Top 10 Geocaching Tactics


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People who don't geocache (referred to as "muggles" by us adventurous types) often don't see what the big deal is about geocaching. They think you plug in the coordinates and just walk right to the cache.  Not so. On its best day, the GPS system will get you within 10 feet of a point.  That's a circle 20 feet in diameter or a square almost 18 feet on a side - 314 square feet total. 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 punch in the coordinates, put their head down and follow the arrow. They go through the briars and the brambles to the cache only to find that there's a path next to it. We were no exception.  But soon, you become smarter and more tactical about it. Keep in mind that people who hide caches want them to be found, but they also want them to be challenging. They also have to place the cache and maintain it.  The fact that they have to go there too works in our favor. So check out our favorite tactics.  They work very well for us.

#10. Read the cache information sheet and logs in detail.  This is the research phase of geocaching. Very often, the hider gives you a cryptic clue.  Sometimes finders do too or just blurt out a key fact in a log entry.  Parse every word and pull out as much information as you can.  Take a copy with you or jot down some notes.  Recon with a topo map, gazetteer or Google Earth. Talk to locals to fill in information gaps.  Gather your intel and have a plan.

#9.  Don't head for the cache with any pre-conceived notions of what you'll find.  Some hiders will tell you exactly what it is.  Others don't. If all you know is it's a micro or a small or a regular, don't assume it's a key holder or magnetic or an ammo can because then you search based on that and skip over the real thing. If you can't find it in the cache info, you need to have a good search plan. Don't waste time looking for something that's not there.

#8.  Plan your route and modify as needed.  In general, if the distance on the GPSr is going down, you're headed in the right direction. It doesn't mean you're on the best route.  You may be on a trail that loops around a steep, thickly forested hill.  You can cut over the hill or you can stay on the trail. Don't become fixated on the GPSr. It's giving you the shortest distance between two points.  It doesn't read terrain or evaluate routes.  You do.

#7.  Look for a trail or opening.  Like we said earlier,  hiders want their caches to be found. I don't think we've ever found a cache just thrown into a thicket. If you find yourself facing a wall of brush or some other obstacle, start looking for a way through or around it. It's probably close. Everyone ends up breaking brush at some point, but do it as a last resort. Usually, if you fight through brush to get to GZ, you'll find a trail nearby when you get there.

#6.  Have a good search routine. When the GPSr is bouncing around in the single digits, you're at GZ. Do a quick scan of the area.  Check the obvious places. Then take your stick and poke around some of the less obvious. Finally, do a detailed search of the area with 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 cache.  We've seen them disguised as rocks, pine cones, reflectors, light switches, bird houses, bolts and sheet metal. Look for something that doesn't belong - a shape. a rock in a tree, a stack of sticks, a color variation. Don't take anything at face value. Look everywhere. Tug, twist, prod, kick or whatever it takes to inspect something.  Don't forget to be discreet about it.

#4.  If something near GZ looks like a good hide site, check it out.   If you've done your background work, have a good idea of what your cache is and see a likely hiding spot, go for it.  Don't ignore a good place because the GPSr says it's too far away. We've found caches as far as 100 feet from the posted coordinates. You can post corrected coordinates in your log or you can keep quiet and let the next person fumble around cursing their GPS.

#3.  Take some cache tools.  Once you've found the cache, you may have other things to deal with.  The cache may have to be pulled from a tight place. It may be so small that it takes tweezers to extract the log.  It may not have a pencil. The log may be full or wet.  The ziploc bags may be torn. Carry a "cache extraction and repair kit" to deal with all that. If the cache is really FUBAR, do what you can and send a note to the owner.

#2.  Don't expect the GPSr to take you directly to the cache. This is by far the biggest mistake that new geocachers make and even experienced cachers get lulled into it. All GPS does is get you close. Don't keep pacing and walking around waiting for it to go to zero and then expect the cache to be at your feet.  Once it starts bouncing around in single digits, its job is done. Then it's time to start looking.

#1.  Think like a geocacher.  Don't bury your face in the GPSr. Do your research. Evaluate the terrain and route. When you get to GZ, ask yourself  "Where would I hide this?"  Leave the cache as you found it or better. Pick up some trash along the way.  Geocaching is huge and growing all the time. It is self-regulating and most places are very receptive to it.  To keep it that way, we have to be good stewards of the sport and the places where we do it.