Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fieldcraft - Expedient Direction Finding

When I was a Range Rider (Conservation Law Enforcement Officer) I would sometimes be asked to show visiting people around the 1.2 million acres that made up our jurisdiction. It was telling that many people are very uncomfortable in a remote area where the only landmarks are natural terrain features. I would often be asked questions like, “How do you know what direction you are heading or where you are going?”, or “when you call on the radio and report something how do you know what direction you are telling someone?”

I don’t know,....maybe it comes from a life of being outdoors and what not,....and to this day I still give directions as “East” or “South” as opposed to “left or right”, but it is a good idea to know how to tell direction. Doesn't everyone have GPS in their cars nowdays? It'll be a short time before we see a GPS in the horn of a saddle.

I was riding with a group of people the other day and some these rider’s ability to determine direction was,......well, not real good. I was telling the group about some of the dirt roads and fencelines using directions such as "this fenceline runs EAST until it hits those foot hills in the distance then it turns NORTH".
It was hard for them to follow what I was saying. Then I mentioned that it would help their general field craft skills for trail rides to be able to determine direction. It may come in handy if you were guiding in an emergency response, reporting a fire or something like this.

Of course we all know that the Sun comes up in the East and sets in the west. Time of year affects the declination of the Sun,....whether it is a southerly or northern declination, and this is different where on the planet you are in regards to how far north (or south) of the equator.

I ended up stepping off my horse to show the “shadow and stick” method of determine the cardinal directions. This is done by placing an upright stick into the ground and marking the end of the shadow with a rock. You can wait 30 minutes, a few hours or even several hours if you were at a camp site. Again mark the new shadow position with a rock. If you draw a straight line between the rocks you will have your east to west line with the first rock being east. From here you can determine North and South and therefore NE, SE, SW and NW.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up with left and right it was a bit of a transition for me to graduate to east and west. I much prefer the latter but admittedly still need a frame of reference. If I'm in unfamiliar territory and the sun is high I'm lost. This is a very helpful little tidbit. Thanks.