Here's how to avoid getting lost in unfamiliar territory.
Traversing a new area can be a great opportunity to hunt game in a fresh setting, find backcountry fishing spots or camp where no one has camped before.
The thrill of a new challenge in an unfamiliar place can be one of the most exciting things an outdoorsman can experience. However, one of the quickest ways to ruin it is by getting lost on your way to or from your destination.
To prevent this from happening, there are a few simple rules to follow in order to stay on track and be able to easily find your way in and out of a new area.
Pay Attention to Natural Markers
While moving through new terrain, an easy way to keep track of where you have been is to pay attention to natural markers. This can be anything from an odd-looking rock formation to a uniquely shaped tree.
This method works best if the markers you pick are highly visible from a long distance and if you couple the marker method with one of the other tips listed here, such as periodic photos or the use of terrain lines.
Note the Direction You're Traveling
Use a compass or natural indicators such as the location of the sun to determine the actual direction you are traveling. Should you change direction, note a natural marker and do something like place a ribbon trail marker or take a photograph. The minute you change direction, you need to acknowledge the change. One wrong turn without a marker or indicator is all it takes to potentially end up spending an uncomfortable night in the wild.
Watch for Running Water
Smart hunters, anglers and hikers know to follow a stream anytime they are lost in the wild. Running water doesn't change location at the drop of a hat.
However, it isn't always clear where a stream may be on land you don't know very well. If you're unfamiliar with the terrain, keep an eye on low elevations and areas with thick, shady undergrowth. Often, game trails lead to water and if worse comes to worse, hop on a well-worn game trail and head downhill.
If you can find a stream at the bottom of a hollow or valley, following it will give you a sense of where you are at all times.
Use Removable Tags or Ribbons to Mark Trails
Packing a few ribbons or orange trail markers in your pack is a fantastic way to mark your trail. They typically don't harm the environment and can be lifesavers when unfamiliar with a new area.
It is a good idea to turn your markers in a specific direction or tie your ribbon facing one way in case you lose the trail and happen upon your markers later. Not knowing whether to go left or right can be just as bad as having no markers at all. By turning your markers a certain way, you will always know the direction you started in and how to get back.
Scout the Area
If you have the time, scouting a new area prior to setting out is a good idea for several reasons.
One reason is to become familiar with the terrain. When scouting, always mark your trail and go slow enough to keep track of where you started and where you're going. Scouting gives you the perfect opportunity to establish a clear route in and out of an area without extra gear or pressure.
Watch the Sun
When the sun is out, you have the only real route marker you need. By understanding the sun and how it will be positioned as the day progresses, you will always have a marker overhead that will lead you in and out of any area.
Since the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, as long as you pay attention to the time of day and position of the sun, you have a good amount of information to help.
Use Your Cell to Take Periodic Photos
With the advances of modern technology, there is rarely a time when you will enter a new area without a cellphone. Since most current phones are equipped with a decent camera, it is easy to use your phone to take periodic photos of your route and terrain.
By keeping a sequential set of photos, you have a pictorial map of your terrain stored right on your phone.
Hunt With a Friend
Two sets of eyes are better than one. Traveling with a friend works well for a number of reasons, but having another person on hand to help with terrain marking is right at the top of the list.
Get a Map of the Area & Carry It with You
There's very little land these days that hasn't been mapped. By taking the time to get your hands on one, you effectively take the guesswork out of traversing new terrain.
Similarly, GPS systems can give you an incredible advantage when familiarizing yourself with a new area if you know how to cross reference GPS coordinates with a paper map. But if the area is too remote for proper phone service, a map is essential.
Having a favorite hunting or fishing spot is something most hunters depend upon to bring home their fair share of game. However, when the chance arises to hunt game or fish in a new area, it can be a perfect chance to add a potentially new favorite spot to your repertoire.
Just remember to be careful when adventuring into new territory. By taking the time to follow these steps, you can enjoy a trip in new territory without worrying about finding your way back to the truck.