Could You Survive Alone?
The man was in deep pain and knew his right leg was broken. While the bone had not pierced the skin, the foot was bent at an unnatural angle. He removed his sheath knife and cut his pants up past his knee, because he knew the leg would start to swell soon. He leaned back on the dark green moss and thought of how dumb he had been that day. First, he had elected to go out hunting alone, even though he knew it was unsafe. His second mistake was made when he attempted to step between two logs. The weight of his backpack had shifted to his right, his body twisted and then he fell. He had actually heard his leg break. He had a survival kit with him, though it was small, and he knew his wife would notify the police when he did not return at his usual time. But, he was still facing a cold and painful night alone deep in the back woods.
Many of us who hunt often do not consider the potential dangers we face. While it is much safer now than it was years ago, there are still a number of things that can reach out and hurt you. What can we do if we find ourselves in a situation like the man did in the beginning of this article? I suggest we can do many things and some should be done before we leave for the woods.
Before you leave on a hunting trip, always tell someone where you are going and when you will return. If you are late for any reason, always contact them and let them know. Additionally, I never hunt alone. I just don’t think it makes good safety sense to hunt by myself, because too many things can happen in the woods. I know some of you may do it all the time. I mean, after all, you know the area like the back of your hand, right? I can assure you, I know the area I hunt very well, and I still always hunt with a friend.
Regardless if you hunt alone or with a buddy, always carry a survival kit. You can buy a commercial one of different sizes (minimum, basic, or large) or make one yourself. When I hunt, I wear a survival vest, made from an old fishing vest. It has more than enough pockets and space for me to carry all the items I would need to survive for more than 48 hours. I have added things to my kit that I feel I need for the area I hunt in. I have assembled my basic kit with first aid, water, food, fire, shelter, and signaling in mind. My survival kit has much more than a minimum survival kit would have.
If nothing else, make sure you at least carry a small minimum survival kit. While I don’t feel a minimum survival kit is much good in adverse weather, if you have to survive in mild weather it will suffice for one night. You will find most commercial minimum survival kits are small and will fit in a pocket, but the problem with commercial kits is that you are limited by what they have decided you need. You should add several items to any commercial kit you purchase to insure your survival.
I was recently sent a minimum survival kit to evaluate by a company. It comes with the components packed in a small can that resembles cheese dip and can be used for cooking. The kit comes sealed and even has the pull-tab on top to open it, as well as the plastic cover to reseal it once opened. The cost of the kit is $13.00, which I feel is too much for what you receive for the price. The following items are in the container:
- Folding aluminum stove. (Extremely small and not really needed.)
- 12 Hexamine fuel tabs. (Not a bad idea, I would use them for fire starting.)
- 2 tea bags
- 4 pieces of hard candy (Good idea)
- 2 packages of sugar (Restaurant size, good energy source)
- 1 zip lock plastic bag for water storage (But no water purification tablets)
- 6 grams of super energy drink (Very small amount)
- 32 damp proof matches (You want at least storm proof)
- 12 inches of aluminum foil (Extremely thin and poor quality)
- 2 bouillon cubes (Nice to have)
- Survival instructions, which only explain how to use the contents.
In my opinion this kit lacks items needed to survive and if you purchased it thinking all of your survival needs were covered, you would be in for a big surprise. Also, NEVER buy a survival kit you cannot open and evaluate the quality of the contents before you purchase it. Remember, your life will depend on the items packed in the kit, so get the best you can afford. All minimum kits should also contain a knife or razor blade, water purification tablets, and good survival instruction, not a listing of contents. But, don’t expect much more than the above items in most minimum survival kits.
Some items I always have with me in addition to my basic survival kit are a map of the local area, a good quality compass, a canteen with a canteen cup (military surplus), a poncho, and a signal mirror. I suggest you consider carrying them as well. Each hunter can add additional items and eventually develop a large kit, but remember you have to carry the extra weight. In addition, try to select items that serve more than one purpose.
Also, if you are inexperienced with survival procedures purchase a very small survival manual to go along with you. At the very least make sure your kit has the following items packed in it or carry them on yourself:
- A quality penknife or jack knife.
- Water proof matches.
- Flint and steel or a metal match.
- Something for water storage such as unlubricated condoms or zip-lock bags.
- Water purification tablets.
- A long strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil for cooking.
- Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. Nothing fancy.
- Commercial back packing first aid kit with instructions. I carry a small first aid kit and I have placed a small hotel size bar of soap inside my kit.
- One small pack of gum and one pack of hard candy.
- Casualty blanket, sometimes called a thermal blanket.
- Instant powder broth, beef or chicken, four servings total.
- Survival whistle, small, made of plastic and with a lanyard.
Now, lets see how our man in the beginning of this article spends his lonely night in the field.
The man groaned with pain as he pulled his survival kit out of the large cargo pocket on his left leg. He also removed his canteen from his belt and placed it on the ground beside his survival kit. His canteen also had a canteen cup, which slipped securely onto the bottom of the canteen. Pulling his slashed pant leg up and making sure it was off of the injured area of his swollen leg, he washed and cleaned the scrape he had sustained when he fell. He used a small amount of water from his canteen and the little soap bar from his first aid kit.
Opening his first aid kit once more, he cleaned the wound with an alcohol pad, and took two 500 mg pain relievers (per the instructions on the packages). After he took the medication, he carefully wrapped his leg injury with strips cut from his tee shirt with his penknife. He decided to wrap the injury to keep the scrape clean, because the wound was too long and wide for him to use a band-aid. Using the same tee shirt and his knife once more, he placed two pieces of wood (one on each side of his broken leg) and made a crude splint. He almost passed out from the pain before he had finished these small tasks.
He realized he was lucky in some ways. He was lying among some dead logs, and within a few minutes he had gathered up enough tinder, kindling, and wood to start his fire. He decided to light the fire by using his metal match and save his other matches for a more serious situation. He was unsure what the future held for him, but he knew once he used a match, it was gone forever. He assembled his tinder carefully, using dried grasses and some torn up paper from his wallet. Holding the metal match firmly in his left hand, angled down toward the tinder, he struck the magnesium strip with the blade of his knife. Sparks flew and he gave an unconscious smile as he saw some of them land on his tinder, which immediately ignited. In just seconds he had a small fire burning. While the night would be chilly, he already knew he had plenty of small pieces of wood to keep a teacup size fire going all night.
With his leg broken, he knew making a complete shelter was out of question, but his survival kit had a thermal blanket and it could be wrapped around him to retain his body heat. His primary concern with body heat was to avoid hypothermia, the lowering of the body’s core temperature, and potentially a killer. He just had to keep the thermal blanket away from the small fire.
It was painful, but he positioned his backpack near his ankles and slowly raised both legs to elevate them and placed them on the pack. He was concerned about going into shock from his injury. He knew enough about first aid to know to keep warm and elevated his legs to increase blood flow.
He also had his canteen, which was more than ¾ full, so water was not a serious problem. If he had been able to walk, he could have used the two unlubricated condoms or zip lock bags in his survival kit to store water and water purification tablets to insure it would be safe for drinking. All in all, he realized, it could have been much worse.
As soon as his immediate needs were taken care of, he removed his canteen cup from his canteen and filled it a little less than half full of water. He then placed it on the fire to heat. As soon as the water started to boil, he removed the cup and poured one pack of instant beef broth powder into the container. He would have a piece of hard candy for dessert as soon as his drink was finished. He wanted to get his body heat up and to keep it up. He knew the drink, candy, and the thermal blanket would increase his core temperature.
As he drank his hot beef broth, he thought of uses for his fishing kit, but decided that since he could not move very far, the normal uses of the kit were not going to work for him. He even considered making snares with the fishing line, but due to a lack of mobility that was also not possible. He sat the fishing kit aside for the time being. The aluminum foil he knew he could use to signal with, all he had to do was fold it up in a small square of about four inches and he could to some degree reflect the suns rays. It would be a crude device, but it was all he had. He realized he should have bought a good signal mirror, but he had not seriously considered he would ever need a survival kit. He slipped his small plastic survival whistle around his neck, so it would be handy when he needed it.
The night was difficult mostly due to his pain. His leg shot sharp waves of pain up his body each time he moved, and he moved often. While his rolled up poncho served as a fairly comfortable pillow, he still had a fitful night. His biggest problem most of the evening, was keeping up his faith that someone would come looking for him. All night he had fought back short periods of deep depression, sudden anxiety, and profound fear. But, deep inside, he knew he could and would survive until rescued. He had once attended a short military survival class where the instructor talked about survival and psychology. He slowly remembered the instructor’s words.
“Panic is a real killer. When you actually realize you are going to have to survive, keep your head about yourself. Stop. Find a place that offers you temporary shelter and think things out. Do not go stomping around in the woods looking for your way out. Just stop.” The man realized the part about stomping had been decided for him. He had no option but to stay where he was. What else had the instructor said?
“Consider the, who, what, when, and where of your situation. Who knows where you are? Did you do as I recommended and tell someone about your trip? This should always be done, even if you know the area very well. Tell any person (a boss, friend, wife, husband, etc.) the what, when and where of your trip. They should know what type of trip it is (fishing, hunting, hiking, or travel), when you left and when you will return (i.e., I will leave on Tuesday morning and will return seven days later on Tuesday evening by eight), and where your trip is to be (to the National Forest or to Majestic Lake). Make sure if you change your trip in any way to call or contact the person you informed. Many rescues are started each year because of a change in plans and no notification. If you have handled the who, what, when and where of your trip, rescue should be fast.”
The man groaned in pain once more as the thought of some other points the instructor had made. “Always organize yourself. Unless you are suicidal, this step is a must. Take an inventory of what you have on hand. This step serves two purposes. First, it calms you down; because the time it takes to inventory your gear will assist in deescalating your initial panic. Second, most of us carry a lot of "junk,” as well as needed items with us, and this is a time to see exactly what you have. All items on you can be used toward survival. Keep all of it for future use. Consider different ways to use your gear, not just the intended use it was designed for.”
The injured man popped a piece of the hard candy from his survival kit into his mouth as he remembered, “Keep busy. An active mind is less likely to dwell on the situation as hopeless. Notice I wrote hopeless and not helpless. In a helpless situation, there is no help. While you very well may feel helpless, perhaps due to an injury, you can always help yourself to some degree. But, in a hopeless situation there is no hope. I think you always have hope, as long as you are breathing. Don't start feeling sorry for yourself. It is normal for you to experience some panic or fear. You can expect all kinds of emotions to come out. Resist the negative thoughts and concentrate on the little successes you may experience, while letting the failures slide off. The more little successes you have the better you will start to feel. Start with something small, like a fire and a shelter.”
A little later the injured man checked his watch and took another pain reliever per the instructions in his first aid kit. He also thought more about the survival class as he added some more wood to his fire. “Find a shelter and start a fire. Do this even if you don't need either. Why? Well, once again for two reasons. The first is to keep yourself busy as I stated above. The second is they may be needed later when you are too exhausted or weak to make them. Additionally, there is a deep primal need for safety satisfied when you have shelter and fire. Ever notice how comforting a campfire is at night? The fire may not even be needed, so the comfort is usually just psychological. Additionally, a fire does not have to be large to attract the attention of those that may be searching for you. Anyway, always get a fire going, construct some type of shelter, and wait for them to come to you.”
Well, he had a fire going and his shelter was wrapped tightly around him. He felt warm and knew his own actions had helped him fight off a very uncomfortable night. He also realized that the information the instructor had provided had been true. Even with his leg broken, he had been able to treat his injury, start a fire, and find shelter. He had also had a hot drink and some candy. So, there is something that can be done in all situations after all.
He knew he had not slept but a couple of minutes all night when a false dawn broke over the nearby trees. It was only a few hours later when he was found by a search team, who had heard him blowing his survival whistle, and rushed him to a hospital. Later that day, in the comfort of his own home, he felt his exhausted face break into a smile as he told his wife how he had survived on his own, deep in the woods, with a broken leg. He also told her, he owed his survival to his survival kit, a survival class he had once attended and the fact he had told her where he was hunting that day.
Survival is never easy. The field can be unforgiving to those of us who are ill prepared, or lack the basic knowledge needed to enter and leave safely. If you spend time in the outdoors, always tell someone about your trip, when you will return, who is with you, and where you are going. Additionally, make sure you always carry a good quality survival kit and keep it properly stocked with needed items. Remember, your survival components should be geared toward first aid, water, food, fire, shelter, and signaling. Also, learn about survival and emergency first aid before you go into the woods. It could save your life some day.