Originally posted at Badlands Fieldcraft.
There’s a new potential training area I wanted to scout, so I set out last Sunday evening to do just that. I try to utilize all the time I go out and make it as productive as I can. Anytime I go out to train I’m always reminded of one of my old company Gunnery Sergeants saying “training is continuous” and I try to think of a few objectives to accomplish to help orient me in the right directions. For last Sunday’s hike they were:
– Hike into the objective area with full kit, weapon and 3 day pack in order to ensure the kit and pack effectively fit together and it’s a comfortable, useable system. Since I only started using this pack a few months ago I want to make sure it’s proven. It’s also good exercise.
– While hiking, keep track of azimuth and pace count for the creation of PAUL map later and also since I haven’t physically been in the area it gave me the information I would need to get back out in an emergency if I were to get lost.
– Determine if there is a usable source of water and other resources at the objective area for water resupply in the field and for future training.
I parked the truck about 1700 and after a quick check to make sure all buckles etc. we’re secured I checked the map to get an azimuth.
I carry a small Write in the Rain note pad in my chest pack specifically for this reason. I make two columns, “Azimuth” and “Pace Count” and after shooting the azimuth and picking a landmark, I write the azimuth down in the proper column. As I walk to the particular landmark I’m counting every left step, that’s my pace count.
I’m also thinking of a descriptive nickname for the landmark, something like “tall pine tree” or “dead sagebrush”. When I get to the landmark I write down the pace count next to the azimuth I just walked, and put the nickname next to that. Next I reshoot my next azimuth and start the process over.
This eventually gives me a list of where I’ve been, and should I need to follow that path back out I now have the direction I need to take. I won’t cover it here, but you can also build a Positive Azimuth Uniform Layout (PAUL) map and navigate to the points out of order if needed.
So after leaving my truck I pass an old set of corrals overgrown with weeds and grass, keeping an eye out for skunks and other critters. So far the terrain is fairly flat with hip deep grass. I continue on this azimuth, paralleling a barb wire fence, and come to a gate. I decide to climb over the gate and shoot another azimuth, this time in a different direction.
This takes me up a small rise and when I get to the top I’m greeted by a very beautiful panorama.
From here the terrain drops steeply. If I was to continue my azimuth I would have to walk down and back up the other side of this large draw, so I take out my compass and shoot another azimuth. I look on the same azimuth as I was just following and find another landmark on the other side of the draw. Once I’ve picked one, I circle around the edge of the draw until I’m on the other side, then proceed to the landmark I selected.
I didn’t bother with keeping track of my pace count here since this was more terrain association, and as long as I know my two land marks on either side I’m good. I get to the next landmark and decide to stop and hydrate. I sit down and pull out my Grayl and start to sip.
At this time, two Turkey Vultures that had been cruising above the draw, came closer and started to squawk. Shortly, about 5 more showed up and they all started to circle me. I must have been looking pretty sorry to them as they closed the gap, getting within 20 feet of me on some passes. I was beginning to wonder what it would be like to shoot a Turkey Vulture out of the sky with an AR when I decided to just keep moving, probably won’t taste very good anyways.
I continue on my new azimuth, wondering if I’m going to get dive bombed from behind. I head down a long slope and end up at a dead Cedar tree.
I know I’m getting within a couple hundred meters of the area I want to scout, but I still can’t see the area I’m specifically after, so I mark this tree with some orange surveyors tape I keep in my butt pack. This tree sticks out amongst the others, but I marked it so I would know for sure. When you get turned around in the dark, things look a lot different on the way back out. My theory is that as long as I can find this very unique tree with orange tape, I should be able to navigate back out.
From this point I quit worrying about azimuth and pace count and start methodically picking my way down the slope to get to the bottom of the canyon I’ve found myself in. I’m liking what I’m seeing so far, I just really hope there is a source of water to go with it.
When I first get to the bottom, I’m starting to see signs that there was water here, but now it’s dried up and cracked mud. But still, everything is very lush, so maybe I could dig a coyote well.
I continue to move down the bottom of the canyon and my footsteps begin to sink into muddy soil, and then once around a bend I’m greeted by cat tails. This is starting to look better.
I continue on another 50 yards and I find the main body of water. It’s not huge, but that’s not what I would want for a hidden pond anyways. It measures about 30 feet across by about 100 feet long, and seems to be at least 18” deep in the middle. It’s grown over with tall grass and cat tails, and I don’t see any sign of fish or frogs. I’ll keep an eye out for these on future trips since a food source would be nice. The water itself is clear though, with just a bit of brown tint, no doubt from the tannins in the grass and bushes that are dead in the water.
It’s been a hot day, so I decide to look for an overnight spot. It’s not my intent to actually stay the night, but it’s good practice to look for good spots. When you move out in the bush and get away from camp grounds it’s harder to find good spots sometimes, and if a storm were to move in it might be wiser to sit it out then try to climb out of the canyon while it’s raining.
I locate a spot a bit up the hill in a natural blind made by 4 cedar trees. I didn’t want to pick a spot in the bottom should it rain hard, I’d get flooded out. This is a nice spot overlooking the pond, and the game trail that passes next to it. I spotted plenty of deer tracks and also some elk droppings earlier, so I no doubt would see something if I sat here long enough.
I drop my pack here and set out back to the pond with my rifle, chest pack, and Grayl filter. I look around a bit for a nice spot to get water and find one. Ironically it’s also where there are quite a few deer tracks so I figure the deer must think it’s a pretty good spot too. I drink the rest of the water from the Grayl and grab an orange bandana from my chest pack. I always keep this bright orange bandana in there since it’s a great multipurpose item. A few uses are:
– a trail marker
– makeshift tourniquet
– char cloth
– dipped in water, it can be used to cool off
– face covering for train robberies
– and as a pre-filter for water collection
I draped the bandana over the Grayl so that it covers the opening and gently dip it into the water so it doesn’t stir up sediment. If there was a current, I would point the opening downstream so any debris wouldn’t come into the filter.
I then take the full cup of dirty water, press it through the filter, and I now have crystal clean water. Since our bodies are the best canteen we have, I spend the next few minutes sipping this water down, then repeat the process.
I return back to my makeshift blind and spend a few minutes contemplating how I would actually sleep here. It’s on about a 10 degree slope, but I find a small cut just big enough to lay in. I decided this would be my best bet, using my gore-tex bivy bag and Swagman roll to sleep in. If I absolutely had to I could string up my poncho for cover as well.
I pull out some jerky to snack on, then gear up for the trip back out. I’d like to be on the easier part of the hike back by dark. I’d like to take a more direct route back to the truck, so I grab some twigs and bank line and construct a PAUL map on the ground to get me back to the first land mark after I walked around the big draw. A few minutes later I’ve got an azimuth to shoot and it takes me up a small wooded wash that runs out of a saddle down to the pond.
By now the sun is going down, I still have about 45 minutes of daylight though. I notice a lot of deer tracks and droppings along the game trail that runs up this little wash. I also noticed that the sun is at my back and the wind is at my face, and as late as it is I figure the deer are probably getting ready to start moving.
Sure enough, 50 yards after I pass through the saddle I see a white tail doe passing perpendicular in front of me about 50 yards to my front. I have no real cover close by, so I simply take a low knee in the tall grass, hoping to see another. Within 30 seconds, I see the buckskin color of another deer through the openings in the bushes.
As I wait, a white tail buck appears directly in front of me, almost within pistol range. His antlers are still coming in, completely covered in velvet. He pauses next to a sagebrush to look around and I thought he busted me for a second, but then with a flick of the trail he continued on his original path following the doe at an easy pace.
I soon intersect my old route in and parallel it back out, taking a slightly different route. I arrive back at my truck as the sun is going down. I do a quick gear check, flick the ticks off my pants and enjoy a nice cool drive home. I find very few things as satisfying as successfully scouting an area to find it’s even better than you hoped.