Sunday, October 5, 2014

Preparing For Unexpected Key To Woods Survival

Creek Stewart, standing, host of The Weather Channel's
“Fat Guys in the Woods,” said hunters can prepare for an
unexpected night in the woods by focusing on fire
and shelter first, with water and food the next considerations,
in that order.
The potential is there every time you step into the woods.

You're out hunting, maybe for deer, and start following a buck, one you've seen or even shot and are trying to recover. You walk a long way — how far and in which direction, you're not entirely sure, focused on the animal in front of you more than the surroundings — when it hits you. You're lost.
It's getting dark, it's getting colder, and you're facing an unexpected night in the woods.

Could you survive?

That's a question a handful of hunters in Pennsylvania have to answer every year.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources handles search and rescue missions on state park and forest land. It had to find 143 lost people between 2010-13.

Statistics show October, November and December are the busiest for searches — accounting for up to 40 percent in some years — with hunters and hikers the most likely in need of rescue.

“It's not excessive, but it does seem to be pretty consistent,” said Jason Hall, forest program manager for the department.

Those who get turned around don't have to worry about being out there long term, like the deer hunter who spent 23 winter days alone in the woods of Manitoba in 2012.

“We have some remote areas in Pennsylvania, but we also have so many roads and streams, it's kind of hard actually to get lost to the point where you're going to be out there for days,” said Cory Wentzel, forest assistant manager for Forbes State Forest in Laughlintown.
But being lost overnight isn't out of the question.

There's a time lag between when someone fails to return to their camp or vehicle and when a rescue mission begins, Hall said.

Someone has to notice they're overdue and call for help, then search crews have to be assembled, reach the site and get organized. They might go out immediately, depending on age and health of the lost person and weather and terrain conditions.

Some “hasty search” rescues can be wrapped up in eight hours.Others can take 24 hours or more, he said.
So what can you do to be prepared?

Survival experts say honing a few particular skills and carrying a handful of tools is enough to get through a night or two.

Creek Stewart, host of the Weather Channel's “Fat Guys in the Woods” and owner and of Willow Haven Outdoor in Anderson, Ind., talks about the “core four:” shelter, water, fire and food. Dave Canterbury, owner of Self Reliance Outfitters and the Pathfinder School in Jackson, Ohio, and former co-host of “Dual Survival,” suggests providing for those needs by focusing on the “five Cs:” cutting tools, combustion devices, containers, cover elements and cordage.

“It's pretty simple, really,” Stewart said. “If you've got some basic needs covered, you're easily good to go for a 24- to 36-hour period.”

Being able to make shelter and fire are top priorities, both agreed.

For shelter, a reusable space blanket is OK for emergency purposes, Canterbury said, though he suggested spending a little more to get a good one. A couple of 55-gallon trash bags can be used to make a shelter, sleeping bag or impromptu poncho, and having an extra wool sweater never hurts, he said.

Carrying a good knife and some cordage can turn those items into a shelter, he added.

As for creating fire, that often is one of the hardest skills for his students to master, Canterbury said.
“Anyone can build you a fire if you give them all of the materials and a flame,” Canterbury said. “If you send them into the woods and tell them to collect all of their own materials and turn that into a fire, that's another story.”

He suggests carrying three fire-starting tools: a lighter, a “ferro” rod — a firesteel that produces sparks when scraped with a metal striker—and a magnifying glass.

Stewart suggests adding what he calls “PET” balls to your kit. They are cotton balls smeared with petroleum jelly and carried in a plastic bag. They light easily and burn for five to 10 minutes.
“It's the best fire starting tinder you can make,” he said.

When it comes to hydration, Canterbury recommends a metal bottle capable of purifying water by boiling. Stewart also suggests one of the straw-type filters available commercially. Small enough to fit in a pack, he said they allow you to drink directly “from a creek or pond or puddle.”

Food is not the highest priority, Stewart said, but having some high-calorie, high-protein energy bars can boost energy levels and morale.

That's not a lot to carry, the experts said. Each tool is indispensable, though.

“Our survival needs are pretty simple,” Stewart said. “But it's a crapshoot if you don't have a few critical items on hand.”

Canterbury agreed, while offering one last caution.

Filling a pack with gear isn't enough, he said. You have got to practice with it before going into the woods.

“If you're not very familiar with your gear, if you don't know the ins and outs of it and the processes involved, you could be in trouble,” Canterbury said.

Survival resources

• Dave Canterbury just published a book titled “Bushcraft 101: A Field Guide to the Art of Wilderness Survival” ($16.99, Adams Media Co.).
It offers a lot more detail than what's necessary for an overnighter in the woods, focusing on everything from knots to cooking to trapping. But if you want to learn primitive skills, it's a treasure trove of information.
Canterbury, owner of The Pathfinder School, rated by some as one of the top 12 survival schools in the country, also has instructional videos on his website,, and on YouTube and Facebook.
• Creek Stewart also has a couple of books, including “Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag” ($16.99, F+W Media). It's geared toward packing a bag for disasters, but there's lots of helpful information about fire starting tools, shelter and the like.
He's on Youtube and Facebook, too, and has a website. Find it at
• The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has a section of its website devoted to “staying safe in the forest.”
It offers advice on planning trips, avoiding hypothermia, maps, and what to do if lost. Visit
• The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a free 72-page download titled “You Alone in the Maine Woods: The Lost Hunter's Guide” available at
Much of the information within it is applicable to outdoorsmen everywhere.
— Bob Frye

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

1 comment:

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