay found.


[check] Use topographic maps for scouting and hunting because they accurately depict the terrain through the use of contour lines that represent elevation and clearly show terrestrial features. Maps with a scale of 1:24,000 provide excellent detail but do not cover a broad area. To get the best of both worlds you can tape several of these maps together. Or you can buy maps of smaller scale, say 1:50,000, which strike a happy medium between detail and area.

[check] Check the date of each map you buy, because roads, clearcuts, buildings, and other man-made features are time sensitive. If you find a new feature as you're scouting, pencil it onto your map.

[check] Keep your map handy and refer to it often. It's a confidence booster, and you'll gain familiarity with the area quickly. If you're hunting a woodlot near home where you know every tree and bush, that might be overkill. But in any new area, pack your map where it's easily accessible, and study it often.

[check] Protect your map from the environment by laminating it, sealing in a plastic baggie, or carrying it in a waterproof case (there are several styles that easily fit into a cargo pocket). National Geographic has developed a touch screen kiosk that prints seamless topographic maps on waterproof (yes, waterproof) paper. You can pick the area to be mapped, the scale, and the dimensions of the map. Find the map kiosk closest to you at

[check] Do not cut out a small section of a map to use for reference when you're hunting. That may save a little room in your pocket, but if you happen to trail an animal outside the small square you cut out, or need to look at distant terrain features for reference, you are out of luck.


[check] Trust your compass. Many hunters have gotten lost because they were sure their compass was pointing in the wrong direction. Believe me, the compass is right, you are wrong. Also, you're wise to carry a back-up for reference.

[check] Tie a lanyard on your compass and keep it around your neck or secured to a belt or pocket. You're better safe than sorry.

[check] Any time you take a bearing, stand still and hold the compass level to prevent the needle from sticking. Also be aware of metal near the compass that may influence the magnetic needle.

[check] When you start to trail an animal, mark your location on the map and note the time and compass heading. Keep track of major changes in direction and how long you are trailing. These details, combined with your notes and any landmarks within sight, will help you recreate your route and narrow down your location should you get disoriented.

[check] If you are navigating to a road, creek, or fence intersection, try offsetting your route slightly and aiming at a bigger target. Example: You are hiking back to your truck, which is parked at a fork in a road about two miles away. You determine a dead-on heading to get there would be 360 degrees (due North). The road your truck is parked on is perpendicular to your route, and if you miss the intersection slightly you might not know whether to turn right or left to reach your truck. You can always flip a coin, but that gives you only a 50/50 chance of being right. A better approach is to walk a bearing of 355 degrees to the road. That way you're guaranteed to hit the road west of your truck, and you'll know for sure you must walk east to reach the truck. You have eliminated the guesswork.

Stay on Track

Try the following technique to accurately maintain a line of travel and hit a specific point like a cabin or pond as you're trekking through thick vegetation:

1. Take a bearing and sight over your compass. Pick a target on your line of travel (prominent tree, rock, etc.) and navigate to it by the path of least resistance.

2. When you get to your target, step around it to one side, take a fresh bearing, and pick another target directly in line with your compass bearing.

3. When you get to the next target, step around to the opposite side as the one before. If you consistently step to one side, you can move off your original line of travel by several meters over a one or two kilometer trek, and that's enough to miss a pinpoint destination.

Cutting Corners

You are hiking through a relatively flat timbered area on a bearing of 270 degrees when you come to a marsh. The match seems to be about 100 yards long and 100 yards wide. To get around the marsh and still maintain an accurate line of travel, do this:

1. Add 90 degrees to your heading (270 + 90 = 360 degrees) and follow this bearing far enough to clear the width of the marsh. Keep track of your paces. A pace is two steps, so count each time your left foot hits the ground.

2. Turn back onto your original heading (270 degrees) and walk far enough to clear the length of the marsh.

3. Subtract 90 degrees from your original course of travel (270 - 90 = 180 degrees) and walk back the same number of paces you counted in step #1. You should be back on your original line of travel, give or take a couple of meters. Resume your trek along your original bearing of 270 degrees.

The author is a resident of Albuquerque, New Mexico. This story is one of several he has written in Bowhunter's Survival Series.
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Title Annotation:Survival Series 6
Author:Solomon, John
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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