Hunting Survival
Spend More Than A Few Weekends A Year Outdoors?
Chances Are Someday You’ll Either Be The Victim Of A Survival Incident
Or Placed In A Rescue Posture.  Here’s What You Need To Know In Either Case.
By W.A. Hughes

 It was nine-thirty in the morning on a raw blustery day in the high country mantle of grey-black clouds hung at tree-top level.  The blue-green branches of the conifers were covered with powdery white snow that sifted down on the three inches of powder covering the ground.

 My bowhunting partner, Doug Smith, and I followed a herd of elk we spotted from the road.  Tracking was easy – the prints of seven elk, one a spike bull, showed up less than ten minutes old in the snow.

 “There they are, Hughes!  In that thicket of fir.”  Smith pointed to a patch of young trees in the bottom of the canyon.  “There – bedded down in those trees.  Some tracks going in, but nothing coming out.”  A dark shape moved swiftly from one patch of trees to the next.

 “There’s one now,”  Smith whispered.  “Hold it, hold it, that isn’t an elk.”  Smith waved his arms.  “That guy will spook those elk for sure.”

 And was he right.  Elk exploded out of the patch of timber.  “Get down,”  I ordered.  We knelt in the snow hoping at least one of the elk would run by within bow-shot range.  A big cow came charging up the hill.  We drew and shot at the same time.  My arrow stuck in the snow two feet behind the racing elk, Smith’s shot sailed over her back.  No time for a second shot.

 The bull never ran but we spotted him sneaking along the bottom of the canyon, then nothing moved, only the guy in the canyon who suddenly staggered out of the trees then fell.  “That guy’s hurt,”  I shouted.  “Come on.”

 We found the most miserable, cold and wet human I’ve ever seen.  He lay sprawled in the snow, semiconscious, shivering and incoherent.  This guy was only a few hours from being dead.

 Three years ago, I took a college course in mountain and cold weather survival and I honestly thought I’d never have an opportunity to use what I’d read about – I had obviously been wrong.  Here was a fellow man in bad shape.


 Smith and I stripped this man’s clothes off and helped him climbed into a garbage sack tube tent.  Smith went back to the pickup and got a sleeping bag and we put the victim – tube tent and all – into the sleeping bag.  I built a fire, made tea liberally laced with honey and stayed with the victim while Smith went for help.  Less than an hour later a chopper picked the victim up and transported him to Tacoma, Washington, where he spent a night in the hospital and was released in good condition, but a lot wiser.

 Tim Kneeland, director of Seattle’s Institute For Survival, makes mention several times in his lectures that if you spend more than a few weekends a year outdoors, you will either be the victim of a survival incident or you will be placed in a rescue posture.  At the time I thought it was a lot of scare talk, but now I know it’s true.

 Here in the state of Washington there are over three hundred survival accidents a year that necessitate the intervention of search and rescue teams.  Many people are needlessly injured each year and many die.  National statistics show that every minute of every day someone is involved in a survival crisis.  The real tragedy is that most of these deaths and injuries could be avoided if the outdoorsmen involved had a survival kit and knew how to use it.


 The best insurance you can get is to purchase or make a survival kit, practice with it until you know how to use every item in it, and never take one step into the woods without it.  Keep one in your car, boat, camper, airplane or any off-road vehicle.

 An excellent survival kit can be purchased from the Tacoma Unit, Mountain Rescue Council, Post Office Box 696, Tacoma, Washington, but for just a few dollars you can make yours.

 Your survival kit should contain an instant shelter, fire-starting materials, signal devices, tools and rations.  All of this equipment should be compact enough to be stored and carried in a small waterproof packet on your belt.


 If you wish to make your own kit, follow these simple directions and you will have all the necessary gear to survive a short-term crisis even in hostile environments.

 Instant Shelter – A tube tent can be manufactured from two of the plastic garbage or leaf sacks available in any grocery or hardware store.  All that is necessary to make an eight foot tent is to slit the bottom of one sack open and, utilizing a good grade of tape, join the two pieces together to form one large sack.  Carefully fold the sack up into as tight a package as possible for storage in your kit.


 It is amazing how warm the tube tent is.  On a recent camping trip to Mt.Ranier, Washington, we utilized one of these tents as a sleeping bag, and found that we stayed dry and fairly warm inside the tubes.  If you get wet, it is wise to strip off all the wet clothes, get inside the tent and stay there until you can dry your clothing.  If possible, two people can get inside the tent and the resulting body heat will aid in warming the survival victim.

 Tools – Tools carried in a survival kit must be small, light and highly functional.  Always have a small but razor-sharp knife in the kit.  This is indispensable for many chores found around camp, primarily camp construction, such as cutting boughs for a bed and obtaining fuel.  A small coil of wire and string are helpful tools as is a foot or two of tape to repair tears in your tube tent.  A small piece of aluminum foil doubles as a heat reflector from your fire; it also makes an excellent cooking pot, and an even better signal mirror.


Fire-Starting Material – The main fire-making material in many homemade kits is a small butane lighter.  They are excellent, reliable and well worth the few pennies spent on them, however one should have a back-up.  My kit has two back-up fire makers – I have a plastic case filled with waterproof matches, and a home-made flint and steel set.  The commercial sets of flint and steel set.  The commercial sets of flint and steel just don’t have the material for reliable use.  I found a piece of flint in the hills and carry a small packet of tinder and use y knife blade for the steel.  With the charred cloth tinder, flint and steel blade of my knife, I can start a fire as fast as most folks can with a match.

 With your fire-making material, always carry two five-inch candles.  These candles are excellent as a fire starter.  If you have trouble getting your kindling going, cut off a one-inch stub of candle, light it, and place it under your kindling.  As a steady source of fire, it will get all but the most stubborn kindling going.  I use a small piece of wire on the candle and, when the fire is blazing, pull the candle out and save it for future use.

 You will occasionally find yourself in a position where there is no fuel, or the wood is just too wet to burn.  Here the candle will have to suffice as your only source of light and heat.  If you are lost, hurt and cold, a candle will give off an amazing amount of heat, over which you can cook soup or coffee, and the light from a simple candle gives one a tremendous psychological boost.

 Rations – Even with today’s dried food, one obviously cannot pack a three-course meal in a belt survival kit.  He can, however, carry bouillon cubes, dried soup mix, packaged tea, coffee of hot chocolate and, as an energy source, either packaged honey or sugar.  Any of these foods can be prepared over a small fire utilizing your aluminum pot and the candle for heat.


 I store all of my survival gear inside a zip-lock waterproof bag and carry it on my belt in a small canvas bag I purchased at the surplus store.  Carl Bergman, one of my bowhunting pals, carries his kit in a leather “Possibles” bag along with his extra bowstring, file and knife.

 Signals – Last of all, but far from being least important, is your signal gear.  As previously mentioned, your aluminum foil makes an excellent signal mirror and on bright days the reflection of the mirror can be seen for miles and lead a party right to your location.  In my kit I also carry a spent rifle case.  With this cartridge you can blow a loud shrill whistle which you will also assist rescuers in finding your location.

 If you do become involved in a survival crisis your brain is your most important tool.  If you have the confidence and knowledge that you will survive, you will.  Just follow these general directions.

 When you are hunting, fishing or camping out, always keep an eye out for a good survival shelter.  Remember that your shelter should be small and dry.  Whenever you get the chance, use your survival kit for practice.  Build fire, cook yourself some hot soup or chocolate.  Let your friends, wife and parents know that when you are out in the woods you may not be back on time, and leave word that if you are not home by a certain day and hour to notify search and rescue.  Assure them that you have a survival kit, that you know how to use it, and that if anything happens you will stay put.

 Okay, you’re out in the woods and you get lost or caught in a storm.  What do you do?  It’s easy! First, get under shelter fast.  Do not allow yourself to get miserably cold and wet.  Find a shelter or use your tube tent and stay where you are unless your location is dangerous.  Find the most protected area, build a fire, fix yourself some hot coffee and wait.  As soon as possible make signals to rescuers.


Survival emergencies in the United States are short term,.  All you have to do is stay alive for a couple of days and rescue teams probably will find you .  Think about it, practice, and if the time comes when you are a survival victim, you will be able to handle it.

 In a survival emergency, medical aid may be hours, perhaps days away.  You could be called upon to give medical assistance to others and perhaps be required to take care of our own injuries.  You may also have to care for emotional stresses such as fear and anxiety, keep morale high and , by example, create a will to live in others.  Until a rescue team and trained medical help arrives you may be called upon to provide food, water, shelter and first aid to others.

 First aid should be given according to the following plan.  First, rescue the victim from any area that is dangerous and could cause further injury or harm.  Second, make sure that the injured person is breathing without difficulty.  It may be necessary to give mouth-to-mouth artificial respiration.  Third, severe bleeding must be stopped.  Fourth, protect the injured person from cold, dampness or excessive heat.  Fifth, determine the extent of the injury and give appropriate first aid to include treatment for shock.

 If you spend much time outdoors, it is quite likely that you may find a victim suffering from hypothermia and will be required to give first aid.  First and most important, avoid further heat loss in the victim and then re-warm him slowly.

 It will undoubtedly be necessary to rig an emergency shelter.  To further expose the victim to the elements may be fatal.  If possible, replace his wet clothing with dry.  This means you may have to share some of your own clothing.  Place as much insulation as possible between the victim and the ground.

 Have another person, if possible, strip down and warm a sleeping bag, then place the victim in the bag with one or two other persons.  They should  huddle with the victim.  If a sleeping bag is not available, use your tube tent.  If the victim’s clothing is damp, remove it.

 If the victim is awake, give him warm fluids – tea, coffee, soup, hot chocolate or bouillon.  Tea and Coffee as well as hot chocolate should be heavily sweetened.  If, however, the victim is unconscious, he should be kept prone, with his head tilted back to insure breathing.  Do not leave the victim.  Build a shelter, a fire and make appropriate signals for rescuers.  If you have a partner, send him out for help.

 Research presently underway at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, shows that quite possibly the best method of reviving a victim of exposure is to immerse him in a warm whirlpool bath.  Of course, this procedure is available only in a hospital; however, if a cabin or home is nearby, you could place the victim in a warm bathtub until help arrives.

 Here are a few suggestions forwarded by Dr. Hayward of the University of Victoria:  Get the victim into the warmest area possible; Do not attempt to stop the victim from shivering as this is the normal emergency heat-producing method of the body; Remove all clothing and pat dry.  Do not attempt to rub the body; Do not wrap in blankets or place in a sleeping bag unless the bag or blanket is preheated.

 Rewarming Procedures – For a person into advanced stages of hypothermia, it is essential to stop further cooling and rewarm the victim if you are to save his life.  Semiconscious or unconscious persons are in severe stages of hypothermia and could die unless immediate rewarming takes place.

 The best form of rewarming is to immerse the victim in a warm-water bath or wrap him in electric blankets; however, in-the-field treatment may be necessary to prolong life long enough to get the victim to a house or hospital.

 If no other method is available body contact may be the only method available to rewarm the victim.  Huddle with him and give as much body contact as possible to the areas of greatest heat loss – neck, sides of chest, and the groin.

 If the person is unconscious, exhale warm breath in close proximity to the mouth and nose while the victim is inhaling.

 Build a fire and heat water, soak towels, clothes, etc., and apply to neck, chest and groin.

 If a sleeping bag is available, strip the victim down, remove our own clothes and huddle in the bag with the victim.  If a third person is available, get him into the bag also.  As soon as the victim regains consciousness, give him hot drinks, but do not give liquor under any circumstances.

 Continue the treatment until normal movements, behavior, and mobility returns.  In some cases this may take only an hour.  In severe cases it will take longer and you will want to get the person to a hospital as soon as possible.