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Basic Orienteering


For most hunters in the south, land parcels are fairly small. However there are instances where basic orienteering skills are necessary to find our way in the woods. Often when trailing wounded game as light is fading, we lose our position and needing a reference is critical to getting our safe. Sadly, most hunters never use either a compass or GPS in the southeast. Those who do are very vague in how to use it to its fullest.

Thankfully, we need not use it to its fullest to reap the most benefit. Getting out alive! While for the overwhelming majority of us, getting lost in the Carolina’s or Georgia is seldom a life or death situation. However, there are places where getting lost is  certainly a real possibility. Areas of the Jocassee Gorges in the northwest corner of South Carolina are a vast expanse of dense mountain terrain where one ridge looks just like the other and each ravine seems to look exactly like the one before it. Similarly are areas in the Francis Marion, and other areas where knowing how to find your way around will provide a great sense of security.

The two most basic tools in orienteering today are the compass and the GPS. For obvious reasons the GPS can be superior, however when life or death is on the line I never want to rely on something that uses batteries to operate. The compass is my go-to item when orienteering is needed.

Silva is one of the most recognized brands of compass available. There are many different versions but the principle is the same. The floating needle always points North. Finding your way out of the woods starts with making a mark before you go in. Most compass will have a rotating degree indicator. Point the base in the direction of travel – turn the dial until it aligns with North and mark the degrees as it aligns with the arrow on the base. For example, if the alignment is at 220 degrees. Simply leave that and remember that you are entering the woods at 220 degrees. When you are ready to return to your vehicle you will walk exactly 180 degrees opposite to it.

Following the degrees exactly is critical. One story of a friend of mine who lives in Alaska tells the importance. While out hunting, his snow machine broke down, using his compass he knew he needed to walk at 124 degrees to get back to a main road that was 25 miles away. Since he was walking tough terrain, if he missed the mark by two degrees, he would have walked parallel to the road instead if intersecting the road. Knowing how to read the compass and the importance of walking a straigt line as possible saved his life. It took him thirty hours, to get to the road, but as he said, “if I hadn’t had my compass, I’d still be out there walking”.

The compass has other benefits also, determining the wind direction accurately, terrain features. Locating actual location on topographical maps. The simple compass can and does save lives. Knowing how to use it will be greatly beneficial to all outdoorsmen.