Nature has many navigational tools

Published 11:20 am Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Outdoors columnist
I have written several columns about finding ones way through the boonies with the compass, topo map, and hand-held GPS unit.
Any outdoor person who ventures far off the beaten path should at least acquire the fundamental skills of these navigational aids. But what about the times that you inadvertently end up "a little turned around" in what is supposed to be very familiar territory without your compass or GPS. If you are like me you have experienced being lost in the woods.
For those of us who have ventured a little too far, a little too late in the afternoon and realize we don't know exactly which way to go to return to camp or the vehicle, what do we do now? Every Boy Scout knows that the first thing to do is sit down and figure out where you went wrong. It is at this point you may have to fight off panic.
If you have a flashlight or there is enough daylight left you may be able to pick a direction of travel based on the sounds of vehicles on a road, the setting sun, the North Star, or some other natural navigation reference. The hardest part of getting out of an unfamiliar place is walking in a straight line. Most everyone has a tendency to walk in a large circle, returning to where they set out.
The only way to overcome this is to keep two objects lined up at all times. As you walk to the first object (tree, rock, bush) you must line up on a third object that is directly in line with the first two objects. The third object now becomes your second object as you pass the first. This method will not guarantee you will come out where you want to, but it will keep you going in a straight line. In most areas of Alabama, you will intersect a road in two or three miles or less.
If you have to spend the night, find the North Star, located in the handle of the Little Dipper. Stick one stick in the ground and get behind it about three feet and align a second stick with the North Star and the first stick. In the morning, get behind the second stick you placed and aim over the first one. You will be looking north.
The sun can be made into a fairly accurate compass, especially around noontime. Drive a stick into the ground and mark the end of the shadow cast from the stick with a rock, acorn, coin, etc. Wait and mark the end of the shadow again with another object. Draw a line in the soil starting at the first object and going to the second object-your line will point roughly east.
There is no substitute for simple navigational aids such as compass, map, or GPS, but with a little knowledge, Mother Nature will help you find your way home.

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