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6 Survival Tips to Keep in Mind if You Get Lost While Hunting

By Brody Danielson November 20, 2020

6 Survival Tips to Keep in Mind if You Get Lost While Hunting

Everyone–from novices to veteran hunters–can become lost in unfamiliar terrain. It can be disconcerting and frightening, but it can also test your mettle.

Along with bringing performance hunting gear and the right equipment, there are some steps you can take if you're lost in the backcountry that can optimize your chances of finding your way back to a familiar landmark or surviving until someone locates you.

1. Make Preparations to Avoid Getting Lost in the First Place

If you know how to avoid getting lost, you reduce the chances that you will find yourself in this dire situation. Tell someone you trust about your plans. A detailed trip itinerary can help search-and-rescue teams locate you much more quickly if they have an idea of the general area you were planning on hunting.

Another crucial aspect is to include the date you think you'll be returning. You can also add the very latest you might be, so the people looking for you have a timeframe with which to work. 

Purchase a topographic map and mark the areas you plan on building a stand or stalking your game. If you're not sure where you'll be exactly, bring the map with you, mark it when you have a better sense of your projected location and leave it in your vehicle in plain sight.

Color marking ribbons are another way you can indicate your path and can act as a simple trail to follow back to your vehicle.

2. Bring the Right Gear

Another way to avoid getting lost is to carry the right equipment with you. An excellent compass is always crucial for knowing your whereabouts when you're traveling in the backcountry. 

Along with the first topographic map you will leave in case of an emergency, buy a second one (and mark it) for yourself. You shouldn't rely solely on electronic maps when you're out in the woods, as batteries can die and electrical components can get damaged.

A cell phone with a full charge and an extra charging battery could be a lifesaver, even if you don't get service. Many cell phones these days have GPS trackers in them. In extreme cases, rescuers can also check to see which tower your cell phone last pinged on. 

As a backup, satellite phones are an excellent tool for deep backcountry trips where cell reception is weak, as they will work in almost any locale.

Other equipment that won't necessarily get you out of a troublesome situation but that could help you survive an ordeal are a knife, WiseFire Starter, water purification drops, an emergency blanket, warm layers of clothes and a flashlight.

None of these items will take up very much space in your backpack, so packing emergency essentials should be a no-brainer.

3. Think Like a Boy Scout

The Boy Scouts of America use an acronym when they feel as if they might be getting lost in the woods. They use STOP–stop, think, observe, plan–and it's an excellent course of action if you have no idea where you are on the map.

The first thing you should concentrate on is remaining calm. When people panic, their decision-making ability is impaired. Take a moment to drink water and look around you, noting any trails you might have made.

If you do see your own trail, follow it back to the trailhead. The next step is to find a viable water source if the path peters out or goes cold. If you brought water purification tablets or a purification system with you, then any body of water will suffice.

If you don't have the means to purify your water, you can filter it through a bandana to remove debris and boil it to kill off any bacteria to make it potable.

4. Build a Fire

To stay as comfortable as possible, build a fire as soon as you find your water source. A fire can help you boil water and dry out any hunting gear that may have gotten wet. 

With just a lighter and some dry tinder, you can make yourself a warm blaze anywhere. But you can't rely on Mother Nature to supply you with the dry wood, especially in exceptionally rainy places like the Pacific Northwest. Many hunters in wet areas bring both a lighter and tinder in a sealable plastic bag. Alternatively, you can create tinder and kindling by carving thin strips from wet branches with a survival knife.

5. Make a Shelter

To protect yourself from the elements, you'll have to find shelter. A cave is your best bet as it will offer you more protection than any other structure, but you should check to see if there are any telltale signs of animal habitation. You're probably not the only one who thought that a cave was an excellent place to weather the storm.

If you can't find an uninhabited cave, make yourself a sturdy lean-to. Lean a big tree branch against a tree and prop up a series of smaller branches onto this larger one. Cover this with moss, bark or brush to make it less porous to rain. If you have a garbage bag or a spare thermal blanket, you can use this to line your lean-to for warmth and weatherproofing.

6. Locate Food

After water, fire and shelter, your next order of business is food. Hopefully, you brought some snacks with you to keep your stomach from growling on your hunt. Ration these out in the most minimal way possible.

If you lose your way on a hunt, you may have the tools you need to hunt for your supper. Just remember to carefully prepare any meat you take down and cook it thoroughly.

If you don't want meat or don't have the tools to bag a rabbit or bird, you can forage for edible plants or berries in the area. If you plan on satisfying your hunger with foraged items, you need to have a working knowledge of edible plants or a reliable resource for reference. If not, it's too risky that you might eat something poisonous.

Preparation Is Key

It happens to every hunter once. You're walking along, thinking about your prey or the beauty of nature, when you suddenly realize you have no idea where you are. It can be frightening, but there are steps to take to make the best of a dire situation.

If at all possible, don't get lost in the first place. Before you leave, take precautions such as leaving a trip itinerary with a friend, take Gray 20L Dry Bag, packing a satellite phone or charged cell phone and keeping a marked map in your vehicle.

If you find yourself lost, don't panic. People act hastily and get themselves into more trouble. If you're unable to find your way back to the trailhead, locate water, fire, shelter and food and wait for rescue. 

With the right preparation and mindset, you should be able to find your way out of the woods unscathed. The proper hunting gear and a little foresight can help you if you are lost.


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