When I was younger I wouldn’t think of venturing into known or unknown woods without a compass – more specifically, my Leupold compass. Today, Leupold and Stevens is still known for its high-quality binoculars and hunting scopes but it hasn’t produced the Sportsman Compass in nearly 50 years.
Too bad. My compass, like all others of its type, consists of a magnetized needle marked on the North end which is free to align itself with Earth’s magnetic field. The needle floats on a jewel bearing and is lifted off the bearing when the lid is closed. Along the inside face of the compass the cardinal points of North, South, East and West are highlighted and marked where they should be. The outside face is marked off in degrees and East and West are transposed from their actual relationship to North in order to give the correct direction of the compass sighting line when the reading is taken from the North end of the needle. This is an ingenious innovation because all I ever had to do to determine the direction I was headed was to look at the outside of the compass dial. No twisting dials, no thinking of how to orientate the compass needle, no nothing.
The compass never let me down. Once on a fishing trip to Quebec, my friend and I headed out on the lake early one morning to a far-off cove searching for northern pike. The morning was overcast and fog began rolling in. By mid morning we were miles from our cabin and, what’s worse, we couldn’t see more than a few yards in any direction. “How are we ever going to find the cabin in this soup?” my friend asked me. “Not to worry, I know these waters like the back of my hand,” I told him. I was lying, of course; I had no idea as to which direction we were facing and even less of an idea of how to get back. I never told him I had my compass with me. Taking it out of my pocket, I opened it and placed it on the seat in front of me. “You look ahead for rocks while I get us back to camp,” I instructed. He did as he was told and, because I knew camp was due north, I simply pointed the boat in that direction and followed the needle back to our cabin. After a slow but uneventful ride through the thick fog, the dock of our camp appeared and my friend was stunned. “Boy, you sure do know these waters,” he said. I never told him how I cheated and got us back to camp.
Today, other more accurate devices are available for determining direction and they don’t depend on the Earth’s magnetic field to operate. These GPS devices are incredibly accurate and are not affected by stray magnetic fields or by nearby masses of ferrous metals. They do, however, depend on a power source and therefore require batteries for their operation. I’ll admit I have a small GPS unit about the size of my compass that can store three waypoints and other information. It works great and I do rely on it, especially in the spring when trekking over hill and dale chasing spring turkeys. The only problem with my modern GPS device, or any electronic device for that matter, is that they rely on batteries to power them. Batteries, however, can deteriorate and lose power making even the best GPS useless. I’ll admit I do use the small GPS unit almost exclusively to get me out of unfamiliar woods and it’s proven to be highly reliable, but I still carry my Leupold.