The Lowly (and Lonely) Compass

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There it sits.
Alone and forgotten in a desk drawer or maybe in the bottom of your hunting pack.
The lowly compass.
Primarily initially replaced by the hand held GPS and now even by the new “smart” cell phones that include GPS, electronic compass – even real time imaging on aerial maps!
Once the friend of every hunter and now the companion of few.
It is not glamorous or glitzy, that is for sure… no bells and no whistles.
Aaaaah, but let’s not rush to forget our former friend!
For those of us that grew up and navigated with the compass long before the advent of the GPS, we will recall the magical powers it once held – particularly for those of us who had a terrible “traveling bone” when hunting, as I must admit I have. I was long accused of always having to go over that “next ridge” to find the perfect hunting spot... and though my legs are more tired these days, I still roam fairly far and wide.
What the compass is, however, is still a very powerful tool!
Batteries? Forget them!
Waterproof? As a bullfrog.
Reliable? Even a semi decent compass is not likely to give problems.
Costs? In today’s high priced world, they are a bargain.
Used only to help determine wind direction when scouting, they are an immediate and powerful tool. As you get ready to set up your stand or ambush location, one quick glance is all you need to reference a known prevailing wind direction. Nothing to turn on or fumble with… just pick it up and look at it.
Don’t know the prevailing wind direction or which way it is forecast to blow? No problem… take a look around at your intended hunting location, “feel” the wind with a string or some debris dropped in the air – and then set up accordingly… simple as that. I recommend that you take 3-4 wind samples over a few moments to make sure you have in fact picked up the prevailing direction and not just an errant gust.

We have long known we can not fool a wise old buck’s nose… so hunting the right wind direction is all important… simply use your “lowly” compass to help you do that!
I could end the tip right here – but no reason to!
Let’s say you have a traveling bone also.
Ever notice how DARK the woods look when you do not know where you are going?
Not so bad in the morning if you get turned around… you know you can sit down and wait for daylight, even if you missed your intended hunting spot.
Reverse the tables…. You are ¾ of a mile from the truck, it gets dark and you pull out your (formerly) trusty GPS unit. It fails, or the batteries are dead. Night has fallen and now every sound in the woods sounds sort of spooky, right?
Out comes your trusty friend… you should know which direction you need to go… you may not hit the truck right on the spot – but at least you can walk in a straight line and be comfortable that you are, in fact, headed the right way!
Get your old friend the compass out and polish him up…. Or go get one if you do not have one… it will make you a better hunter and may just prevent you from spending a long and scary night in the woods!!
Here is an example of one of my older compasses - well time worn and it has even developed an air bubble in it (a big one) but it is still as true and reliable as can be.
Note that I have a string so it can go around my neck or tie it to the pack real quick... and I also put a section of reflective tape on it in the event I lose it - at night, that tape will glow like a beacon so I can find my old friend!


ManOfTheFall's picture

Wow! This reminds me of my

Wow! This reminds me of my Boy Scout days. We had to carry a compass on us every time we were out on a camping trip. We were made to use them constantly. I probably have not used a compass in 25-30 years. Thanks for the tip though. Some day it might come in real handy. 

groovy mike's picture

good reminder

This is a good reminder for all of us.  I'm guilty of not thinking of the compass that I usually carry until I am confused about where I am and where I should be.  At that point its not much good except to keep me moving in a straight line - even if it might be in teh wrong direction!  Actually it dioes do some good because I generally knwo that if I move in a given direction I'll hit a road or a lake etc that I can find my way from so it is a good thing to keep with you as long as you know at least the gross features of the general area that you are hunting in.

jim boyd's picture

I almost hate to admit this -

I almost hate to admit this - but just recently while in the midwest... with neither a compass nor a GPS, I moved stands midday... from about 400 yards from the hard road to about 800 yards from the hard road... and I took a series or ridges that ran at a right angle from the one I was on originally... then I let it get dark... I knew I had to take an unknown path back to the truck - and I was in no way lost - but what I did not anticipate was the several deep gullies filled with blown down trees that presented themselves to me on the way back to where I "thought" the truck was (which was not ENTIRELY correct).

Had I had my compass, I would have just gone due south til I hit the original creek bed and then followed it to the road - but it did not work out that way.

I really use the compass more to set up on a known or determined wind direction than I do for guidance - and that was what the first part of the tip centered on - but yes, I think you can and should use it for guidance too.

If you are a hunter that never strays far and you can see the gleam of your truck from your stand, you probably do not need one.

At 2 ounces and $15.00, they seem to be a fairly well placed item in your pack! 

CVC's picture

I got lost the other day when

I got lost the other day when I left my stand in the evening.  There is no real trail to follow so you have to kind of guess where to go to find the trail that will take you across the creek.  There is only one spot that you can cross without having to climb a steep bank with lots of sticker bushes and shrub.

It is funny, but I don't have a problem going in, just coming out.  This morning in the dark I walked right to the entrance.  I do have a ribbon that marks it for me, but I found it with no problem.  It is just coming out that gives me problems.

I put the compass back in my pack.  i would eventually find my way out without a compass, but it will make it easier if I have one and get lost.

You are right, everyone should have one in their pack.

CVC's picture

So, the tip is to use a

So, the tip is to use a compass because you don't have to worry about its batteries going dead?  Kind of common sense to carry a compass along with your gps unit and a spare set of batteries.  You are right when you call it the lonely compass.  I have one and I mean to keep it in my backpack but I must admit I think it is in my basement.

I will have to put it back into my back pack when I am done posting.  I have had to use the compass on one occassion.  I was trying to find my stand and I got turned around in the woods in the day light.  I mistook one creek for another and it got me turned around.  No need for panic as I was not far from civilization, but I did use my compass to get me to a familiar point to get my bearings back.

So, yes, i would enourage people to keep a compass with them at all times when hunting especially if they are going deep into the woods or wilderness.  And, since most of us hunt in the fall and winter it is especially important because the weather can turn bad, visibililty go to nothing and those familiar way points disappear.  Not only can dead batteries make your gps useless but so can heavy cloud cover that comes with bad weatehr.  Suddenly, you'll be glad you brought the compass with you.