Dense Brush Test

For some reason I have decided that this is the first test I need to be nervous about

though I’m not certain why. It’s really the same test as all the others with thicker bushes in the way. Only this time, we are in the Land with No Magnetic North. I’m not terribly worried because I typically only rely on compasses when I’m forced. I learned long ago how to orient myself against the sun, and failing that I’m pretty handy reading a map. So when we show up, we have our game faces on and we are ready to rock and roll.

I’m working on getting the briefing time down so I can spend more time in the field working with the dog. We fire through the briefing and we’re going to work the sector directly off the road behind the parking lot. This means all we have to do is get over to the other side of the road and lock the bearing line of my lensatic compass over the north arrow and that will determine how I work my grid lines. As soon as we march over to the start point we can dive right in.

Radio check, Starting task and We’re Off!

The first line isn’t bad, it’s my undefined where I’m marking my sector against the arbitrary line drawn on my map. It’s pretty wide and open here so I can shoot long bearings and manage a pretty straight line. I’m telling my evaluator/shadowman where I’m hanging imaginary flags and what kind of flag I’m hanging to mark different portions of my undefined. I begin to wonder what all the fuss is about as the going isn’t so tough. When we get to the stream bed I take my turn and follow it down away from my boundary. As I put the bearing line on the south needle of my compass I check the sun to see where it is in relation to the bill of my hat. That’s when I notice that a thunder storm has started to roll in and the sun is moving in and out from behind the clouds.

It’s not a make or break thing and I have a decent idea of where the sun is supposed to be, even if I can’t always see it I got at least one good look at it. My first bearing is long and we start marching, making sure little Grom is excited to be here. Not surprisingly, he’s ramped up and running like he would rather be here than anywhere else. Half way through the sector I look down to check my bearing and see my compass pointing due north, which is roughly 90 degrees from where it should be pointing. I check the sun and it’s where it’s supposed to be and I say to myself, “No, not only no. But hell no.

It can’t be THIS bad…..”

dense search

I march through the rest of my grid, I notice the compass never really gives a consistent bearing, right or wrong. The sun is where it’s supposed to be when it’s anywhere at all, but the needle doesn’t do anything even remotely predictable.  When I pop out on the road I’m relieved to see that I’m about the right distance down the road if not just a tad further than I’d hoped. I see a large branch that’s fallen out of the canopy and broken into three pieces in the middle of the road and make a mental note of it as a decent land mark.  Again we turn away from my undefined and march down the road so we can turn back into the brush.

Grom is happiest in the brush, he knows his reward is in there.

On the road he’s just killing time smelling things and occasionally stopping to leave a message for any one else that happens to come by. So by the time I have my next grid lined up he’s more than happy to dive in after us and we make our way through to the middle of the sector. Something that’s becoming harder to do because the sun is no longer playing peekaboo. I’m becoming less amused with it and my evaluator is developing a permanent smirk. The kind you get when you know the punch line to the joke someone else is telling– and you still think it’s funny.

dense brush

Half way through this grid line the dog goes into three point mode with his tail high and his ear listening for something only he can hear. I watch him carefully as we cross a fairly open area and he dives into a bush south of us, in the area we haven’t gotten to yet. He’s in full uniform, so I can hear the bear bells jingling away as he crashes through things Briar Rabbit would think twice about. After a few seconds they start to come back and I watch his behavior looking to see if he’s wearing his “GOT IT” face or if he’s got the “I thought I had it…..” expression. By the time he reaches us he’s got the canine equivilent of a head scratch going on and I take another look toward where the sun is supposed to be and march back into the bush, making a note to pay special attention to this area on the next pass.

Unfortunately the bush I’ve marched into is thick scrub oak, but it’s just tall enough I think I see a clearing not 15 meters away. The clearing never comes but after 15 meters I think I see another. The going is getting thicker as we get closer to the water and I start to say things out loud like

“stupid Handler, marching us into a never ending thicket…..”

To his credit, my evaluator never makes a peep about it and just follows in the path I’ve bulled my way through. By the time I’ve started to reconsider my decision it’s as far back as it was in, so I push to the water.

Guilt feels like wet socks….

The water is not really water though. It’s marshy muck. There is no way I’m going back through the briar and scrub I’ve fought so hard to get here, so I thank my pack check list for making me bring extra socks and sink ankle deep into the muck. As I turn around I see my evaluator has a scratch on his cheek and I feel really bad because I made the man bleed. We hop from one “dry” spot to another when he sinks his walking stick into the mire and says

“heh, it’s only 18 inches deep…”

Finally, there’s a clearing on the bank we can scramble up and fight our way through a measly 10 meters of brush and briar.  Grom is happy as can be, smelling like a swamp and happy to finally be back on running ground. I take a look at my compass and check the sun. Neither is telling me anything useful  when I catch a glimpse

of my now naked dog.

Some where in the brush, or the muck, he’s managed to strip himself of his search vest and he’s now running naked as a city dog in a park. I’m a little panic stricken. I’m wondering if the dog will search with no vest on. I’m wondering if I should go back and get it. I’m wondering if my wife will kill me for losing his vest in the woods. All good questions, but I have someone in the woods waiting for me to find them and I have to get to them before my time runs out.

I decide to chance it and we continue, letting him work au natural.

When we break back out on the road I think it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, until I see the same branch broken into three pieces laying in the middle of the road. I thank many days of my misspent youth for teaching me so many of the “important words” in other languages; there are kids in these woods.

Counting up the number of cool points I’m loosing, we turn back down the road and go to where I should have come out and then a little more to correct for the drift that came out before we march back into the forest.

Half way through the next grid line Grom takes off again. This time I can’t hear him, so I have to follow. He’s going north now, toward the area we’ve already been through and I’m thinking this is a sign. He’s shown interest here twice. Letting him work and following slowly he makes a few passes through a clearing and returns to me.

He looks unsure, frustrated, and tired. Then,  he barks.

But it’s not his normal “OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO SEE WHAT I FOUND” bark. It’s his “…. ARGH! I know it’s ….SOMEWHERE!” bark.

My evaluator says coolly, “you don’t look like you believe him….” and I reply, “that’s because I don’t. he’s venting.”

So we rest for a minute. Grom goes into a down stay and I consult my map, trying to read the terrain and do my report to base. The dog needs to cool off and get some water in him. When I restart him he gets up and wanders away from the area where he was most interested.

My broken compass not withstanding, I correct as best as I can for Grom’s little rally and we continue to grid this part of the sector.

When we get back to the same tree stump that I saw before, I let out a sigh and roll my eyes harder than I ever did as a teenager. I’m flustered, for only the second time inside the sector, I know exactly where I am. This place I have been to as well.

Turning to my evaluator, I adopt my best professional manners.

“Permission to skip this… crap….”

He says everything I’m thinking in my head, only out loud,

“…Hell Yeah.”

We turn back away from my undefined and again try to correct for my wander. When I think we’ve got it I turn to my bearing, look for the sun and check my compass. To my great surprise, it’s as bad as it was in the upper portion of my sector and there’s still no sun. So I take my best guess and we charge through what will ultimately be my last grid, but not the end of my search.

The Terrain has changed.

Where it had been slight hills and drainages to the north, this is more dramatic and I know from my map approximately where I am. I have only a slight clue about what direction I’m going but there’s some water down here and I watch the dog happily scamper through it, cooling off from what has become a truly hot and sticky morning.

We come out on to the road we’re on a section that I’m not expecting to see.

I’ve managed to skip down the road at least 300 meters past where I wanted to be. This leaves a huge gaping hole in my search pattern and it is very far from the area where Grom was telling me he was on to something. To complicate things, the terrain is very different with bigger hills and deeper valleys.  It calls for a different search pattern.

I’m a little tired, and a lot frustrated

My search strategy didn’t call for leaving vast tracts of land unsearched.  Try to grid it again will get me more of what I already have, wandering off bearing and ending up in places I’ve already been. My plans have served me well in the past; I’m reluctant to completely abandon it regardless of how badly it’s gone. I’m a little tired, very hot, taking a lot longer than I wanted, and very frustrated at all the things that have gone wrong so far– making a good decision gets harder with each of those things.

All of them together makes me start to think about how I’m going to time out and have to retest.

Looking at my map I have a clue about where I am, but I’m not positive. Finally, I make a decision. I’m going to leave my evaluator on the road and march into the woods… to take care of some personal business…… While we’re out there the dog and I have a little heart to heart and discuss our options.

By the time we come out of the woods we’ve reached consensus; Team Grom has a plan.

I see a particular bend in the road where the elevation changes more than any other place in our sector so I now know exactly where I am.  We’re going to go back toward the undefined boundary and cover the ground we’ve missed. We’re going to do it by following contour lines instead of gridding. As I communicate the New plan to my dirty, tired, and sweaty evaluator, he only nods when I mention that I wanted to do something else.

The dog insisted this was the best plan.

After about 5 minutes of rest we’re back in the woods working our way along a single elevation that goes around a couple of drainages before we’re back in the middle of the sector. Into dense scrub oak our line north has met with another hill and we turn south to follow the contour further into the sector.

The dog puts on his Super Grom Face.

I only catch glimpses of pointy ears and tail when he dives in.  I see him working back and forth, tearing through a stand of scrub oak looking for an opening.  I tell my evaluator that the dog’s definitely into something. Grom is going vaguely in the direction of my line so I adjust and follow him in when he suddenly flashes past me from right to left and disappears in to another stand of bushes and then… nothing.

I can’t hear anything from him. I quietly curse his lost vest with bear bells, now sinking further into the swamp. And then just as quickly he’s back in front of me, barking his little head off.

I haven’t seen anyone else out here. I couldn’t see him when he went in. I have no idea if he’s actually made the find or not, I do the one thing I know will make or break us– a false indication that I can’t read is a huge problem. I believe him.

I give him the command to take me where ever he wants.

Grom has a new friend.

I think I see a tarp. Then I see her dressed in camo, laying as still as can be with my dog excitedly trying to be her new best friend. “Hi,” I  say, playing the part of searcher #1

” Are you lost? I’m here to help…”

Silently, in my head, I’m thinking that I haven’t been this happy to see anyone in a very long time. Even with a naked dog, broken faith in magnetic north, and soaking socks; I am indeed, a very happy man.

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