Surviving Mother Nature While Hunting
Ever been in a survival situation? Most archers have not. Believe it or not, most archers do not know how to survive in the wilderness or in a crisis. The arrival of Global Positioning Systems (GPS) has lulled archers into having a false sense of security, thinking that they can escape any predicament by following their handy little electronic devices to safety.
Despite the fact that basic wilderness survival skills were usually learned by generations before us, recent generations are much less savvy in this regard. As it’s known, activities usually take hunters into remote areas. It behooves them to learn the essential skills required to survive if they ever find themselves stranded in the wild.
Webster’s dictionary defines survival as, “…continuing to live after or in spite of…” Honestly, no one ever plans to get lost or trapped in the face of hostile circumstances, it just happens. Sometimes ago a documentary was aired on the Discovery channel. The topic was winter survival. Basically a person who taught outdoor survival skills at a recognized college was flown into an isolated northern forest destination and left to his own devices for most part of a week.
From start to finish, alone, he documented his struggles, strategies and small triumphs on video. Left alone with little more than a basic survival kit and a hatchet, his documentary revealed just how hard and truly uncomfortable it is to keep up life alone and under severe cold conditions. Although well familiar with the finer points in constructing shelters, fires, finding remnants of food and building signal fires, he was clear in communicating that despite his vast academic knowledge, it is indisputably more difficult to put into practice.
A wise outdoor education teacher once said that, “if there’s one thing to keep in mind about survival, it’s the FSFS rule.” Wondering what the FSFS rule is? In order of priority, it outlines the four most significant priorities to focus on when faced with an outdoor survival situation. The first “F” stands for fire, the first “S” for shelter, the second “F” stands for food, and the second “S” stands for signal.
Fire is the solution to a lot of problems. It provides both heat and light. Only these factors can, by their very nature, believe it or not, create physical, emotional and psychological stability. If you’ve ever been lost or read about folks who have been, then you should possibly know that one of the biggest challenges is maintaining calm. Fear sets in when one discovers that they are lost and this creates a world of other problems.
By making a fire, we make available the basis for survival. Fire has practical significance but it also provides a mental support. Fire is soothing and in turn helps to create a balance to the situation. It provides heat and further provides a means for preparing food for eating when it becomes available.
Believe it or not, finding a way to ignite and maintain a fire goes a long way in helping fend off a lot of these feelings. Building a fire does not only establish independence, it also keeps us warm and busy. If we stay warm, we avoid hypothermia and we all know that once hypothermia sets in, it’s a disaster. So, building and keeping a fire lit is our first point of call in a survival situation.
Along with this, is the need to gather a sufficient supply of wood to keep that fire going, particularly all through the night. Experts suggest collecting about three times as much firewood as you think you will need to get through the night because a fire normally burns much more rapidly than projected.
Gathering and burning tall but dead and dry trees of an estimated five to eight-inch diameter from one end to the other is an efficient way to keep from having to continually search for more fuel. No need to worry about cutting or breaking them into small pieces, but instead, pile them up at one end as your fire in front of the shelter and spread out the opposite ends away from the flame so that they won’t burn.
One of the most significant considerations is where to set up your fire. If you have a restricted ability to start a fire (i.e. only one or two match sticks for instance), you may need to keep it going round the clock. In an ideal situation, you should build your fire bearing in mind, the location of your shelter.
Take into consideration, prevailing winds and offset the angle of the fire and shelter so that the wind is blocked by the shelter and at the same time the smoke is carried away from the shelter and neither directly into it or back-draft into it. In the best case scenario, the fire will be placed inside two or three feet of the entrance of the shelter for easy access and to take advantage of the heat produced by the fire.
“S” – Shelter
Nearly as vital is a shelter. Exposure is your foe. Without cover from the elements, it’s only a matter of time before severe cold temperatures and/or wind will take its toll. By finding or constructing a shelter, we can shield ourselves. Without shelter, little problems can develop into big ones in a hurry.
A person that is lost must find out a way to protect himself/herself from wind, rain, snow and even the sun. Exposure to ruthless environmental conditions can be very tiring launching the victim into a hypothermic condition or if not causing physical strength to be drained. In a survival situation it is completely imperative to preserve as much strength as possible.
Shelters don’t have to look or feel like the Hilton but they are required to offer protection, be sturdy, and be as comfortable as possible given the circumstances. In old-growth boreal forests shelters are generally not a problem. A lean-to can be effortlessly constructed using a strong cross bar with structural branches as a frame and a layered coating of spruce bows to repel rain and offer shade.
Similarly, smaller spruce bows can be used to line the base for a bed. In a survival situation creativity is necessary. When a lean-to is not an option, snow caves, perhaps a natural cave or using whatever other supplies might be easy to get to will be in order. Sheets of heavy plastic or tarps might be ideal to block snow, wind and rain.
“F” – Food
Many survival situations last less than 72 hours and hardly ever more than five days. The solution is to find some source of drinking water inside the first few days. Again, experts recommend that the human body can go without water for three days; what happens after that is mostly dependent on the individual and the condition of the environment.
While finding food is important for keeping us strong, it is not as vital as some other things. If snare wire is on hand, in deep snow it may only be a matter of placing a rabbit snare along a well used trail or setting a snare along an angled log to capture a squirrel. On the other hand, if the landscape looks to be short of wildlife, the survivor may be faced with gathering insufficient remnants of food by way of rosehips, berries or in the inner core of cattails for instance.
Food and water makes life sustainable; it’s as simple as that. To keep up strength, the body needs sustenance. By trapping or otherwise killing an animal or scavenging for roots, tubers or other safe to eat vegetation, a person trapped in a survival situation will add important days to their life – days that may well be imperative to allow time for rescuers to find them.
Finding or preserving food and water in a survival situation is all about securing and managing the requirements. If rationing is in order, consider that as well. Plastic can be a priceless commodity in survival circumstances. In hot conditions it can used to collect rainwater or condensation by placing it over a catch basin of some sort with a small stone in the center. With the sun’s heat, moisture will collect and drop down into the container. In winter, if snow is available, it can be melted in a container and consumed.
“S” – Signal
To be rescued, the lost have to be found. In most outdoor survival situations, the person faced with the emergency will be missed. Sooner or later, somebody will come looking. Building one tremendously large, or alternatively three good sized signal fires could make a huge difference in the world when it comes to maximizing visibility for search and rescue workers.
To boost the odds, it’s essential to be as visible as possible. In my opinion one of the best signals is a tripod frame (teepee style) crafted of poles (i.e., 3″-4″ in diameter stripped trees) loaded with spruce bows. With a platform of fast igniting kindling build two feet off the ground beneath, ignition will spark a fast burning fire on that platform creating enormous heat. The green spruce bough will in turn catch fire quickly launching an enormous plume of billowing smoke skyward.
The key is to use tinder and kindling that will ignite fast creating lots of heat that will cause flames to travel upward resulting in lots of smoke. Should rescue aircraft be heard or spotted, a quick ignition can mean the difference between life and death. The use of a smaller, but fairly large easily ignitable hand-held fire made out of dead spruce twigs and tinder such as old man’s beard and dry grass, is generally more efficient than lighting each signal fire with a lighter or a single match.
Modern-day survival manuals recommend that alternative signals might involve universal distress signs like a cross laid out on the ground or an “X” on the ground. In my opinion, it’s best to build one very large signal fire and combine this with a huge “X” in the snow nearby. “X” is a worldwide distress symbol.
Years ago, the letters “SOS” were universally understood to express distress and a call for for help. And, while “SOS” is still useable, modern-day survival teaching has since revised this to a large and visible “X”. The best way to do this is to gather and stand spruce boughs upright so that they cast a shadow that is easily seen from the air.
Almost anything can be used for this purpose; preferably something that stands out, e.g. rocks on sand, trees, fabric if on hand, whatever is available. These things can even be marked in the snow under such conditions. The universal signal for help is just about anything in a group of three. For example, if time, energy and resources permit you may consider making three signal fires, three crosses, or three “X’s”.
Our main foe in a survival situation is our psychological and emotional response. We can say we know how we would respond in a particular situation, but believe me, you don’t know until you find yourself in that situation. It is vital to understand that everyone reacts differently to emergencies. Some might be calm, cool and collected, able to process rational thought.
Regrettably it is more natural to panic. Regardless of how we think we might react, it is essential to realize that we might also experience a range of feelings and sensations – from pain to isolation, cold, fear, thirst, boredom, hunger and even tiredness.
The most common shelter is a lean-to. With this type of construction, it’s important to make sure that the cross bar is strong and stable. Strategically placing layers of spruce boughs upside down will add security as well as a windbreak. Equally vital is strategically layering soft spruce boughs for a bed. Keeping in mind, resting and comfort are vital to maintaining one’s strength.
Bottom line – to boost your odds in a survival situation stay calm, think clearly, preserve energy, do what you can, to stay warm and keep on working at creating a better camp and better signals. A good rule of thumb, mostly if you are traveling into remote areas, is to let someone know where you are going prior to your trip, and when you plan to come back. If you do this, chances are someone will come looking for you.
About the Author
Dan Chabert managed a small team developing strategies for outdoor and survival and currently in-charge with Runnerclick, Nicershoes and Gear Hunt. Spent 4 years writing about hunting reviews and updates. A real dynamo when it comes to supervising the production of outdoor gears for campers/survivalist.
Header image courtesy of Max Pixel