If youve spent much time outdoors, odds are that you know someone who has been temporarily lost, suffered mild hypothermia, or had to spend an unexpected night out.
Talk with survival experts and you will find that even they have had a "wilderness experience" or two. If you spend much time in the backcountry it isnt a question of if it can happen to you, but rather a question of when you will have a "wilderness experience" of your own.
This section of our homepage is dedicated to the safety of all of you who hunt the backcountry. It's a dynamic section. New content will be added as frequently as possible, so please check back here for new and updated information. As always, your comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Stay safe, and good hunting!
HYPOTHERMIA - DETECTION, PREVENTION
Each year hunters perish in the outdoors due to hypothermia. Recently three hunters in Montana perished 100 yards from the road and their truck. When rescuers cut their tracks they found three different places where the hunters had attempted to build fires. Why do hunters perish? Perhaps they under estimate how quickly the weather can change. The excitement of spotting a large animal may cause a hunter to leave camp with nothing more than their rifle or bow and the clothes on their back. This page is dedicated to the safety of all those who hunt the back country.
Definition of Hypothermia
Acute Hypothermia - Acute hypothermia, also referred to as traumatic or immersion hypothermia, usually occurs when someone falls into cold water. The body cooling rate can be up to 25 times faster in water than in air. A person immersed in extremely cold water for as little as 10 minutes may become too mentally sluggish or physically weak to help themselves. Treatment for hypothermia should be given immediately.
Exposure Hypothermia - Exposure, or gradual hypothermia is the enemy of the hunter or backpacker. It can sneak up on you so slowly that you, and others in your party, might not notice the symptoms. Anyone with a modicum of good sense knows that if you fall into water you immediately change into dry clothing and warm yourself before continuing. But what about that sweaty hike in a cold rain to a damp, windy tree-stand? Usually the first symptom of exposure hypothermia is shivering. Shivering happens when the body senses a rapid decrease in skin or body temperature.
How the Body loses heat - From a mechanical stand point the body loses heat in four different methods. Understanding these methods can help you better understand how to protect yourself from heat loss.
Conduction - Ice, rock and water. Conductive heat loss occurs when your body and your clothing come into direct contact with a colder medium. Metal, rock, ice and water are all excellent conductors. It's 20 degrees and you sit on a hay bale for 5 minutes, then sit on a rock for 5 minutes. Which one produced the most heat loss? The rock. That's conductive heat loss.
Convection - Wind and rushing water. Convection heat loss occurs when your body contacts cold moving air or water. Being warm-blooded, your body is constantly producing heat to maintain your optimum core body temperature. This heat is radiated through your skin and clothing and heats the air or water surrounding you. If the air or water is moving it carries away the heat your body has produced. Wind chill is the best example of convection heat loss.
Evaporation - Sweat and rain. Your body is more adept at removing heat than producing it. When your body overheats, sweat glands go into action and you perspire. Heat from your body and the air causes the perspiration to evaporate which carries off heat.
Radiation - As our bodies produce heat, we radiate heat. The sun, campfires and even light bulbs are examples of things that give off radiant heat. Turn on a light bulb and place your hand two inches away from it. You feel heat. You are not touching it so it isn't conductive heat. There is no breeze so it isn't convection heat, and it certainly isn't evaporative heat loss. This is an example of radiant heat.
|Hypothermia Symptoms and
If you notice hypothermia symptoms in yourself or a buddy, stop immediately and take action. Change into dry clothes, build a fire, make a warm drink. Solve the problem before it becomes a true emergency.
The keys to avoiding hypothermia are; staying warm, staying dry and eating the right foods.
Clothing - If you use synthetic fabrics, the layering method works best. Shedding a layer or two during heavy exertion and then replacing the layer(s) when physical activity decreases will keep you comfortable and help prevent hypothermia. If you use wool clothing you can stay comfortable over a wide temperature range without the need for layering. See our Hunting Clothing section for more information.
Foundation layer - Never wear cotton under-garments in cold weather. Cotton absorbs and holds water like a sponge. It leads to evaporative cooling and convection cooling if there is a breeze. The best foundation layer consists of polyester long-johns and top. Polyester is a "hydrophobic" fiber which refuses to retain moisture and wicks the moisture away from your body. Thermax and Capalene are polyester fabrics. If you wear wool clothing, silk undergarments greatly increase your comfort range. During exertion, silk retains moisture when you perspire which provides evaporative cooling when you need it most. When you stop perspiring, the silk quickly releases the heat laden moisture into the wool.
Outer Layers - Wool has been a traditional favorite and is still an excellent choice. Wool garments provide a high degree of insulation and hold there insulative properties even when wet. PolyFleece garments are lightweight, retain their insulative properties when wet. Some polyfleece garments are made with a layer of Goretex which allows moisture to wick away while providing protection from the deep penetration of rain. Down garments provide a great deal of insulation for their weight, but lose almost all insulative properties when wet.
Headgear - The old saying, "When your feet are cold, put on a hat" is certainly true as 30% of your body heat is lost through the head. A good hat than can keep your head and ears warm is essential. Many hat styles are available with light-weight insulation materials such as Thinsulate.
Rain-gear - The choice of rain-gear is more subjective. Suits made with Goretex and other fabrics allow perspiration to wick through while blocking the penetration of rain, but many hunters report that suits made with these materials rip or tear easily. Some Goretex gear has an outer layer to quiet and toughen the clothing. PVC coated nylon garments are definitely waterproof but need adequate ventilation. Look for pit-zips and other features that allow perspiration to escape. If you wear wool, look for the lightest raingear you can find as you will pack it more than you wear it.
Diet - A diet high in carbohydrates is the best way to optimize your bodies heat production. If you normally have a bacon and eggs breakfast at base camp, add pancakes and syrup to your morning meal. If you like oatmeal, prepare a couple of packs of instant oatmeal. Carry energy bars, candy bars or trail mix. For dinner, pastas are a good source of carbohydrates.
Hydration - Many people neglect the importance of proper hydration in cold weather. As a hunter you are active and perspiring even in cold weather. The air at higher elevations usually contains less moisture, and heat and fluid loss occurs as your lungs warm and humidify the cold air you breath. Dehydration can aggravate hypothermia. If you urine is yellow to dark yellow, you need more fluids.
Tips on How to Avoid Confrontations with Bears
Special Rules Apply
Know Bear Habitat
You may avoid bear encounters by using caution in certain vegetation types or habitats. Preferred bear food sources include: white bark pine nuts, berries, moth larvae and other insect sites, spawning fish in streams, roots, Forbes and carrion. Backcountry users should avoid areas with fresh bear sign.
In poor food years, bears are more likely to range over larger areas in search of food. In addition, these hungry bears may seek out human food sources such as garbage, game carcasses, or camps.
Bears will often sleep during the day in dense timber. Bears disturbed in their "day beds" are often surprised by your sudden appearance and will sometimes charge. Never surprise a bear!
Bears like berries, so try and avoid large brush patches. If you have to travel through a patch, watch it for a while before going in and make some noise to let any bears know you are coming.
After the Kill
Storing Food and Game Meat in Bear Country
The decisions you make and the actions you take when you encounter a bear can greatly affect the outcome of the situation. Keeping a cool head and knowing you options are very important.
If You Encounter a Bear
COPING WITH THE UNEXPECTED NIGHT OUT
Each year many people find themselves trapped by bad weather, caught out after dark, are injured or lost and end up having to spend a night or two surviving on a distant mountainside until rescuers arrive. Surviving, defined as the ability and desire to stay alive, is a learned skill that first requires that you admit to yourself that "it could happen to you" and, having admitted the fact, you plan for it. In a survival situation panic will be your greatest enemy and must be prevented. Surviving an emergency has been said to be 80% mental, 10% skill -- use your head and you can survive.
Being lost is serious but it does not have to be dangerous if you react properly. A acronym to help you remember what to do is STOP.
Sit down, don't panic. Talk positively to
yourself -- out loud! Have a drink or eat a candy bar. Remember your brain is the best
piece of survival gear you have -- use it!
When you become lost the first thing you must do is admit to yourself that you don't know where you are -- you're lost! Or more accurately you don't know how to get back to your starting point. While you are sitting, go over in your mind what you did since leaving your car or camp earlier in the day and compare your recollections with the information provided by your map. What landmarks did you see along the way? Can you see any of these landmarks from where you are sitting? Can you locate these landmarks on your map? Have you gone uphill or down? How many rivers did you cross? How many ridges did you climb? Did you leave enough tracks to follow back to where you started from?
Unless you can positively locate yourself the best advice to follow is to stay put and not travel. Do not wander around looking for something familiar. Not only will this further confuse you ... it will exhaust you! It will make the rescuers job much more difficult -- you may move into an area that has already been searched! Wait for the rescuers to find you. They are trained and equipped to rescue the lost and injured. Sit tight, protect yourself, signal and let them find you.
All outdoor users should carry and know how to use a compass before they go off into the back country. The first step in staying found is locating your position (and marking that position) on your map before you leave your vehicle or camp. Then identify the boundaries that surround the area in which you will be traveling. These boundaries could be prominent roads, railways, power lines or large rivers. Preferably you should identify boundaries on all four sides of the area.. Having located yourself on the map and knowing the boundaries, you can leave camp with the knowledge that, if you get lost, all you will have to do is determine which boundary is closest and walk to it, relocate yourself, and then return to your vehicle or camp.
Many people in trouble experience great difficulty walking in a straight line and have wandered in circles until exhausted. The simplest way to walk a straight line is to use a compass, preferable an "orienteering" style compass. Having determined the direction to the nearest boundary, point the direction of travel arrow on your compass towards your destination then turn the dial of the compass until the "N" coincides with the north end of the compass needle. Follow the direction-of-travel arrow always keeping the compass needle pointing at "N". Look up, sight on a landmark, and walk to it. Repeat these steps until you reach the boundary and can relocate yourself. In some areas only one significant boundary may be present. In this situation, determine, before you leave camp, the direction you will have to travel to get to the boundary in the event you become lost.
Often the road or trail leading to your camp will serve as a primary boundary. If you walked in a westerly direction away from camp you will have to walk opposite that, or easterly, to return to the road your camp is located on.
A compass needle is radically effected by any metal object that is nearby -- do not let firearms, knives, belt buckles near your compass when taking a reading or following a compass heading.
The cardinal directions, north, east, south and west can be determined without a compass using the following procedures. Using a watch that has hands, point the hour hand directly at the sun. The point halfway between the hour hand and 12 o'clock will be SOUTH. North will be directly opposite. At night, a line drawn through the two "pointer stars" in the bowl and extended approximately four times identifies the North Star. Lay a stick on the ground aimed at the North Star to show north when it gets light again.
You can obtain maps from county, state, or provincial agencies, the Forest Service, and other sources. The most useful maps are called topographic maps and may be purchased at many sporting goods outlets, some book stores or ordered directly from US Geological Service (with offices in Washington DC and Denver) or the Canadian Department of Mines (in Ottawa). These maps show both man-made features (drawn in red or black) and natural features (drawn in green for vegetation and blue for water). Contour lines, lines drawn on the map joining points of equal elevation above sea level, are drawn in brown and show altitude and the terrain features of the land mass covered by the map. Also shown on topographic maps, in the marginal information, is a scale which enables the user to measure the distance between two points on the map; and the declination diagram which shows the difference between True and Magnetic north. Remember, unless shown otherwise, north is always at the top of the map.
There are eight basic rules for survival that will help you return safely from an emergency:
1. Always tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. If you move from one area to another, tell someone. Knowing where to begin a search will significantly reduce the time it will take the searchers to locate and rescue you.
2. Never travel alone. Many of the illnesses that outdoors users experience (hypothermia and frostbite in particular) occur without the victim ever becoming aware of their onset. Accidents do happen in the outdoors that lead to injury. In an emergency, the assistance of a partner to care for you and then go for help could save your life.
3. Take along two compasses and a map of the area you plan to hunt and know how to use them. Use one compass to navigate with. The second compass serves two purposes: it can be used if your primary compass is lost or broken and secondly, many panicked people, thinking their compasses are broken, frequently do not believe a single compass when the direction back to camp indicated by the compass differs from the direction their "instincts" tell them is the correct heading to follow. Two compasses both pointing in the same direction, increases the chances that you will believe the compasses and follow the correct heading back to camp or to one of the pre-selected boundaries.
4. Wear clothing that will keep you warm and dry. Loss of body heat because of exposure to the elements, especially wind, precipitation and low temperatures must be prevented in a survival situation or hypothermia could result. Remember the weather can change very quickly. Select clothing that will keep you warm and dry when you are forced to spend an unexpected night out. Layers work best -- the inner most layer must move perspiration (water) away from your skin; the next layer(s), the insulation layer(s) must trap "dead air" around your body and insulate you from the cold. The outermost layer of clothing must protect you from wind and precipitation. Your head and neck are the most critical areas of your body to protect -- keep them covered. Unprotected hands are easily injured and quickly loose their dexterity when exposed to cold temperatures. Stiff fingers make it difficult to strike a match, aim a signal mirror, tie a knot etc. -- carry mittens and a pair of light leather gloves. Carry extra clothing with you to put on when the weather deteriorates. "Dress to survive not to arrive!"
5. Carry a survival kit containing several reliable ways to start a fire, (waterproof, windproof matches, cigarette lighter, metal match) waterproof, wind proof shelter material, a whistle and a signal mirror. Always take a survival kit with you.
6. Plan your outing so that you can return to your camp or vehicle before it gets dark but always carry a flashlight or two so that you can return safely after dark if it becomes necessary!
7. Drink a minimum of three to four quarts of water per day. The lack of water seriously reduces the bodies ability to function properly, especially its ability to stay warm, and greatly increases the possibility of other accidents occurring.
8. Practice your survival skills before you have to use them in an
emergency. Learn how to build a fire using the equipment you carry in your
survival kit. Practice erecting an emergency shelter. Experiment with your signal mirror
until you can quickly reflect a beam of sunlight to any point on the horizon.
In most situations protection from the rain, snow, wind and low temperatures will be your most immediate need. While a fire will be very beneficial it may not be necessary if you are wearing good clothing and construct an effective shelter. Your first shelter will be a combination of the clothes you are wearing and the waterproof, windproof material you take out of your survival kit and wrap up in or crawl in. Huddling under the protective lower limbs of a large tree may be a good place to wait out a sudden rain or snow storm. Immediate action shelters should keep you warm and dry while you evaluate your situation and plan your next step.
Look for a sheltered location with plenty of natural materials to build a more permanent shelter. Stay away from areas where rock slides, snow slides or flash floods may happen. Situate your shelter out of low places where cold air gathers. Look for a level area.
A lean-to made from tree limbs and boughs is a simple shelter to make and when used with a fire in front makes a snug shelter. Hanging an aluminized space blanket, silver side down on the inside roof, will reflect the radiant heat from the fire down onto you. Never sleep directly on the ground or snow, instead build a thick layer of boughs, leaves, pine needles or duff to sleep on and insulate you from the cold ground. Lacking a sleeping bag, fill the interior of the shelter with other dry vegetation and crawl into the vegetation around you.
Under colder conditions where more protection is needed a debris hut should be built. Using tree limbs and branches build a frame work that is just higher than you are then cover the structure with a thick layer of boughs, leaves or any other vegetation. Seal the door after you enter and pull your "vegetation sleeping bag" around you.
Under snowy, winter conditions another shelter that can be built that provides good protection is a snow trench. Using a shovel, your snowshoes, a ski tip or if all else fails your boots, dig a trench in the snow slightly longer and wider than you are. Build roof supports using skis or ski poles, snowshoes, branches or boughs and then cover the roof supports with snow. Line the inside with vegetation and seal the door with a mat of boughs or a snow block.
There are at least seven good reasons for building a fire; for warmth, for melting snow for drinking water, for purifying water, for drying clothing, for signaling, for cooking and for your mental comfort -- having a fire is a great moral builder!
Before you build a fire select a safe site close to, but not too close to your shelter. Clear away any vegetation or snow from the fire site and make sure that you are not building your fire below snow laden branches which will dump into the fire as the snow warms. Before you strike the first match make sure you have all the materials you need on hand.
Remember in order to have fire you need three things: a heat source (matches or a spark), you need fuel to burn and you need oxygen. Without each component in right proportions the fire will not burn. Carry lots of windproof, waterproof matches in waterproof containers. As a backup, include a metal match and a cigarette lighter in your kit.
Good fire starting aids include Vaseline soaked cotton balls, chemical fire cubes and a candle. Birch bark and pitch wood are two excellent natural fire starting materials. Particularly under wet conditions, these aids can make the difference between getting a fire started quickly and not getting one going at all.
Dry grass, dry pine needles, dry leaves, wood shavings, and dry twigs make good tinder. The dead lower branches of many trees that are protected by overhanging limbs are usually dry and make good firewood. Look for standing dead trees. Wet wood can be split with a knife exposing the dry heartwood. Always remove the soaked bark from a piece of wood before putting it on your fire. A small hand saw is much safer to use and more energy efficient than a hand ax. After you have the tinder alight add the larger pieces of kindling and finally the largest pieces of wood, the fuel. A fire built in either a tip or log cabin shape works the best. "Fires are built -- not started."
Drink a minimum of three to four quarts of water each day in order to prevent dehydration -- a dangerously low body water level. Body water that is lost through waste elimination, sweating, and breathing must be replaced or your body functions will begin to fail. In hot, dry climates as much as two gallons of water must be drunk each day to prevent dehydration.
In cold environments and when traveling at higher altitudes the lack of water in the body is often a major problem. Your sense of thirst, which usually tells you to drink more water, may not be present, and is a very unreliable way to judge how much water your body needs.
The first indication that your body needs more water may be a headache. You can also check the color of your urine -- a change from clear to yellow indicates that you need to drink more water. Pay attention to these indicators and re-hydrate yourself by drinking more water. Whenever possible purify your water by filtration, chemically or by boiling. However drinking un-purified water, and preventing dehydration, is better than not drinking the water and suffering the more immediate effects of dehydration.
in addition to open water sources (streams and ponds) there are many other sources of water. Snow and ice can be used. Melt snow or ice in a water bag placed between the layers of your clothing or by placing it in a pot over a fire. A cloth bag filled with snow hung to the side of a fire where the radiant heat will melt the snow is a very effective way to convert snow to water. As the water melts it will drip from the lowest point of the bag and can be collected in a container. Eating snow or ice is not a good idea since it causes your body to loose heat. Rain can be gathered by h laying a piece of water proof material on the ground and draining the water that collects into a container. In a dry desert you may have to use a transpiration bag or a vegetation bag to gather the water you need.
Despite what your stomach is telling you, you can survive for many days without food. Trying to live off the land by trapping animals and gathering edible plants is very difficult to do and usually results in the survivor using up more energy than is replaced by the food. Even in a winter survival situation a person can survive for a long time without food as long as they have good clothing, and can build a shelter and a fire. Increase the quantity of carbohydrate in your diet - carry extra candy bars, gorp or trail mix in your day pack - avoid jerky which requires lage amounts of water to digest.
First aid for injuries, shelter, fire and water are your first needs when lost, or when trapped by bad weather or darkness then. Keep calm. Organize your resources and protect yourself from harm. Then you must decide if you should sit tight and wait for rescue or make your own way back. Staying put and waiting for rescue is usually the best option if you are lost, injured or if you will further endanger yourself by moving. If the weather improves, you are in good condition and you know where you are, you may be able to find your own way out.
If you need help there are signals that you can use to signal your position and your condition to others. Remember that three of anything is a recognized signal for help. Three shots or three whistle blasts can help to alert others that you are in trouble and need help. Searches for missing people will usually be conducted using both ground search teams and aircraft. Be prepared to signal to either group. Keep in mind, you are very difficult to see from the air unless you do something to draw attention to yourself.
To attract the attention of an aerial searcher use your signal mirror, or add green vegetation to your fire which will send up a thick, white column of smoke that can be easily seen. In areas where fires could damage timber, the smoke from your fire may be seen by fire lookout tower or by a forester and will be investigated. The light from your campfire is a very effective signal at night. Tramping out an "SOS," "LOST," or "HELP" in the snow, or laying rocks or logs out in a large X,V,N, or Y pattern will alert the authorities that someone is in trouble. These internationally recognized emergency signals letters should be large, with straight sides, sharp angles and situated where the can been easily seen.
Whistles are effective devices to attract the attention of ground search teams. Unlike your voice, which is your weakest signal, you can blow a whistle all day long.
If you told someone where you were going before you left it will be much easier for the rescuers to find you quickly. Bad weather conditions and the remoteness of your position may delay your rescue. Do not give up hope - the rescuers will come. "A positive mental attitude is more valuable that a day-pack full of equipment."
Everyone should carry a personal survival kit whenever afield. The contents of the kit may be adjusted depending upon the time of year, the expected weather, the area you are traveling through and your personal needs. You should pack your kit in a belt pouch, fanny pack or day pack and carry it with you no matter how short a trip you plan. If you get lost, the survival kit you left back at camp or in your car can't help you.
When putting a kit together plan for the worst case scenario. Every kit should include the following minimum equipment: waterproof, windproof shelter material, (Mylar bag, 9' x 12' piece of plastic or a couple of large industrial strength garbage bags), windproof, waterproof matches in waterproof containers, a second method of starting a fire (metal match, cigarette lighter), a whistle, and a signal mirror.
Many other useful pieces of equipment can be added to your kit depending on your particular needs. These could include a knife, a spare compass, water purification tablets, a flashlight, a candle, parachute cord, a metal cup and a first aid kit. In addition to the equipment you carry for emergency use only, the kit should also include extra clothing to keep you warm and dry, at least one, one quart water container and some food.
Take a first aid class and learn specifically what items you should have in your first aid kit. As a minimum include bans aids, aspirin (or a similar pain killer), Chapstick, sunscreen, personal prescription medications, and an extra pair of eyeglasses for those that wear them.
Be prepared. You may never need to use your survival kit or first aid kit, but if you do, having it with you and knowing how to use the equipment could save your life.
Faced with a survival situation, especially if injured, you must "use your head to save your hide."
In addition to dehydration and hypothermia, injuries caused by knives, axes, falls, and livestock, lightning strike and the medical problems related to altitude harm many outdoor users each year. Be careful! Learn how to use your tools safely. Dehydration and hypothermia quickly effect balance and are the cause of many falls in the outdoors. Lightning kills approximately 300 people each year and many more are injured. Get off the exposed mountainsides before the storms hit, stay away from isolated trees, move away from lakes and ponds. Don't be connected to the tallest object in the area. If caught by a storm, crouch on the soles of your feet, wrap your arms around your knees and tuck your head down until the storm arrives or just after it passes. Seek shelter early and wait until the storm is well out of the area before you continue your activities.
Life threatening medical problems can be brought on by ascending to altitudes above 8,000 feet too quickly. Prevent these problems by going up slowly, drinking lots of water, avoiding alcohol and not working too hard for the first couple of days. If you are high and don't feel well go down. Not doing so quickly may lead to your death.
You should take a Red Cross First Aid Class or some similar training as well as a CPR course. Remember -- you may be the victim and your own doctor! You should know how to handle bleeding, breathing emergencies, hypothermia, burns, strains, sprains, broken bones and shock. "Preventing a medical problem is much easier than trying to treat the problem in a survival situation."
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