JACKSON -- Geocaching, a high-tech game of hide-and-seek, is growing in popularity faster than kudzu on a hot summer day.
Shawn Harris of Poplarville said he began geocaching in 2009. At that time, Harris said there were between 500,000 and 600,000 geocaches worldwide.
"Now, it's over 2 million caches," Harris said. "So, it's about quadrupled."
The number of geocachers is growing, too.
Harris said in 2009 there were between 3 million and 4 million playing the game. At last count, there were more than 6 million.
So, what are these millions of people actually doing? They are looking for hidden treasures, but not the kind that will make their checking account balances look like Donald Trump's.
Caches are typically small, water-tight containers that include a trinket or some other prize as well as a log for the finder to sign and date. The cache finder can take the prize but is expected to leave something of equal value for the next person who locates it. Other caches can be clues to a puzzle, coordinates to another cache, or merely a location with a geographic feature that the hunter answers a series of questions by what they observe.
Patricia McCarthy of Starkville said they can be hidden right under your nose. McCarthy said lamp posts in public access parking lots are one of the more common spots, but caches near bridges or buried next to stop signs are also popular hiding places.
The cache locations are listed on www.geocaching.com in the form of GPS coordinates. To find them, "You can low-tech or high-tech, and the best use a combination," McCarthy said. High-tech, for example, is a GPS device while low-tech may be an online satellite view such as Google Maps.
"You can use landmarks from the satellite views and triangulate," McCarthy said.
This low-tech approach puts the thrill in the hunt for McCarthy, but others are looking for convenience. And they don't have to look far.
Smartphones are more common than wrist watches these days, and the technology to participate in geocaching is at almost everyone's fingertips. Harris thinks that is one of the reasons for the rising popularity of geocaching.
"I think you could attribute the growth to that," Harris said. "It's more accessible."
That is especially true with the younger crowd.
Wesley Roberts, 20, of Brandon said he began geocaching in high school and strictly uses his cellular phone and a geocaching app that he downloaded. Those tools recently led him to a cache hidden inside a lamp post in Flowood.
"I always use my phone," Roberts said. "There are different methods, but I've never tried them."
The ease of use of the smartphone is one aspect Roberts said he enjoys and would not have started caching without it, but the social side of tracking down treasure is what keeps him going.
"Doing it by yourself isn't the same as doing it with your friends and everybody having a great time," Roberts said.
Sandra Sarich of Monticello said she and her husband started geocaching in 2007 quite by accident.
"My husband and I were at this garage sale and he bought this old GPS," Sarich said. For $10, it seemed like they couldn't go wrong.
The two decided to put the unit to use by trying geocaching. On their first outing, the only thing they found was that the device didn't work, but they did get bitten by the geocaching bug. The pair bought a new GPS and have been at it since.
These days, however, Sarich said she uses her smartphone and a geocaching app. "To me, it was the greatest thing they ever came out with," Sarich said. "I find it easier and more convenient.
"I personally know a lot of new cachers, and they almost all use their phones."
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Tim O'Bryant wasn't drawn to geocaching because the convenient technology. He became interested because of the inconveniences and the more, the better.
"I've always been an outdoorsman, hunting and fishing," O'Bryant said. "I saw an opportunity to try something new outdoors."
O'Bryant, of Columbus, is a logger by trade but also is a scuba diver and avid kayaker. Tying his pursuits together, O'Bryant tackles the caches that require climbing trees, paddling rivers or diving into the depths.
"Those are the kinds of caches that drive me," O'Bryant said. "It's just the challenge of the hunt. It takes you to places you normally wouldn't go."
Harris said this mix-and-match approach is now more common and also plays a part in geocaching's popularity.
"It can be combined with hiking, kayaking or cycling," Harris said. "It makes it kind of an added bonus."