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Mar 152013
The famous 'Wolf Map' purportedly shows the location of treasure buried by Jesse James.  You'll need location data for your buried cache, too.

The famous ‘Wolf Map’ purportedly shows the location of treasure buried by Jesse James. You’ll need location data for your buried cache, too.

Note this is the first part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the second part to complete your reading of this article.

There are many reasons to bury some of your prepper supplies, and to do so at a hidden location.

The main reason is usually not because you have something illegal you want to hide.  The main reason is more likely to be because you want to protect your supplies from an uncertain future, and most of all, from people seeking to steal your supplies from you – either by theft/burglary while you’re away from your store, or by violence/force while you are present.

A buried cache is probably the most resilient form of storage there is.  It is (relatively) safe from man-made threats and also from natural threats such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and fire.  It is a constant temperature cool environment.  Obviously flooding is a threat, but equally obviously you shouldn’t have your retreat location in a flood plain to start with, and as long as your cache is waterproofed (which it should be, no matter if there’s a flooding risk or not) then some surface water above it for a while shouldn’t be a problem anyway.

The process of preparing items for burial, what to bury them in, and so on are all subjects for other articles at other times; our focus today is on a very important aspect of the complete process – being able to find them again.

Depending on where you locate it, finding your hidden buried cache may not be as easy as you hope and assume it is, and so you should carefully consider where to bury your cache, and what to use to help you locate it again.

On the other hand, if you make your cache location too obvious, then you run the risk of having other people find it, too.  It is entirely possible that if people think you may have a cache, then in the future they might go looking for it with the aid of a metal detector.  But while they’ll look for it close to your retreat and close to other objects, they’ll probably not painstakingly search through every square foot of all the acres you own, so it behooves you to avoid some of the easiest cache locations, because they are probably also the most obvious.

The few minutes it takes you to read this two-part article now, and the extra time it takes you to apply the ideas and concepts we explain, may be time extremely well spent.

The main things to consider are your choice of reference points, how you describe your cache location with relation to your reference points, and how many reference points you specify.

Using Multiple Reference Points/Bearings

We urge you to use multiple points of reference that you work from to calculate your cache location, either in terms of distances and/or angles/bearings, for three reasons.

First, the tools you use to identify your cache may not be available to you at an unknown uncertain future time.  For example, if your references are all compass bearings, maybe you don’t have a compass with you when you need to dig up your cache.  If your references are all distances from known points, maybe you don’t have a measuring tape with you.  And so on.

Second, some of the reference points you are using to locate your cache may disappear or change.  It is highly possible that fence posts might fall over, trees might be cut down, and so on.  Or maybe a reference point simply gets obscured by something else being built (or naturally growing) in front of it.  It you can’t see your reference point, then that becomes essentially the same as it no longer being there if you are using visual bearings.  If you are using distances, if something is built in front of your reference point, it becomes much harder to calculate the straight line distance when your measuring now has to do a loop around the obstacle.

Third, the more bearings or measurements you have, the more accurate your location fix becomes.  Maybe the first set of two bearings ends up giving you an oval area perhaps plus or minus ten feet on one axis and five feet on the other axis – that gives you 160 sq ft of space within which you’ll hopefully find your cache, and depending on what you’re using as a reference point, this is close to a best case scenario.

If you add another bearing, maybe that gives you a 4′ radius circle instead, – about 50 sq ft of space in which to find your cache.  That’s a huge improvement.

A fourth and subsequent bearing (or measurement) won’t necessarily reduce that area much – perhaps it might make it a 3′ radius circle (ie about 30 sq ft), but it gives you backups in case of problems with some of the other reference points.

The Closer Your Reference Points, the Better

Your reference points will give you a much more accurate ‘fix’ on your cache location if they are close to it.  For example, if one reference point is ‘The cache is six feet west of this fencepost’ then how hard is it to miss the cache?  You know you can measure six feet to within a few inches, and even if your measurement of what is west is off by an enormous 30 degrees, that only shifts your measurement by 3½ feet.

On the other hand, if you are measuring from the barn in the distance – let’s say it is 500 yards away – then if you have a 1% error in your distance measurement, that adds 15 ft of error.  In addition to the distance measurement, your bearing might be off too.  Lets be kind and say that you are not off by a huge 30°, but by only a tiny 3°, but that adds 78 ft of uncertainty. giving you now a zone 15′ long and 78′ wide – a huge 1170 sq ft within which your cache might be located.

As for a bearing to the mountain peak 10 miles away, even if you were to measure the bearing to it to an extraordinary 1° of accuracy, that still gives you 950 ft of uncertainty, which is close to useless.

Far away bearings can be okay to help you locate the general area, such as which field out of a dozen fields your cache is within, but you need your ‘real’ reference points to the cache to be as close as is possible in order to secure the most accurate fix on your cache.

Choosing Your Reference Points

Of course, you need to describe your cache location in terms of where it is related to a number of reference points around it.

The first thing to appreciate is that you want to have multiple reference points (see above) and they should be spread more or less around on all sides of the cache location if at all possible.

Ideally if you have only two reference points (which is not ideal) they should be at right angles to each other, when viewed from the cache.

If you have more than two, try to get some on the opposite side of the cache to the others.

Your reference points should be things you can readily find at any time of year, and ideally that you can see from your cache.

Your reference points should be as permanent as possible, and least likely to change or become unclear or obscured in the future.

Some things are vulnerable to changing over time.  For example ‘the highest tree, which is near the middle of that row of trees to the south’ – what happens if one of the trees next to it grows higher?  Or if the highest tree dies and falls down?

Even buildings are impermanent.  They may get pulled down, or they might get altered (so, eg, a reference point like a high point on the roof line or a corner of the building changes), or other buildings might be added in front, obscuring the reference building and making distance measurements now difficult.

If there are nearby official survey pegs and/or memorial markers, these are excellent objects to work from.  They probably look inconspicuous (make sure you can be sure of always finding them!) and are normal things to find on any property.

If you are in an area with utilities, then things like fire hydrants, power pylons or lampposts, manholes, and utility boxes can also provide semi-stable reference points.

There’s no reason why you can’t create your own markers to make things very much simpler.  Maybe you build a pig sty or a cattle water trough close to your cache and use that as a marker.  Maybe you run a fence line or dig a ditch or make some other sort of appropriate landscaping change.  Maybe you have a compost bin or a trash incinerator.

Angles, Bearings, and Distances

There are many different trigonometric techniques you can use to locate your cache with reference to external markers.  Essentially, they fall into three groupings – angles relative from something to your cache, bearings from a compass, or distances from a point.

While there are reasons to like bearings (ie as taken by a magnetic compass) we prefer using angles with respect to other objects if possible.  The reason for this is due to the earth’s magnetic north moving.  In the American redoubt area, every six or so years, magnetic north has shifted, with respect to true north, by a degree (note that this rate of change may speed up or slow down in the future and possibly even reverse).  There are also some people who theorize that the earth’s magnetic field may be due to flip over entirely in the foreseeable future; and if such an act were to occur, not only would you for sure be forced to your retreat and need to access your cached supplies, but magnetic bearings would become totally invalidated.

On the other hand, being able to say ‘follow a line that goes 25 degrees to the north of the heading from here to that other place’ is a relatively fixed reference that does not rely on a slightly unreliable magnetic north.

Of the three techniques, the best to use are measured distances.  These are much more exact than angles and bearings.  When specifying a distance, you generally give the magnetic bearing the distance should be measured from the reference point to the cache, this does not need to be quite so exact.

If you inscribe a partial arc on the ground at the measured distance from the reference point, with the arc swinging around even 30 degrees relative to the approximate line of travel, this is fine because your second measurement from another point will then intersect with the arc at only one or two points.  Add a third measurement and arc, and you now are starting to create a ‘hot zone’, and more or less in the middle of that hot zone is where your cache should be.

You can also use a concept of ‘run a line between this object and that object.  The cache is located at a point x feet from the first object on that line.’  Or, ‘run a line between this object and that object.  At a point x feet from the first object, now measure another y feet at an angle of z degrees from the line to reach the cache’.

There’s another form of reference you can use as well.  Boats will use sets of markers ashore and line them up, one behind the other, to allow them to know exactly where they are at sea.  You can use the same sort of technique – if it is possible to take advantage of, or to create, two objects that are lined up so they are (inconspicuously!) pointing to your cache, that is an obvious easy visual aid as well.

Read On for Part Two

Note this is the first part of a two-part article on how to record and locate a buried cache.  Please also visit the second part to complete your reading of this article.


David Spero[suffusion-the-author display='description']

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