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Old 09-26-2014, 04:33 AM   #1
soupy
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Rookie with a Compass; Pro in the woods

Hello folks!!
Imagine a guy, over 55, who has not used a Compass until about a year ago! Hard to believe? True!

For all the years I spent in the woods, from the time I was quite young, until now; and all the skills that are part of that (cooking, shelter, hunting, etc). you'd think that a "Compass" would be a no-brainer.

Well the folks who taught me my survival skills, must've decided that I didn't need that I guess, because I don't remember ANY of them EVER putting a Compass in my hands!

I knew they existed of course, and I knew sorta "what they did," and all that; but I had no experience with em.

My whole life has, for the most part, been in New England. The times I was NOT in New England were quite abbreviated. So that should give you some idea of the terrain, climate, conditions, I live with.

I've been in upstate New York many times, (Schroon Lake, Paradox Lake area) and lots of other places throughout this Country. Yet most of the "woods" time was spent in upstate Maine. In fact, I'll be up there again for a week, stomping thru the same woods I was in as a child, where my grandfather and his brothers were, in November.

Last year, for some reason, I was drawn to some YouTube videos about Orienteering. That led me to a variety of related topics. I ended up buying a SUUNTO MC-3, and then a Cammenga Tritian Lensatic 3H. I could spend a great deal of time discussing these two types of navigational tools.

I've never known any folks who are part of Orienteering Clubs. I have a son-in-law who is a Capt. in the Army, and he and I have been out in the woods, practicing our Pace Counting (I made my own Pace Counting beads with 15 and 4 bead setup, not Nine and Four).

So here I am folks. Just a guy who wants to learn to be able to find my way with a Compass, no map, and not all "in a straight line!" (lol). I need to become proficient with Dead Reckoning by shooting an Azimuth, (not a big fan of the "box" method of getting around an obstacle, but am moldable).
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Old 09-27-2014, 10:48 AM   #2
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Here is a great read about map and compass:

http://adkhighpeaks.com/forums/nava.php

I'm curious. Why are you not interested in using a map?
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Old 10-05-2014, 06:57 AM   #3
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Strictly my personal opinion, both map and compass are essential. Compass alone will most assuredly point you in the right general direction, but will show you nothing of the terrain and obstacles that lay between you and point of destination.

Learning to orient your map to a compass is actually very simple, once you understand the difference between true north and magnetic north. Once you " get it", it will be like unleashing a kid in a candy store.
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Old 10-05-2014, 07:44 AM   #4
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A compass is so simple it isn't even funny. The red needle points magnetic north, and it does so all the time.
There. Now you know all there is to know about the compass. The rest stems from that one simple fact.

The complicated stuff comes when using the map and relating the terrain thereto.
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Old 10-05-2014, 11:53 AM   #5
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The real fun starts when that simple red arrow which always points North starts spinning around its axle, pointing to deposits of magnetic Iron ore - a map is essential for navigating in the woods.
It's also helpful to verify the compass reading against the sun and clock (if conditions allow), especially on longer traverses.
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Old 10-05-2014, 11:57 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by timberghost View Post
The real fun starts when that simple red arrow which always points North starts spinning around its axle, pointing to deposits of magnetic Iron ore
Never had that happen however one of my red-arrowed compasses points south now - all the time.

If you aim your compass at the fillings in your teeth you can hear Elvis and space aliens.
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Old 10-05-2014, 05:27 PM   #7
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If you have enough fillings can you hear the Elvis impersonator with the tapeworm? (the one of whom you wrote so eloquently)
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Old 10-07-2014, 08:47 PM   #8
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Not sure of your location in CT but check out Hudson Valley Orienteering Association. http://hvo.us.orienteering.org/
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Old 10-08-2014, 09:12 PM   #9
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"dancing" compass is not a common occurrence, however if you navigate solely by compass while recording a gps tracklog and later go back and examine (overlay on topo & ortho) the log you may be surprised at the deviations which seemingly have nothing or little to do with obstacles.

Elvis, space aliens, bigfoot, and other oddities are not unheard of at the end of a long day of bushwhacking in the park

On a serious note, map is often the more useful aid when navigating in the woods - orienteering by map and following topographic features is often easier and more productive than trying to maintain a compass heading in places you can see a hundred yards or less.
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Old 10-09-2014, 03:57 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by timberghost View Post
"dancing" compass is not a common occurrence, however if you navigate solely by compass while recording a gps tracklog and later go back and examine (overlay on topo & ortho) the log you may be surprised at the deviations which seemingly have nothing or little to do with obstacles.

Elvis, space aliens, bigfoot, and other oddities are not unheard of at the end of a long day of bushwhacking in the park

On a serious note, map is often the more useful aid when navigating in the woods - orienteering by map and following topographic features is often easier and more productive than trying to maintain a compass heading in places you can see a hundred yards or less.
There lies the problem. It is difficult more often then not to "Triangulate" on landmarks when you are deep in cover. So the compass loses much of it's effectiveness. Learning to read a topographic map is one of the best skills you can acquire. Once you have, you can find your position by comparing the terrain to what you see on the topo.

With just a compass, I will always know what direction I am traveling in, but I won't always know what direction I have to go in, nor what's between me and where I want to get to. It would be disheartening to follow a particular compass direction and then come to a top of a gorge which I must now decide whether I want to travel in one direction or another to get around it, since without a ma or any idea of where I am, I have no idea of which direction to take.
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Old 10-09-2014, 05:09 PM   #11
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Developing the skill of map reading in fine detail, assisted with compass only as a general direction guide, is the next step beyond what most would learn from a course in "basic map and compass". This is what I call Observational Navigation, or Terrain Association.

It is all about understanding contours, both visually and on the map, and being able to absolutely correlate what you see in the field with what you see on the map. USGS topographic maps are amazingly accurate, but you have to sometimes give them a little latitude (no pun...). A contour line is either straight, gently and smoothly curved, or may have one or more abrupt "squiggles". Your compass works best when following gently curved contours, to tell you at which point of the curve you are based on the current direction of the curve. The sun works as well as the compass when following contours.

All contour line shapes will give you good indication of where you are, but I most love the squiggles. Generally these occur at draws or ravines along a slope. When you count squiggles, you know which draw you are crossing. There is more, so much more, than can be explained here. You might have to deal with featureless terrain for a kilometer or so, but rarely would there be no changes to terrain at all, however slight, that will betray your location.

On the other hand, it is possible to use the compass to follow a course in dense vegetation with sight distances of only a few yards at best. It is not easy, but do-able. Any small deviation to the contours indicating changes in slope (slopes always change) will assist, but the compass alone will do it if you are careful and practice the methods.

If you take the DEC course to be certified as a SAR Crew Boss, a critical test to pass is to follow a series of azimuths on the compass along with pace counting to reach a number of checkpoints marked by small posts. The national SARTECH Searcher I course is virtually identical to the NYDEC Crew Boss course. This portion of a candidate's evaluation is an exercise in staying on a precise compass heading, without using a map. There will be a number of points to hit during the evaluation, ranging in distance of up to a kilometer. If you are careful, you should land nearly on or within easy sight of your assigned checkpoints, with visuals limited in moderate to heavy vegetation growth.

I was recruited and am now on staff as Assistant Instructor for the Land Navigation Course taught at the NY State Preparedness Training Center, NY's version of the Dept of Homeland Security. The Center primarily teaches various law enforcement agencies in all kinds of LE tactics, but the navigation course allows in SAR and related volunteers. The pilot (still being developed) land navigation course is quite similar to the navigation portion of the NY Crew Boss course. They both must have had roots in military style navigation. Indeed, the chief instructors of the SPTC are ex special forces types and it strongly shows in their skills.

The SPTC courses are taught at the old Oneida County airport, great for high speed car chase tactics, but not so great for terrain association navigation. There are more acres of wooded and swamp land on the property than you might imagine. So much that the legs of the compass course have several legs of nearly a kilometer, all on extremely flat, wooded, and often swampy wet ground. This is the process of "dead reckoning" at its best - navigation by precise direction and distance measurement alone.

Long story short, it is possible to locate a marked post in densely wooded woods by compass azimuth and pace count alone, but I don't think it is very practical for recreational bushwhack hikers. It is not the precision direction finding that I question, it is keeping the pace count. I realize that pace count is used by military, ground pounders, as an effective distance measurement tool. I much prefer to measure distance by timing at estimated (from experience) speed over the terrain.

However, I have asked Rangers if they use pace count, even though it is taught by them in the Crew Boss class. None do. They all measure distance by terrain observation, and with timing, not pace. Just as I have always done.

I find pace counting robs you of the ability to creatively think and to effectively and constantly observe your surroundings without distracting from count. If you are with someone else, you cannot carry on a conversation or you will quickly lose count, even when using counting beads. I suppose it works ok for the infantry, but I can't stand it, even thought I now must teach it at the SPTC.

Like pace counting, timing is variable and dynamic, subject to changing terrain. But I would rather, through experience, adjust my time estimates than adjust pace measurement. At least I can daydream about what is past the next ridge and converse with fellow hikers when timing, but not so with keeping precise count of my steps.
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Last edited by Wldrns; 10-09-2014 at 05:22 PM..
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Old 10-11-2014, 04:01 AM   #12
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I go to orienteering events almost every weekend. I find the most important thing is to understand and read a map. I also find pace counting to be invaluable. The compass in "orienteering" is used for just that....."orientating" you and the map. I will usually only use the compass on bland terrain or final attack point. Understanding contour lines and using them to your advantage is key to success. So.......as stated by other responses, using a compass without a map would be frustrating.
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Old 10-11-2014, 07:41 AM   #13
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Once came across a semi-lost hunter with compass in hand but walking in the wrong direction. He had on a pair of those glove/mittens combos. The mitten part could be flapped back when one wanted the dexterity of gloves. A magnet held the flap back!
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Old 10-11-2014, 07:52 AM   #14
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I once had a student in a basic map and compass class who couldn't seem to get anywhere near the correct azimuth angle on objects the other students easily measured. I took her compass and it worked perfectly, then she took it back and read to me a random azimuth. She wasn't wearing any rings or jewelry, not standing near any other metallic objects. After a couple of frustrating times of back and forth, I noticed that she would aways wad the lanyard in her hand and place the compass on top. When I inspected the lanyard I saw that she had for some reason attached a small steel split ring to it. Bingo, problem solved.
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