November is hunting season in Maine and I try to get out in the woods as much as possible during this time. I didn’t get a deer this year; however, I did learn a couple of important lessons about my gear. I typically strip down my BOB and use it for hunting and this year I added a couple of new items to my kit.
First, instead of a regular compass I bought one of those little pin on compasses you can pick up at Walmart for about $3. Don’t laugh, they work great and as long as you’re not trying to land on an eight digit grid square they can get you to where you need to be. Usually.
About a week before the end of the season I started hunting some new property across the street from where I live that is a few hundred acres in size. At one point in the late morning I went off the old woods road I’d been hunting to follow a promising stream. I always look at the sun and my watch to get an idea of what time it is and what direction the sun represents as I walk through the woods. I also double check myself with my compass. The last thing you want during the middle of hunting season is to get lost and wander around the woods until it gets dark. Check out Ranger Man’s story here.
As I walked along I would hold the rifle with my right hand so the compass reading wouldn’t be off and use my left hand to take a quick look at the direction on the compass. I was mainly navigating by the sun, so it wasn’t until I was downstream aways that I noticed the sun/compass direction wasn’t lining up properly. I always say, “Trust your compass!” I preach it, but after looking at the compass for the fifth time and looking at the sky I knew something was wrong. Either the sun was wrong or the compass was whacked and I was hoping it was the compass.
So I started thinking about what could be causing this rather dramatic failure of my compass because it wasn’t off by just a few degrees; sometimes it pointed west for north or east for north. That’s a pretty dramatic failure no matter how you slice it. I finally had one of those “AHA!” moments and reached under my jacket to that brand new Becker Necker knife I wrote about earlier. It was about two inches from my compass and I knew it would have some effect. Thinking I’d solved the problem I put the knife in my pack and continued walking. I looked down at my compass again and stopped. Removing the knife hadn’t made one bit of difference!
It finally dawned on me that the new mittens I’d bought were the culprits. These are the pop top mittens that can fold back and allow your fingers to be in a half-glove. In the past the manufacturers have used velcro to attach the mitten portion to the upper part of the glove when you’re not using it; however, if you’re in a real quiet patch of woods where there’s deer and you pull one of those velcro bindings loose it makes so much noise you may as well go home. The new fangled ones I bought use a MAGNET sewn into the glove instead of velcro! That’s right, every time I grabbed the compass it went wild because the magnet was pulling the north arrow to wherever my mitten was.
Lesson learned. Next time test gear before taking it into the field where I’m going to rely on it. The very next day I went hunting it was freezing rain and overcast. If I’d been relying on the compass as my sole means of navigation who knows where I would have ended up? I lucked out by having the sun available when I needed it and my natural paranoia of getting lost kept me checking and rechecking until I figured out what was happening.
One last note about that pin-on compass. I found an old tree stand in the middle of the woods in fairly good shape and decided to sit in it for awhile. After I hoisted myself up and got situated I looked down and my freakin’ compass was gone! It had fallen off when I chinned myself over the edge of the stand. Luckily it had landed on the ground at the base of the stand and I was able to recover it, but if I’d lost it I’d have been in trouble as I was relying heavily on it that day. Remember to pack a backup just in case!
The same lesson goes for your bug-out bag. Is there any gear in your bag that might interfere with other equipment? Have you taken your bag out and actually tested it? Don’t wait until you really need it before finding out something doesn’t work. You might not get as lucky as I did!