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Which way is North?

Which way is North?

Posted In: Prepare, Scouting, The Hunt

Posted By: Jordan Ongstad (April 10, 2016)

Do you know  which way North is?  Are you sure you really know?  What’s the difference between Map North and Magnetic North?  Well hopefully, being the outdoorsman you are, you know the answers to these questions, but we’ll give you an overview just to be safe. Anyone who spends any amount of time deep in the back woods enjoying nature or hunting, brushing up on some map reading skills starting with magnetic declination is a must.  It can really come in handy if you ever find yourself lost, turned around or just a little confused! Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell anyone that you read this!

North on a Map

This is something that probably everyone knows because it makes the most sense.  We know the world is round, so North on your map points straight at the Geographic North Pole.   It’s super straight forward and super simple.

Where does your compass Point?

A lot of people would think this is a trick question, and that it points to the north pole.  But the truth is, your compass points in a different direction then the Geographic North Pole.  The reasons for this are a combination of the Earth’s axis being on a tilt and the fact that the Earth has an inner and an outer core that move at difference speeds.  It’s believed that the frictionbetween the two cores is what causes the variation in Magnetic North which floats in circles as far as 50 miles a day and has been migrating over the years.  Regardless of why there is a different Magnetic North Pole, just know that there is, that’s all we care about.

So what is Magnetic Declination?

Magnetic Declination is the measure between the two; Geographic North Pole and Magnetic North pole.  It’s quantified as positive or negative degrees that are sometimes printed directly on maps or can be looked up very easily (click here to go to a site that let’s you find your magnetic declination).  It’s used to adjust the compass reading you take from a map, so you can get an accurate heading.  We’ll have to go into more detail about this later, but let’s say you wanna go from point A to point B on a map.  To get there, you would take out your compass and get an azimuth (or direction heading in degrees) from the map.  If the map doesn’t have declination lines, you’ll be stuck just using Map North and hopefully you know the magnetic declination to adjust your heading.  SIDE NOTE: the USGS has a lot of maps with the magnetic declination on them, but a lot of them were printed in the 1960′s and the Magnetic North Pole has moved almost 400 miles since then, so be careful!

Magnetic Declination ExplainedIn South-Western Colorado, your declination is about 10° 

Why does a hunter care?

There is a good chance your GPS will be there for you and this will never come in handy. but there is a chance it will.  Back in 2009, I was hunting around Jackson Hole Wyoming for Elk.  We wanted to check out a new area, so we hiked up a few thousand vertical feet over 4 miles to get back to where we were told a lot of elk were.  Unfortunately as soon as we got to the top, we got hit with a freak snow storm.  Not being able to see further than 50 yards, and snow flakes so large they made the GPS unable to get signal, we were dead in the water.  Disorientated from the snow, we had to rely on the paper map and compass we had brought with.  With just basic map reading and orienteering skills all outdoorsman should know, we made it out no problem.  But without these tools and skills, it could have ended very differently.

This isn’t a comprehensive overview on map reading, or orienteering, but it should bring back some old memories of your days in the boy scouts.  We’ll be following up shortly with some more map reading and orienteering specific tutorials, but this should do the job of getting you thinking (possibly learning) for now.  Do you have a specific idea of what else we can cover on the topic or want to tell me if I messed something up?  Maybe you just want to say hi, whatever the reason, leave your comment below!

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