People who don’t geocache (referred to as “muggles” by us adventurous types) often don’t see the big deal is with geocaching. They think you plug in the coordinates and just walk right up to the find. Not so. On its best day, the GPS system will get you within 10 feet of a cache. That’s a circle 20 feet in diameter – 314 square feet. If you’re fighting thorns and mosquitoes, that’s a lot of ground to cover.
The truth is that when most people start geocaching, they call up the coordinates, put their head down and follow the arrow. They power their way through the briars and the brambles to the cache only to find there’s a path next to it. We were no exception. After you get beat up enough, you become smarter and more tactical about it. Check out our tried and true tactics for the hunt. They work well for us.
One of our first and probably most famous geocaching site. There were five caches here. Not bad for a town of three people. Here we’re settin’ a spell on the porch of the bar/town hall. “…let’s go to Luckenbach, Texas”.
#10 – Don’t head for the cache with any preconceived notions of what you’ll find. Some hiders will tell you exactly what/where it is. Others will give you a hint. Others will tell you nothing. If you’re going in blind, don’t assume that it’s an ammo can or a key holder or some other common hide. Also pay attention to the terrain and difficulty star rating of the cache. One star is a wheelchair accessible cache. One and a half should indicate a fairly easy, open find. If you’re breaking brush and crawling under things looking for a 1½ star geocache, it’s time to regroup.
#9 – Read the cache description, check for a hint and read the logs. If you’re chasing pill bottles in the Walmart parking lot with your smartphone, you don’t need a whole lot of preparation. But if you are heading into the countryside, background work can be the difference between finding it and a wasted trip. Very often, the hider gives a cryptic or open clue. Finders often do too or they’ll just blurt out a key fact in a log entry. Parse every word and pull out as much information as you can. For starters, if the last five logs are DNF’s (Did Not Find) or it hasn’t been found in months or even years, you might want to pass. If headed to a new place, check it out with a map, gazetteer or Google Earth. Talk to locals to fill in information gaps. Do your research and have a plan.
#8 – Modify your route as needed. In general, if the distance on the GPSr (GPS receiver) is dropping, you’re headed in the right direction. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on the best route. You may be on a trail that goes around a steep, thickly wooded hillside. The GPSr is screaming “up the hill”. But we know the trail takes us to the other side with no problems. Going that route may even raise the distance a bit, but it’ll come down quickly. Don’t be fixated on the GPSr. It’s showing the shortest distance between two points. It doesn’t read terrain or evaluate routes. You do.
Natasha bags the Grizzly Den cache just outside the east gate of Yellowstone Park. Look close. She’s there.
#7 – Look for a trail or an opening. Cache owners want their caches to be found. They also want them to be fun and challenging. If an owner is serious about the cache, they’ll also maintain it, which means putting it someplace accessible. I don’t think we’ve ever found a cache that was just purposely thrown into a thicket. Placed there carefully maybe, but not tossed. If you find yourself facing a wall of brush, vegetation, water, etc, start looking for a way around or an opening that will take you in. It’s probably close. Everyone ends up breaking brush (bushwhacking) at some point, but do it as a last resort. Usually, after fighting your way to GZ, you’ll find a trail when you get there.
#6 – Have a good search routine. Your GPS will likely never show “zero” in the display. If it does, it won’t be there long. When the GPSr is bouncing around in single digits, you’re there. Time to start looking. Do a quick scan of the area. Check the obvious places, which geocachers call “beacons”. Then take your stick (you do have a stick, right?) and start poking around everywhere. If you’ve already looked, then poke it. If your partner has already done it, do it again. Finally, get into a search pattern. Look high and low. Move slowly. Keep your eyes moving. Your peripheral vision is better at picking up shapes. A lot of caches are found “…out of the corner of my eye”.
#5 – Check everything. Except for burying it, almost anything goes when hiding a geocache. Some cache owners/hiders are very crafty and take great pride in their work. We’ve seen them disguised as rocks, pine cones, reflectors, light switches, bird houses and sheet metal. There was even one in plastic dog doo, just sitting out in the open. If your initial search doesn’t make the quick find, then you need to get serious. Look for something that doesn’t belong – a shape, a color, a stack of sticks or rocks, anything out of place. Take nothing at face value. Look at everything. Tug, twist, poke, prod, kick, lift or whatever it takes to inspect something. Don’t forget to be discreet about it.
Geocaching on horseback at the Willow Creek Ranch north of Casper, Wyoming.
#4 – If something near GZ looks like a good spot, check it out. Don’t ignore a beacon because your GPSr says you’re too far away. We’ve found caches as far as 100 feet from their posted coordinates. You can post corrected coordinates in your log. You can also do what we do – don’t post anything and let the next geocacher fumble around cursing their GPS. (:-o)
#3 – Take some cache tools. In geocaching lingo, it’s known as TOTT (Tools of the Trade). Once you’ve found the cache, you may have other things to deal with. The cache may have to be pulled from a high or tight place. It may be so small it takes tweezers to remove the log. It may not have a pencil. It may be dark. The log sheet may be full or wet. Carry a “cache extraction and repair kit” to deal with these annoyances. If it’s completely FUBAR, do what you you can. If you work on a cache, note it in your log and email the owner.
#2 – Think like a geocacher. So you’ve planned, researched, modified and now you’re at GZ. Put away the GPS. Ask yourself “Where would I hide something”? Where are the beacons? What doesn’t belong here? While you’re at it, take along a garbage bag and pick up some trash along the way. Leave the cache site as you found it or better. It’s good for the game and helps keep us welcome in the places we do it.
#1 – Stay safe and have fun. There’s something in geocaching for everyone. You don’t have to be an athlete to do a nice walk on a trail and bag some caches along the way. There’s also lots of geocaches that will challenge even the fittest and most experienced outdoors fanatic. Know your limits and be prepared. We were in the backcountry of New Mexico several years ago on what was supposed to be a quick grab. Before it was over, we were separated, had no communication, no water, it was getting dark and starting to rain. How did that happen? We weren’t leaving until we found it. We came out of it just fine but it could have ended badly. We’re not SEALs or Marines. We don’t have to die trying. Keep it real and stay safe.
Good hunting … Boris and Natasha