Professor LawDog’s School of Mayhem and Survival

I was once told that no gentleman should leave his house without having a knife and some way to make fire on his person. Sound advice, I think.

Recently, a co-worker has gently taken me to task regarding this. According to him, it is not enough to have a knife and a lighter about your person, one should also have a compass.

I responded that as long as I have the sun, a watch or the moon in sight, I’ve got a pretty good idea of the directions.

He was bumfuzzled.


All right, class, gather around. Here is your situation:

You have one (1)knife, one (1)Zippo lighter, one (1) moderately-irate wombat, and one (1) burlap sack.

Two miles due north of your current position is Britney Loving Emo Kid (BLEK).

The task is obvious — but how to locate north?

The first, easiest method is to find a good, straight stick. Either find a patch of bare dirt, or clear one.

Drive your stick into the ground, pointing up. It should cast a shadow — mark the ground at the tip of the shadow, and label it ‘W’. Now go be useful. Ponder What is Best in Life, reinforce the sack, grease the wombat — whatever will take about 15 minutes to half-an-hour.

Come back to your stick. The tip of the shadow will have moved, mark the new position and label it ‘E’.

Draw a line through your two marks. This line is your East-West line — ‘W’ being west, ‘E’ being east.

Stand on the line with the ‘E’ to your right and you are facing north.

Now, don’t just sally forth. If you just start walking, you will inevitably trace a circle, and your opportunity to earn the gratitude of millions will be forever lost.

No, face north and pick a landmark — better yet, pick two landmarks in line.

Now, start walking. If you just picked one landmark, if you get to it, replot north and continue. If you picked two landmarks in line, if you get to the first one, pick a third landmark behind (and in line with) #2 and continue your march.

The second method involves using a watch. Do note that the watch must have hands instead of a digital readout. If you attempt to find north using a digital watch, you’re liable to wind up in Outer Graustarkia. Be forewarned.

So, you have the requisite watch. If it’s on DayLight Stupid Time, reset it to the proper local time. Again, locate an open patch of dirt, remove the watch and place it on the ground.

Now, if you are north of the equator, turn the watch until the hour hand is pointing at the sun. Find the point halfway between the hour hand and the big ’12’. Mark this point on the ground. A line drawn from the centre point of the watch through the mark is your North-South line.

If you are south of the equator, turn the watch until the big ’12’ is pointing at the sun. Again, find the point halfway between the ’12’ and the hour hand, and draw your line.

But which end of your North-South line is which?

If it’s before noon, the sun will be on the east side of the line. After noon, and the sun will be on the west side of the line. Godspeed.

Ah, you say, but what if it’s night and BLEK is meandering through the woods composing his Ode to Bats?

No sun, and you can’t find the Big Dipper on a dare?

Nae problemo.

Find the moon. If the moon was in the sky before the sun set, then the lit-up side will be west. If the moon waited until after midnight to rise, the lit-up side will be east.

This concludes today’s class on improvised direction finding.

For more information, I suggest perusing US Army FM 21-76.


Requiscat in Pacem
The ranks increase

47 thoughts on “Professor LawDog’s School of Mayhem and Survival”

  1. I just want the video from when Intreped Explorer meets Emo Britny Fan… >:)

  2. I forget that people don’t know how to do land navigation without a compass.
    But, I was the kid who, at JROTC summer camp, didn’t bother with triangulation because I was standing on the USGS marker set in the ground.

  3. You failed to mention what the best lubricant would be to use when you grease the wombat.

    Um, on second thought, forget I mentioned that.

  4. OK, LD, but what happens to the wombat when let loose on BLEK? BLEK impresses one as a scratcher/biter, possibly rabid – is that really fair to the innocent wombat, who’s just having a bad day?
    Semper Fi’

  5. knew the trick with the stick, but not the one with the watch. Most of my land nav was in a private paramilitary religious organization; and we never left home without a compass, multibladed knife and as much pyro as we figured we could get away with. (Ok, the pyro was optional inasmuch as you only were *required* to be a pyro if you wanted to make OA or Eagle).

  6. Is it even necessary to grease the wombat?

    And where would one find wombat grease in the woods?

    And really, that BLEK has enough problems without getting greasy in a walk-by wombatting.

    Mr Fixit

  7. Oh, and the preferred portable fire was a flint rod + the afore-mentioned multiblade knife; at least for me anyway. My mom hated me nicking her lighters anyway.

  8. I once had a chap refuse to believe me when I insisted that, being on land north of the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico being visibly to our right and taking up the entirety of the horizon, that we were headed east.

    He insisted that it could be a lake.

    I countered by explaining that it was nearing dusk as we went down a road oriented perfectly east-west, and the sun was behind us. Certainly that was proof that we were headed east. Upon his proclamation that he had no idea what relevance the sun’s position had, I reminded him that the rotation of our celestial sphere meant that we see the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

    He remained unconvinced, insisting that we couldn’t KNOW such a thing. Myself, I remain unconvinced that stupidity could be. He was later heard wishing that there were nearby trees, so he could look for moss on one side in order to determine our direction.

  9. The really depressing thing about Britney Loving Emo Kid is that there is probably nothing we could do to him that would be worse than simply going through life being him would be.

    Oh, and… navigation without a compass. Cool. The negotiated system of navigation usually employed by the spouse and I, when in doubt, is that whatever direction I pick is a hundred and eighty degrees from the correct one. It’s surprisingly reliable.

  10. Mr. Fixit,

    I’m wondering if the greasing of the wombat is necessary in order to escalate the moderately-irate wombat to a seriously-irate wombat. Because, you are definitely going to want a seriously-irate wombat for a “walk-by wombatting”.

    Sorry, I can’t help you with the wombat grease problem.

  11. Anonymous, 4:16am:

    If you are really stuck, then the moss-gathering method mentioned above should work. My house faces North and South precisely, and it is the roof tiles to the North that I have to clean of moss. The southern face is pristine.

    Don’t ask me how the moss knows.

  12. I would add that, growing up in country areas, I have been left with a mild compulsion to know where North is any time, and when travelling I check almost hourly, using most of the methods suggested here.

    Sad, I know. Perhaps I should get a life and investigate the best ways to grease a wombat.

  13. LD, thanks for bringing all that back from basics…

    Mac, that dude sounds like a numbnut I had in my section once… but he ended up eating crow.

  14. “… eating crow.”

    Hey, I know how to cook crow. You put one crow in a pot of water with a large rock, and boil until the rock is soft.

    Then dump the crow and eat the rock.

  15. I’ve never done the stick in the ground trick… like it.

    I can get rid of my watch now!

  16. Question:
    If you’re completely lost in unfamiliar territory/terrain…
    How do you know *which* direction is best to start moving toward?

  17. Annie – in most cases, heading downhill is your best bet. Downhill usually leads to water, which is also where you’re most likely to find civilization.

  18. One fall, several years ago, I had reason to find a place across town about which I knew nothing of the location save the address.

    The address was on a major road, that ran for miles. I knew how to get to the road, but I had only a vague understanding of where on that road the house number was.

    So I drove until I reached the road in question. Looked at the street signs to see if I could see a house number. Nope. Looked at the buildings – strip malls, without house numbers visible.

    So I walked into one of the stores – a video store – to ask directions. There was a young kid behind the counter and a younger kid with a skateboard “hanging out.”

    I asked for the address of the building. The clerk didn’t know. I said I was looking for 14,000 XXXX, and I just needed to know whether to go north or south.

    The kid with the skateboard pointed out the front window, straight into the setting sun, and said “that’s south.”

  19. “The second method involves using a watch. Do note that the watch must have hands instead of a digital readout. “
    Wow, I know something Law Dog doesn’t know.
    You can use a digital watch to find direction, it’s just not quite as easy–you must be able to think of the side of the digital watch face that is away fomr you as you look at it on your wrist as “12”, or “N”, and the side that is closest to you as “6”, or “S”.
    So, ASS-YOU-MEing that your GPS is on the fritz, and you dropped and broke your backup Brunton Surveyor’s Transit (which would suck for land nav, but never mind), you take off your Casio G Shock with the built in altimeter-barometer (which the guy at REI convinced you was a great watch for the outdoors) and follow Law Dog’s directions for direction-finding using an analog watch, performing the great feat of pretending that the “top” of the watch is where Mickey’s hands would point at High Noon, if Mickey had hands. (That’s if you’re in the Air Force. If you’re in the Navy, substitute “Popeye” for Mickey, and however many bells for “High Noon”. On second thought, if you’re in the Navy, just use a sextant–or follow a Marine…)

  20. *Blink, Blink*

    North is thataway. *points*

    My sense of direction is pretty good I guess, sometimes I have to take a deep breath and consult the compass in my head but it’s never steered me wrong.

    It got a little confused when I was in Hawaii but a couple of times of orienting myself and it was fine. Other than that… *shrug* north is thataway.

  21. “James said…
    Annie – in most cases, heading downhill is your best bet. Downhill usually leads to water, which is also where you’re most likely to find civilization.”

    Actually, if you’re in truly “diverse” terrain, proceed along the same elevation until you find water, then go downhill.

    Of course, if “uphill” is close enough to easily reach — head for it and get a 360 degree view of your surroundings.

    Even if you cannot find “civilization” or “blue lines” (what us knuckle draggers call water courses), look for ANYTHING manmade. Radio towers, etc., are generally on or really near roads — even dirt ones — that lead to SOMETHING. Power lines usually have nice, fairly easy to walk, right-of-ways. And so forth.

    But I try not to get somewhere I don’t have SOME sort of “safe azimuth”. Heck, even if I were randomly lost in my home state, All I need to know is whether I’m closer to the Appalachians or salt water. (Virginia. . . major roadways run E-W east of the fall line, and N-S west of it.) If I’m out by say, Charlottesville, I just walk EITHER east OR west; presently I’ll hit a waterway or road. Lost in the Tidewater region? Head north, and I’m most likely to quickly find a shoreline or major road.

    There is ALWAYS some broad cardinal direction you can walk that is most likely to run you smack into some linear feature you CANNOT miss, and CAN navigate by. (Albeit, some areas – like interior Saudi Arabia – may have them too far away to reach on current supplies.)

    And when you think you’ve walked so far you’ve surely missed it (or should have gone the other way), KEEP GOING. And when you are STILL sure you’ve gone too far, KEEP GOING. THEN you can double back.

    99% of all errors in estimating travel distance are OVERestimating how far you’ve already come and UNDERestimating how far you have to go.

    Farmgirl. . .

    I’m much the same way. “North” is “yonder”. Where I came from is “over there”. And with a map, I tend to use the compass only for a precise position fix, and terrain associate the rest of the way.

  22. “Now, don’t just sally forth. If you just start walking, you will inevitably trace a circle, and your opportunity to earn the gratitude of millions will be forever lost.

    No, face north and pick a landmark — better yet, pick two landmarks in line.”

    Last time I did that, I got a citation for Shooting Azimuths Out Of Season. . .

  23. I’m still amazed that the Dawg can grease a wombat in under half an hour. It takes me forty-five minutes, at a minimum.

  24. While I realize most people don’t have this option, there is also what I do in such a situation. Close my eyes, concentrate a moment, point to magnetic north, and start walking. It’s more of a party trick than a useful ability in cities, but comes in very handy out in the middle of the woods. As for fire, I carry a magnesium & flint widget, and while my knife isn’t as visually spectacular as some people carry, a deluxe swiss army knife can accomplish a lot.

  25. Isn’t the BLEK greasy enough for itself and the wombat?


    verification is ymocbc

  26. Wombats are grumpy, single-minded blocks of solid muscle, up to 70-odd pounds of it, covered by tough hide and equipped with big strong claws and strong teeth. They think nothing of barging through a barbed-wire fence or killing any dog silly enough to confront them in their burrow.

    I suspect that trying to grease one up could be hugely amusing, if only to those viewing from a safe distance! 🙂

  27. LawDog:

    As an Eagle Scout, I truly enjoyed this tutorial. Your lessons (whether wilderness survival or self-defense) are always a nice read. Please make them a weekly feature!

  28. I have a real problem with moss on trees in the Gulf. It seems it grows from up to down….

  29. That’s all great stuff to know, but it does not do a lot of good if you live in the Pacific Northwest. Around here, you could literally camp for weeks at a time without ever seeing a patch of open sky — day or night.

    Don’t leave home without your compass.

  30. Greetings Mr. Dog

    My SAR instructor and long time wilderness survival instructor once taught me the watch method.

    He also taught me how to do it with a digital watch. Its pretty easy. Just use the method you described except draw an analog watch on the ground! Works slick.

  31. There’s a lazier way to use a watch. Hold the watch up, face horizontal. Hold a match-sized twig up vertically, at the 6 o’clock position, such that it casts a shadow on the watch face. Turn until the shadow hits the hour hand (standard time) or an hour before the hand (DST). 12 o’clock is north.

  32. And if you’re in the woods with a map and compass, and still can’t find your location on the map, you’re probably a Second Lieutenant in the Army. In that case, just go to the nearest tree, shake it violently, and look at the map. When you see the shaking tree on the map, you’ll know where you’re located.


  33. I tend to only carry a knife.
    But then that is all one needs to start said fire anyhow if one must.

    I feel nekkid without my pistol, but I’m really overexposed without my Gerber. It just did 90% ogf the work on an Inuit style primitive bow I am finishing up

    I’ve also been one of those folks who never is at a loss for “Where is North?”
    Like Farmgirl. . . ‘Tis That-a-way^
    Even in buildings I get it right. It is surprising to see so many folks who are lost direction wise once they are inside.

    As a kid my Dad would make me find our way out of places like he was lost, and I always got us back to the road. Sometimes even making it shorter if we had looped around a cross roads.

  34. So, when you’re finished with this exercise, should you use WD40, VarSol or Formula 409 to degrease the wombat?

  35. Ok, now you just need to make this into a printable and laminateable reference card so us morons out there can carry it around in our wallets ;). Thanks for the dummy’s guide.

  36. OEF_VET said,
    “. . . just go to the nearest tree, shake it violently, and look at the map. When you see the shaking tree on the map, you’ll know where you’re located.”

    One of my fellow squad leaders told that to a new private about 6 days into a continuous field problem (JRTC), and the kid took about three steps towards a tree before turning, “Now just wait a damned minute!” {grin}

  37. Aren’t Privates fun to harrass? They’re almost as much entertainment as 2LT’s.


  38. Go fetch. . .

    “A box of grid squares”

    “100m of flight line”

    “Chem light batteries”

    “Woodland pattern paint”

    “The rubber colors, since it’s raining today.”

    Or my personal favorite. (Civilians, take note — in the DoD nomenclature system for electronic gear, tactical ground unit radios have a designation that starts “AN/PRC”, followed by a number. This is generally shortened and pronuced as “prick”, as in, “Prick-77” for an AN/PRC77 radio. And paygrades for enlisted members are “E” something — E3 = Private First Class, E5 = sergeant, E6 = Staff Sergeant, etc.)

    We sent a kid out looking for a radio from Staff Sergeant Brown, teh commo chief. The radio was a “AN/PRC-E6”. . .

    So Private Snuffy ends up at BATTALION commo, and asks Sergeant First Class (E7) Williams where he can find a “prick E6”. Williams looks down on this kid from his 6+ feet, bares the whitest teeth you ever saw and said, “Well, I guess you just gonna hafta settle for a prick E7 smokin’ yo’ a**. . . “

  39. 5 gallons of rotorwash

    the keys to the safety box

    the powersource for the safety fan

    When I was in 5/8 Inf (M), 8th ID, we had M-113’s, and loved to mess with the cherries. We’d have them climb on top and jump up and down, to check the shocks. Or, we’d give them a hammer, telling them to tap the sides, looking for soft spots in the armor.

    There are just so many fun ways to mess with new people.

  40. Why is this so hard for people? Me: We need to head west to get back to the train station. J: Which way is west? Me: The sun is setting directly ahead of us. N: So? Me: *facepalm

Comments are closed.