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Orientation in the Woods: How to Avoid Getting Lost While Hunting

Hunting is a centuries-old pastime that once used to be required to survive. A hunter would have to procure the family’s food on a weekly basis, and thus that hunter became intimate with the local terrain. It was expected that a hunter knew the area at least ten miles in circumference around his home like the back of his hand. It is also likely that his fathers before him hunted the same land, and the hunter was schooled in the terrain surrounding his home at a very early age. All of these circumstances contributed to the fact that it would have been nearly impossible for that hunter to get lost unless he ventured unusually far from his hunting grounds, and even then, most seasoned woodsmen are extremely resistant to being lost, because they know how to navigate in the bush.

A modern hunter, by contrast, doesn’t spend much time in his favorite hunting ground. Hunting is a seasonal affair now, and oftentimes the hunter will drive hundreds of miles just to reach the hunting grounds. He won’t have the same level of intimacy with his surroundings and will have to take precautions to avoid getting lost. Getting lost in the woods while hunting is remarkably easy to do – most often, it happens while in hot pursuit of an animal. While the hunter who is stalking is usually methodical about determining his position, that usually goes out the window when he’s shot and wounded an animal who takes off into the bush, and he must take off in hot pursuit. Another common way to become lost is to stray off of a game trail too far.

Basic Direction Finding

In this world of handheld GPS units and other such technology, it’s hard to become lost – if you have that equipment in hand. Realize, however, that:

  • GPS units can run out of batteries
  • You might lose or damage the GPS unit
  • Some terrain features (such as narrow canyons) can obscure the GPS signal
  • The government can degrade or shut down the GPS signal whenever it pleases

The point here is that even though you have a GPS, you should also have a backup method of navigating. Most people will think of a map and compass as an adequate backup method, and they most certainly are. A proper topographical map and compass makes it essentially impossible to get lost. By getting yourself to high ground, you should be able to orient the map with the terrain features so as to be able to triangulate your position.

How about if you don’t have a map and a compass? There are still some time-tested and primitive ways of ensuring you don’t get lost.

Learn the secrets of a veteran hunter as he shows you how to quickly and efficiently field-dress your game

Pick a Direction, and Stick to It

Heading through a dense wood with no sky or terrain visibility is about the worst scenario. All trees look the same after a while. The hills and terrain are invisible, and your visibility might only be a dozen or so yards. The best way to carefully progress through such a wood is to leave yourself a “trail of breadcrumbs” – pick a direction, and stick to it. Pick out a distinctive-looking tree, boulder, or terrain feature in the direction you want to go. Walk directly towards it while keeping an eye on it the whole time. Sure, you might be stalking an animal at the same time, but keep your distinctive feature as a reference point. When you reach the reference point, mark the back of it with something you will be able to see. This might be orange spray paint, a ribbon, some charcoal, or a carving. Pick another tree in the distance, and navigate to it using the same method. Your markings should be distinct enough that you can see the very last one you marked from the next one you are at. This method will accomplish two things:

  1. It will give you a relatively straight path for your trip, ensuring that you don’t inadvertently walk in circles. Humans will favor the direction to walk that corresponds with their handedness. For example, right-handed people will generally veer to the right on long-distance walks over time, resulting in a circular path. Picking a reference point dead ahead helps mitigate that to some degree.
  2. It will give you a return method home, as long as you are diligent in marking the trees behind you. Should nightfall occur, catching you unawares, don’t panic. Bed down for the night, and wait until light so you can see your markings. Resist the urge to charge off in a panic!

If possible, note the direction of the sun and keep it as a reference point at all times, remembering that it travels from east to west throughout the course of the day. In some cases, the sun is hard to see because terrain features such as mountains and tree canopies can obscure it. However, finding your way back to camp doesn’t have to be hard if you are observant of your surroundings and make a couple preemptive notes about the terrain. Remember, getting home successfully is more important than bagging that animal.

©2012 Off the Grid News

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