When Nature Conspires Against You!
By Darrell Holland
I trust my “Sixth Senses” and can be a little superstitious under the right circumstances. As a young lad I read all I could regarding survival stories, mountain men, trappers and other woodsmen from our colorful history. One series that I’m quite fond of are the stories written by Ben East for Outdoor Life. Ben was sent on missions to interview survivors in harrowing life or death brushes with Mother Nature. Stories regarding cape buffalo charges, lion maulings, snake bites, bear attacks and getting lost filled my mind for most of my formative years.
This simple kit is enough to keep you warm, dry and free from harm. Don't delay in adding these items to your fanny or day pack. It is easy to procrastinate and think, "It won't happen to me!" Unfortunately, this epitaph won't comfort your wife or family members left behind.
Rather than paying attention to math, writing skills or history, I was engulfed in a life or death struggle somewhere in North America or Africa. Mr. East’s interviews and captivating telling of such adventures kept me spell bound and aware of what can go wrong given the right circumstances.
Most, if not all survival stories begin with the same lines: I was just going to be gone a short time. I’ll just look over the edge and into canyon and return to camp. Its nice out, I’ll leave my coat and hat in the tent. I’ve hunted this area all my life, why do I need a compass? Sound familiar?
In moments of desperation Mother Nature may indeed become a little irritated with overpopulation and your presence on the planet. When the latter takes place, be on your best behavior and be prepared. Nature abhors a vacuum, especially when it’s between your ears, and taking you out of the equation is part of the selection process.
Every year there are dozens of Darwin Awards given out to individuals who fail to think before leaving the security of their homes. Don’t be one of them.
Living in 2009 and enjoying the benefits of high tech gadgets, satellites, cell phones, maps, Gortex and countless other creature comforts have indeed dulled our primal instincts. The world is tame compared to what our ancestors dealt with, no Indian attacks, buffalo stampedes, freezing “Northers” on the windswept prairies of Texas. Life in certain regions of the world has lost its luster. The domestication of man is almost complete in most areas of the world. There are no more adventures to conquer, unless of course things go WRONG!
As hunters we should be prepared for the worst should Mother Nature draw our name from the hat. Can you spend a few nights away from camp and be comfortable? Do you carry any food or water with you when you leave camp on that short hunt? Can you build a fire with one hand under inclement conditions? Can you find your way back to camp in a whiteout or fog bank? What would you do if you sprained an ankle or broke a leg 5 miles from camp in steep country?
Most hunters are in poor shape when compared to our ancestors. Desk jobs, inactivity and city life have taken their toll on most recreational outdoorsmen. Lacking experience and knowledge of “what to do” under tough conditions can render you a statistic. Listed below are a few things to add to your day or fanny pack when you venture into nature’s playground.
Mention hypothermia and most folks think of sub-zero temperatures and snowbanks waist deep. Quite the contrary, you can die of hypothermia in 50 degree weather. Imagine the following:
You are miles from camp and come to a shallow stream barely above your ankles. Having bought Danner boots with Gortex, you roll up your Levis and confidently begin fording the stream.
Not paying attention, you slip on some mossy rocks in the water and land on your back knocking the wind from your sails. You lie in the stream for just a few seconds stunned at the turn of events. Getting back to your feet you are soaked from head to toe, your Levis and cotton sweatshirt are dripping wet. Those fancy boots have now become water storage containers as you wring out the cotton socks you bought because the wool ones felt funny.
It’s late in the afternoon as the sun sets behind the ridge, the wind comes up and the temperature begins to drop. The water dripping from your shirt runs down your hands and the wind chill starts to take effect. You stumble occasionally and continue to blow hot air into your hands in an attempt to warm them up. It’s still a long walk back to camp across those barren ridges, and with darkness approaching it will take longer.
At a comfy 50 degrees with a 5-10 mph wind blowing you can die under the above circumstances. Wet cotton clothes, poor planning and preparedness are to blame.... Mother Nature rubs her hands together and claims another victim.
You arise early in the morning to an overcast sky. Another beautiful day in paradise! You are in Arizona with a once in a lifetime mule deer tag. Running a little behind, you leave camp without taking any water. You are just going to hunt the canyon to the east of camp and return for lunch in a few hours. It’s cool out, it’s overcast, you won’t need any water until lunch.
About 10:00 am you catch the flicker of a deer’s tail as it breaks over the distant ridge only 400 yards ahead. These narrow ravines and draws are excellent cover for mule deer, you quicken your pace to close the gap between you and the deer.
The ridge was considerably steeper than it looked when you first spotted the deer, the overcast sky has vanished like tax dollars given to a politician. You are panting slightly as you break over the ridge line to see a magnificent buck staring at you from the next ridge over. He’s got you pegged, slowly lifting your rifle he bolts over the ridge. The chase is on! If you can only get a decent shot with your Holland Rifle the trophy of a lifetime will be yours!
Running through the mesquite and ironwood trees, a branch knocks your hat from your head. No time to waste, you’ll pick it up on the way back, you keep running after the buck. It’s now 11:30 and you’ve spotted the buck twice more, but he’s been obstructed by brush and an ethical shot is out of the question. Those horns, the mass, the matching drop tines, this is the buck of your dreams. You push on, the terrain and ground cover are changing. The buck has turned south and is headed for the big flat in the distance. If you hurry you can get to the rocky outcropping. You’ll have an elevation advantage over the country and the buck can’t possibly escape.
The climb to the top of the knob is steep and you slip, banging your knee on a sharp rock. The adrenalin is flowing, you shake it off as you reach the uppermost vantage point. Wiping the sweat from your brow you settle in and begin looking for the buck. Twenty minutes have gone by and nary a soul has moved in the valley floor. “He has to be there,” you say to yourself, “He couldn’t have gotten away.” You pause to give your eyes a break from glassing, hours have now expired and the big buck has evaporated into thin air.
You decide to roll a few rocks into the draw below in hopes of spooking the deer from its hide. Upon rising an excruciating pain shoots through your leg and knee, you can hardly stand from the pain. Its now 2:00 pm and the sun is directly overhead, you feel the heat on your thinning brow and long for the hat you left behind.
You are miles from camp, walking is extremely painful, you are thirsty, feeling a little nauseous, and a pounding headache is getting the best of you. Anyone care to trade places with our intrepid hunter? I didn’t think so… Whether he realizes it or not, he’s in big trouble and this may be his last hunt.
We can see how a simple hunt given a few twists and turns can go completely upside-down. These are simple scenarios and can happen to anyone. What matters is can we survive and do we have the necessary gear with us to do so?
Let’s take a look at the gear every hunter or hiker should have in his or her possession when going afield.
1) Parachute cord at least 50-100 feet of genuine military grade cord. You’ll know it’s real if it has 7 white strands inside the green sheath. Para cord has hundreds of uses, tying shelters, snares, making a splint, tying up bad guys, etc.
2) Good knife, no cheap junk. Purchase a quality hunting knife with a 4-6 inch blade. Most hunters have a good hunting knife, or should. Your knife should be scalpel sharp every time you enter the field.
3) Compass. No matter how familiar you are with the area, take a compass and a map of the area showing roads, streams, etc. A simple sketch of the area will suffice. Note roads, landmarks and their location relative to camp. Laminate or waterproof for best results.
4) Flashlight and mirror with extra batteries. I like AA versions as they last a long time. Mirror can be used for signaling. Buy quality gear, not cheap Chinese junk.
5) Blast Match Fire Starter... Single most important tool you can have!!!!!! These units allow the user to build a fire with only one hand. If you can’t get a fire going with a Blast Match you deserve to be taken out of the gene pool.
6) Small Gransfor Bruks axe. Great shelter builder and works equally well for quartering up animals if you are a hunter. Small and lightweight, this is ONE HANDY TOOL. It too must be razor sharp. Can be used as a defensive tool if your car breaks down on the wrong side of the tracks.
7) 6' x 8' plastic sheeting or tarp and a sponge. Pretty self explanatory. Sponge is used to soak up water, and can be used as a compress on a wound.
Obviously water, and some food depending on the time of the year and amount of gear you want to carry. A fanny pack or small day pack can be used to carry the above gear without looking like the Michelin Man. Practice making a fire with one hand. Be realistic in testing your gear. Be sure you can make it work under inclement conditions. If lost, make camp for the night with plenty of daylight. Don’t wait till dark to gather supplies and get situated. Morning comes soon enough and you’ll save those precious flashlight batteries in the process.
There are plenty of other things you can carry, but with the above you can last several days and come out a survivor. Have the right mind set. Don’t be a wimp and give in to Mother Nature’s desire to overtake you. Get tough and do whatever it takes to make it out…
Be safe and enjoy the great outdoors. If you are prepared, chances are you’ll never be called upon to perform. Leave all your gear in camp and you’ll be a featured guest in my next story....
Until next time....
Darrell Holland is a Custom Riflesmith and designer of Advanced Reticle Technology in Leupold, Schmidt & Bender and NIGHTFORCE rifle scopes. Darrell offers an intense 4 day shooting school that is ideal for long range hunters and tactical enthusiasts.