Minnesota Hunter Safety Course


Orienteering: Using a Compass

With today's navigation technology such as handheld compasses and global positioning systems (GPS) getting lost is much harder than it used to be, but it still does happen. Don't wait until you're lost to use your compass or GPS. Before you head out for a hunt, take a bearing of where you plan to hunt, to help find your way back if necessary. If you are not familiar with a compass, we have provided an easy and simple explanation of the parts and how to use it. Let's look at the parts of this kind of compass:


It is clear and has a ruler for measuring inches on one side.

Index Line

A mark on the compass base for accurate reading of the bearing or direction to an object.

Compass Housing or Bezel

The bezel can be rotated and features degree markings on it from 0 through 360 degrees. The degree markers are usually in two-degree increments.


An arrow that is used to point in the direction of your travel.

Orienting Arrow

Used in conjunction with a viewed object or topographical map to determine bearing to an object or place.

Magnetic North Needle

The needle pivots in a 360-degree circle and points to magnetic north. It is usually colored red, to indicate the north end of the needle, and white to indicate the south end of the needle. However on certain compasses the south end of the needle is colored black.