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There are two basic ways to hold the compass when you want to use it. One way is called the "STEADY HOLD METHOD."  Using this method you can continue to read the compass while moving. The second method is called the "GUNSIGHT METHOD." This method is used to determine the exact azimuth to a particular object or spot. Correct technique is using these methods can make the difference between reaching your desired destination and missing it by several miles.


The steady hold method is used when you want to follow a particular azimuth for a distance. It can be used during the day and at night. Use the steady hold method as follows:


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  1. Open the compass to its fullest so that the cover forms a straight edge with the base.

  2. Move the lens (rear sight) to its rearmost position, allowing the floating dial to move freely.

  3. Place a thumb through the thumb loop, and extend the index finger of the same hand down the side of the compass. Curl your middle, ring, and little fingers to form a steady base on which the compass rests.

  4. With the other hand, lay the thumb in front of the lens. Extend the index finger down the side of the compass, and grip the base (formed by the fingers of the first hand) with the remaining fingers.

  5. Hold the compass to your stomach so you must look down to see the compass, and keep your elbows into your sides. 

  6. Rotate your body left and right to adjust the azimuth until the desired azimuth is directly below the index line (black fixed line) in the glass window of the base.

  7. Walk forward at a slow to medium pace, keeping the azimuth directly under the index line.


This method is very useful in heavy vegetation conditions, rugged terrain when sighting far objects is impossible, and at night, however it does take getting use to. Also, both hands must be kept free.



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The Gunsight Method is used when an exact azimuth is desired. An exact azimuth is needed when determining Intersection, Resection (more on these later) and plotting objects or terrain features. The Gunsight Method is performed as follows:


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  1. Set the cover of the compass at a 90 degree angle to the base. 

  2. Set the lens (rear sight) to an angle slightly more than 45 degrees from the closed position. 

  3. Insert your right thumb (for a right-handed person) through the thumb loop, lay your index finger down the side of the base. Make a fist of the fingers to provide a steady rest for the base.

  4. Clamp your left hand (for a right-handed person) around your right hand to provide support.

  5. Bring the compass to your right eye and look through the slit of the lens plate (the rear sight). Your should be pressing your right hand against your right cheek to increase the steadiness of the compass.

  6. Looking through the rear sight, line up the vertical sighting line in the cover with the desired distant object. Glance down at the floating dial (through the lens) and read the azimuth directly under the index line. If the numbers are not in focus, adjust the position of the lens until the numbers are in focus. DO NOT push the lens too far down, or the dial will lock up.


As an example on how this method is used, let's say you need to go a distance on an azimuth of 88 degrees magnetic. Using the gunsight method, adjust your body position until 88 degrees is directly under the index line. Look up though the vertical line in the cover at an object (hilltop or other terrain feature, particular tree, or some other object) that is exactly at 88 degrees magnetic. Keeping this object in sight, you can walk toward this object and be sure you are still on 88 degrees magnetic. You do not have to keep looking through the compass. Once you reach this object you will have to re-sight another object. Repeat the procedure until you reach your destination.


Each of these methods are more useful than the other in some situations. Both should be mastered before they are needed. Practice is the only way to learn how to use a compass properly.


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