As you prepare to enter the forest in the pursuit of game this fall and winter, a little pre planning can help get you home safely. As I write this article from my desk in East Central Missouri, it is a balmy 81 degrees outside this first week of October. We have a saying in Missouri, “If you don’t like the weather today, wait until tomorrow.” A better adage might be, “If you don’t like the weather now, wait an hour.” Missouri is famous for being a weather ‘quick change artist’. It is not unusual in the fall and winter for temperatures to drop 20 or 30 degrees in only a few hours, in conjunction with sudden down pours of rain, sleet or snow; sometimes all three in a short period of time. This can really get a hunter or hiker that ranges far into the forest in trouble very quickly.
In both 2014 and 2015, we saw tragedies strike, right here in Missouri, where lives were needlessly lost due to hypothermia. A total of four lives were lost. One due to a fall through the ice in shallow water that soaked a hunters clothing. He succumbed to hypothermia before he could get back to his truck. The other case involved hiking when a sudden drop of temperature to below freezing combined with an unexpected downpour cost three lives.
Hypothermia can set in quickly. As the core body temperature drops and impedes blood flow, the decision making process is impaired. According to many experts this can happen in as little as 15 minutes. If you are a half hour from your vehicle or other shelter, you can be in trouble quickly.
There are many other things that can happen: A good friend was at his farm, taking down his ladder stand after deer season and suffered a fall that broke his leg badly. It was nearing dark and he had neither phone nor any survival equipment. He crawled and pulled himself several hundred yards to a dirt road that was traveled infrequently and managed to throw his seat cushion in front of a passing car to get their attention. That was his one shot, and he made it.
How can you prepare for these situations? It is really very simple and costs only a one time expenditure of $20 to $50.
Here is what you need:
2. An emergency poncho. If you have children that normally accompany you, you need one for each of child.
3. Mylar space blanket (s)
4. Multiple ways to make a fire. My kit contains a small butane lighter, a magnesium fire starter and emergency strike anywhere matches. A small bit of tinder (a fire starter stick, Vaseline soaked cotton balls or dryer lint in a pill bottle).
5. An emergency whistle
6. A compass
7. A small high intensity flashlight and spare batteries
8. A good pocket knife or small belt knife
9. Another useful item is an emergency sleeping bag. They only weigh a few ounces and cost about $15.
10. 50 feet of cordage (Para cord nylon string or something similar)
The trick is to keep your bag small enough you don’t mind carrying it. My favorite kit is a canvas should bag that is also big enough for a bottle of water and a LifeStraw filter. This is particularly important if you are hunting in the mountains in the west. Water may be plentiful, but contaminated with all kinds of nasty bugs that you want to avoid.
If you think about it, each of the above mentioned catastrophes might have been survived with this minimal amount of equipment.
Cotton clothing can also be a death sentence. Wool clothing and some of the newer fabrics available actually retain body heat, even if wet.
A number of years ago, a close friend and I made the ill-advised decision to float Turnback Creek on St. Patrick’s Day in a canoe. We were hoping to catch some early walleye but the water was too cold. The air temperature was about 55 degrees and the water temperature was in the low 40’s. An ideal hypothermic situation! Of course we turned the canoe over in an area that had steep banks on both sides. We could have been in real trouble, but we were somewhat prepared. We had dry clothes in a plastic bag and a means of lighting a fire. We were so cold when we got out of the water our fingers were stiff and somewhat unresponsive but we managed to get a fire going, stripped down, dried off and donned our dry clothes. We forgot fishing at this point and concentrated on staying on top of the water the rest of the trip.
Just remember: Always go prepared and stay alive.