How to Locate Your Hidden Buried Cache Part 2 of 2

Some type of a diagram of how to find your cache from reference points will help you make sense of your notes.
Some type of diagram showing how to find your cache from reference points will help you make sense of your notes.

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

Recording Your Reference Points

In general, there is less possibility of mistake if you express each marker both in terms of how it is calculated from the marker to the cache, and from the cache to the marker.

To start with, when you have no idea where your cache is located, you’ll want to first go to known markers and use the information expressed in terms of how to find the cache from the marker.  After using one or two of these, you’ll end up with a likely location for your cache, and you can then fine tune the calculation from the cache using the directions from the cache.

Depending on the time of instructions, it is usually easy to express them in either direction.  A distance remains the same, no matter which end you’re measuring from, of course.  A bearing from a marker to your cache becomes the bearing from your cache to the marker by simply adding (or subtracting, whichever is easier for you) 180 degrees.  For example, a 50 degree angle from the marker to the cache becomes a 230 degree angle from the cache to the marker.

Some things won’t be so readily measured both ways.  If you’re using a relatively distant point (a bad thing to do, as discussed above) then you probably will only use the direction from the cache to the distant marker, so as to cut down on the travel.

There’s another aid to assist you in locating your cache as well.  You can take photos – both of the cache site from nearby points, and of the views you see from the cache site.

If you take pictures, don’t just leave them on a memory card.  Print them out.  That way you are protected in case your memory card fails, or the system you’d use to read the pictures off the card fails.

It is very helpful if you can also make up a diagram showing the angles, bearings, distances, reference points, and everything and how all the different parts line up and result in locating your cache.

How Do You Orient Your Cache to your Ground Zero Point?

You also need to plot how your cache lies in the ground so you know the overlap between where your cache actually is, beneath you, and the invisible ‘X marks the spot’ point above it that your calculations are hopefully directing you to.

If the first trial dig down to where you think the cache might be doesn’t locate it, are you best to now widen your hole to the north, south, east or west of that first point?

Our slight preference is to use more or less the center of the cache location as your reference point, but do whatever works best for you.

How to Measure Distances

This might seem simple, but the chances are that the distances you want to measure will be more than ten or twenty feet, so your choice of measuring tool starts to have an impact on the accuracy of your measurement.

On the other hand, if you have some flexibility in choosing your cache location, maybe it is prudent to locate it closer to a reference point, making it easier to return to in the future.

For longer distances, a laser rangefinder can be a great convenience, although it is obviously a high-tech product that you can not guarantee to be reliably available and functional in a future scenario.  We discuss laser rangefinders and other high-tech aids to locating caches in a separate article.

The best low-tech method of measuring longer distances is usually with a long measuring tape.  You should buy a couple of long measuring tapes – Amazon has a 400 ft tape and a 300 ft tape on convenient spools, for example – this link takes you to a selection of long tapes they offer.  These are much easier to use than a shorter tape that you have to keep ‘flipping over’ or ‘leapfrogging’ and reusing, and this makes them more accurate too.

You might want to consider buying two tapes.  That way, when figuring out your cache location, you can stretch both tapes out from different reference points simultaneously to see where they meet up.  Oh – don’t forget that with two reference points, there will be two points where the distances meet up, and sometimes a long way apart.  You need a third reference point and measurement, or accurate bearings to/from the two reference points, so as to know which of the two reference points is the correct one.

When you’ve measured out the distance from the reference point to where your cache should be located, be sure to pull the tape reasonably tight (not so tight as to stretch it, but tight enough to ensure the tape is in a direct line).  This will straighten the tape and give you a more exact measurement.

There are also measuring wheels available, but we don’t like these quite as much as tapes.  There are two possible errors introduced with a wheel that are not as prominent with a tape.

The first is that on uneven ground, the wheel may not read quite as accurately as on even ground.  This error can be minimized by using a larger diameter wheel – use a 12″ instead of a 4″ wheel, for example.

The other problem is that you need to move the wheel in a direct and straight line from the reference point to the measured distance.  If you weave about a bit rather than proceeding directly straight, then this will introduce some error, too.

These errors can be quite small, however, and you could also help minimize the error by measuring each distance twice and averaging the results.  Indeed, if the difference in measurement was significant, measure three or four times.

Identifying Cache Locations in a Forest

Much of our discussion to date has assumed that everything is in nice easy unobstructed straight lines from each other, such as in an open field.  But maybe you are instead hiding a cache somewhere in a forest.  All you can see around the cache are trees, and they all sort of look the same.

That is very much more difficult a scenario to work from, and is made harder by the fact that most forests have trees falling down from time to time such as to distort your perceptions of locations, tree counts, and so on.

There are various ways you can ‘signpost’ your way through a forest.  If there’s a clearly established trail, then that should be your reference point, and we’d probably then choose to use a wheel type distance measuring device.

We would segment the trail into lengths, each of which had a clearly recognizable tree or stump or other feature at the start/end of it.  The directions might be something like this

  • Proceed about 150 ft until finding two large trees on the right and no trees for at least 10 ft on the left of the trail.
  • From the further away of the two trees, now proceed another about 200 ft until you come to a fallen over tree parallel to the trail on the left.
  • From the base of the fallen over tree, proceed another about 180 ft until coming to a point where two trees on the right line up, one in front of the other, at a 30 degree angle.
  • At this point, head off the trail on a 75 degree angle until …..

Sure, you could simply say ‘Go 530 ft along the trail until reaching two trees lined up at a 30 degree angle’ but by splitting the path into segments, you give yourself recalibration points, and furthermore, if one of the points disappears, you still have other points to guide you.  Maybe the fallen over tree has been cut up and hauled away for firewood.  If you can’t find it, you instead know to proceed 380 ft from the two large trees on the right.

In addition, we don’t much like following trails, because other people follow trails too.  Trails are also not fixed.  They can disappear if they are not regularly used, or one lightly used trail can be superseded by a slight change in usage – a downed tree further along the trail might redirect people a new way, and so your trail now follows a different path.  In winter, snow can obscure the traces of any trails.

Probably the key consideration here is that if you’re going to hide a cache in a forest, it is best to hide it not too far into the forest, or, if further in to the forest, not too far from an obvious impossible to miss reference point.

Another technique you can use in a forest is to consider marking your trail by way of subtle signs on trees.  What is the most subtle sort of marking?  Hammer a nail or two into the tree at a specific height (say 3′ or so above the ground) and perhaps on the north side of the tree.

The nail will quickly disappear into the tree bark, but if you then go searching it out with a hand-held metal detector, it should be easy to spot if you know to focus on the north side of trees about 3′ from the ground.  Then plot a chart showing the ‘chain’ of marked trees, with bearings/distances from each to the next, and follow the ‘hidden’ trail you’ve created.

Hiding Your Instructions

Do we need to point out that you don’t want to print out your cache location data in large bold type and stick it with a magnet to your fridge door?

The first thing you want to do is keep all knowledge of you having a cache as tightly restricted as possible.  If people don’t think you have a cache, they’re less likely to search for either the cache itself or for directions to it, and they’re less likely to recognize your directions, if they should stumble across them, as being related to finding your cache.

You do need to have your instructions written down.  You can’t trust electronic devices to remain operable in the future, so you need a good old-fashioned written in ink on paper set of instructions.  We’d also recommend having multiple copies of the instructions, so if one copy gets lost or damaged, you still have others you can use.

You can secure your instructions several different ways.  You should adopt several of these strategies.  But make sure that whatever you do and however you do it, you are then sure to remember the details, so in the future you know where to find your directions and how to decode them.

  • Hide them somewhere really secure and secret and safe.
  • Write them in invisible ink so people see a ‘normal’ piece of paper somewhere in a normal (not hidden) place and think nothing of it.
  • Alter the instructions – perhaps add 5 to everything.  A 15 yard distance becomes 20 yards.  A 35 ft distance becomes 40 ft.  A 35 degree bearing becomes 40 degrees.  The 2nd tree on the left becomes the 7th tree on the left.  If there are some numbers you can’t change because they’d then look ridiculous, use a special code marker to indicate that it is a real number rather than a changed number.  Perhaps spell the number rather than write it in numerals, or have a word like ‘about’ as an indicator that the number following has not been altered.
  • Transpose digits.  Swap the ones and tens digits on any numbers.  If the number is 13, it becomes 31.  If the number is 2076, it becomes 2067.  And if you have single digit numbers, think of them as, eg, 03, so swapping that becomes 30.
  • Make notes on pages of a book on your bookshelf, with perhaps only the notes on pages where the page number is divisible by three being valid notes.  Hopefully people won’t go thumbing through the book to start with, and if they do, they won’t know what is what.
  • Split the instructions up and keep half somewhere and the other half somewhere else.
  • Hide them ‘in plain sight’ in a pile of other junk and papers.
  • Write them in code so they appear meaningless.  For example, use A, B, C, D instead of NSWE, use F for feet, I for inches, and Y for yards.  Maybe E for degrees, and X for ‘looking from the cache to the marker’ and Y for ‘looking from the marker to the cache’.  So you could encode the instruction ‘the cache can be found by following a line at an angle of 15 degrees for 50 ft from the gatepost as 15E50FYgatepost.  If this was all in a notebook with lots of other semi-random jottings and notes, they’d not stand out as directions to a cache.
  • If you have photos identifying your cache, or from your cache, maybe have a family member posing at the cache point (if a photo to the cache) or in the foreground (if a photo from the cache) so as to make the photo seem like a typical family photo rather than a cache location photo.
  • A bothersome but ultra-secure strategy is to have your directions leading to a ‘sacrificial’ cache, and your main cache being a secret distance and direction from your sacrificial cache.  This can help you two ways.  If someone finds the cache map, then when they find your cache they’ll stop looking for more caches.  Secondly, if you find yourself forced to reveal your cache, you can show them the map to your sacrificial cache and not need to disclose the second more substantial cache.  Make sure the main cache is far enough from the sacrificial cache so as not to be accidentally found when people are searching for the sacrificial cache!

If possible, have the instructions typed/printed out rather than handwritten.  If someone finds them and demands that you interpret them and lead them to the cache, you can say ‘Joe did that, and he isn’t here, so I’ll try to help you, but only Joe knows exactly what he means’.

That way, when the instructions don’t work, they’re not going to pressure you to tell the truth, because you’ve already said that the instructions are Joe’s, and relate to his cache.  You don’t know what is in the cache, where it is, or how to read/decode Joe’s instructions – clearly Joe didn’t trust you or anyone else with that information.  They are not in your handwriting, so it is hard to be contradicted on that point.

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

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