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How to Survive a Night in the Woods

Stay put, stay warm, stay calm.

Your stand is in deep woods and you've gotten turned around in the dark. You don't have a compass, you can't hear any traffic, and you have no idea where your truck is. Now what?

First and most important: Don't panic. If you start running looking for a way out, you risk tripping, stepping in a hole, getting out of the area where searchers will be looking for you, or doing something else that will make your situation worse. Find a comfortable spot, sit down, and wait. You can survive a night alone in the woods and then deal with being lost in the morning.

Find your way or signal for help with Garmin InReach Explorer+, using sat signals (and service fees).

Surviving an episode of being lost begins long before you actually walk into the woods. Your most basic safety plan is to always let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be out, so if you don't appear on schedule someone knows to call the authorities and start a search. Cell phones don't always work away from town, so that doesn't count as part of your plan to get help if you need it. Of course, a very good addition to any hunting vest is a small Personal Locator Beacon or SPOT device; when activated, these transmit your emergency status and GPS position to rescuers via satellite signal.

Old school, cheap, still critical.

Beyond that, treat every trip as if you're going to get lost. That means carrying a basic survival kit: fire starters, small candle, plastic bag of dryer lint, flashlight, emergency blanket such as a Space Blanket, whistle, couple bottles of water, and a water purifier if you're going deep into the woods.

Back to that moment when you realize you're lost. The first thing to do is stop moving. Staying in one place increases the odds that you will be found quickly. Then take stock of the situation.

Ask yourself: what is around me that I can use?

Ask yourself four questions:

  • Who knows where I am and when will they start looking?

  • What do I have with me that will help me survive?

  • What is around me that I can use?

  • What is the weather doing?

In most cases, especially during hunting season, your biggest risk is going to be hypothermia. Even temperatures in the 40's and 50's can kill you if you're wet. So the most important things you need are shelter and warmth. Look for a way to keep wind and water off your head and back. If you have any shelter, take advantage of it. If you don't, use your Space Blanket to create a lean-to.

Then get a fire started. Besides waterproof matches, a lighter, or another reliable way to create a flame, a candle and a plastic bag of dryer lint can help you get even wet wood started burning. Position your fire so that the Space Blanket reflects the heat toward you. A fire will also make you easier for searchers to spot. If conditions are so extreme that you can't start a fire, wrap up in the blanket to stay as dry and warm as possible until conditions improve.

Outside of that, just wait. As long as the person who's expecting you calls for help, searchers will find you. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine February 2019

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