Signs That Point To Water
Now let's take a look at some signs that can lead to water sources for the wilderness traveler. Tuning up not only your senses, but your ability to improvise and adapt are crucial to life in the wilderness!
Use the tips below to find water:
Listen For Water
Stop and listen for water frequently. When you are still you might be able to hear a water source nearby, even a trickling spring.
Seek The Lowest Point
Gravity is going to cause water to run to the lowest point. The likeliest places to find water are under a valley or at the base of hills.
A creek bed, river bed or gully that contains no surface water still might have water just beneath the surface. If the dirt is wet, try digging a hole a foot or two deep and wait to see if water begins to seep into it.
Game trails are used by animals regularly to access water. If the trails slope downhill you can almost certainly follow them to water. Otherwise, scout around and try to determine which direction the paths lead. If you know which way to go, you can follow them to water. Just make sure you don't hike away from the water!
Other Animal Signs
Meat eating birds like hawks, eagles and crows don't need water as often as grain eaters. In the morning and evening times especially, watch the direction that grain eaters fly and listen for the twittering of birds to help locate their water source.
Insects will also gather near water. If you see bees in the area, then water's near. Bees must have a steady water source. They don’t use water primarily to quench their thirst, but to dilute honey that’s too thick and to cool the hive during hot weather.
Bees or ants going into a hole in a tree may point to a water-filled hole.
Look for an increase in vegetation in arid climates. If you see bright green trees and vegetation in an area, that can signal water above ground or near the surface there, like an oasis in the desert. Look for water loving trees like cottonwoods, willows, ashes, and sycamores.
Where Would Rain And Dew Collect?
Rainwater and dew are good water sources. Dew collects on everything early in the morning, and can be sopped up with a cloth, licked off or collected on a plastic sheet or in a container. See water collection for more ways to collect water in the wilderness.
Rainwater collects in lots of places in the wilderness. Sometimes it gathers in tree crotches, holes in trees, among plants and leaves on the tree or on the ground.
Look for water in rock crevices. Bird droppings around a crack in the rocks may indicate water in or near the crack.
Look in any natural cup formation.
Snow As A Water Source
In an emergency snow can be used as a water source, but if possible melt it in a pot before consuming it. If you must use snow as a water source without melting it, roll it into small enough balls so that will fit into your mouth without touching your lips. Melt the snow on your tongue before swallowing it, allowing your mouth to warm in between balls. Inuit people don't always have access to water, and use snow as a water source. A 44 year old Swedish man survived in his car in sub zero temperatures for two months, eating nothing but snow. As long as you are careful and consume only small balls of snow at a time, snow could save your life.
Water Dowsing, Divining, Or Water Witching
"Dowsing", "Divining", or "Water Witching", refers in general to the ancient practice of locating veins of underground water, minerals, or other hidden or lost substances,and has been a subject of discussion and controversy for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
It has been practiced using a variety of means(wires, sticks, pendulums, keys, and even coconuts!) for centuries by countless people throughout the world.
In the classic method of using a forked stick, one fork is held in each hand with the palms upward . The bottom or butt end of the "Y" is pointed skyward at an angle of about 45 degrees. The dowser then walks back and forth over the area to be tested. When she/he passes over a source of water, the butt end of the stick is supposed to rotate or be attracted downward.
How did water dowsing begin?
Cave paintings in northwestern Africa that are 6,000-8,000 years old are believed to show a water dowser at work. The exact origin of the divining rod in Europe is not known, but claims to being able to detect underground water with a forked twig were first recorded in Georgius Agricola's work, De re metallica, written in 1556.
The device was introduced into England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603) to locate mineral deposits, and soon afterward it was adopted as a water finder throughout Europe. Water dowsing seems to be a mainly European cultural phenomenon; it was carried across the Atlantic to America by some of the earliest settlers from England and Germany.
Whether dowsing actually works at all is a controversial subject. I won't enter into that debate here. As we now know, there is always water beneath our feet, but stranger things than water being detected by a stick have happened, so you can decide for yourself.
One place you can learn more about the subject is Dowsers.org. Jack Coel dowses for a living. On his site you can find local news footage of the massive underground spring he helped locate in the Nevada desert. Learn more about dowsing in the USGS publication available in pdf format. You can get Adobe Reader to read the file with here.
Credit For Content:
Department of Geosciences,Texas A & M University
Texas Academy of Science
"10 Bushcraft Books" by Richard Graves
Desert Sense: Camping, Hiking and Biking in Hot, Dry Climates by Bruce Grubbs
USGS - U.S Geological Society