Whether you’re bowhunting your treestand in woods near home or taking a 10-day float trip through the Alaska wilderness, always leave your hunt plan with a friend or family member.
A hunt plan details when and where you’ll be hunting. It’s not meant to give away your secrets. It’s meant to save your life. If you don’t tell people where you’re going or when you’ll be back, they’ll struggle to send help if something happens to you.
Nobody expects to get lost or hurt in the woods, but you must be prepared for those possibilities. If you get lost, injured or even have truck troubles, a hunt plan can bring you home safely. Likewise, if a friend or family member has an emergency, your hunt plan will help them contact you.
What should your hunt plan include? It should alert someone that you’re in trouble, and then help people find you. Those goals will help guide what information to include in your plan.
Bowhunters are notoriously secretive about their favorite hunting spots, but a good hunt plan includes every detail. You must trust your family and friends to protect you and your hotspots.
Be as specific as possible about your location, right down to its GPS coordinates. (If you’re lost or hurt, you don’t want to be a needle in the haystack.) If you might bowhunt one of several treestands for whitetails, depending on wind direction once on-site, give all the locations but identify your most likely site.
If you’re bowhunting elk in remote country on a backpacking trip, include where you’ll park, the route you’ll take in/out, and any alternative routes. If you’re flying into remote Alaska, include details about your drop-off/pickup point. Marked maps with key GPS coordinates for your hunting sites are huge helps.
Hunting plans instantly alert people something is wrong if you don’t return on time. Give people a specific time that signals when you’re overdue, and provide some cushion, if relevant. It can be tough to pick an exact return time, but provide a general estimate. If you like to sit in your treestand until dark, allow enough time in your plan to pack up, return to your vehicle and get home.
What if you shoot an animal just before dark? If possible, contact your point-person with the good news that you won’t be home on time. If you’re hunting a remote area or coulees that block cellphone service, share that information in your plan. Still, agree on a time for them to call for help. Then it’s up to you to quickly find a spot with cellphone service to verify you’re OK.
If you’re in the backcountry, let your family know which day you’ll be out of the field. Also, give a backup return date if it’s likely you’ll be delayed. If you’re simply running late, do your best to inform your family to avoid worries and an unnecessary, potentially costly, search.
If you’re hunting with someone, include the person’s contact information in your hunt plan. Your family’s first step in trying to locate you will be to call your hunting partners. If you shot a deer at dark and your phone died, your hunting buddy can pass along the news. And if they can’t be reached, at least your family will know you’re not alone. In fact, if your hunting partners didn’t file a hunt plan, your plan could bring them home safely when your family acts on your information.
Most bowhunters use vehicles to reach hunting sites. Your hunt plan should describe your vehicle, its license-plate number and where you parked. If you don’t come home on time, this information will help authorities find your vehicle and locate your trail.
If you’re bowhunting with an outfitter, include their contact information in your hunt plan. Your outfitter should be in contact with base camp, and alert your family if you’re delayed for any reason.
Weather can play a huge role in timing on backcountry hunts, especially if you fly into remote areas. Include the air taxi’s contact information. They can tell your family if the weather or other factors are delaying your pickup.
Cellphone service plays a huge role in hunt plans. Always include your cellphone number in your hunt plan. In stressful situations, people can forget numbers or fumble trying to find them in their phone’s directory. Also, remind your family that your phone will probably be off or silenced during hunting hours. Either way, leave your phone on. If something happens and you can’t use your phone, authorities might be able to use its signal to locate you.
If you don’t have cellphone service, your hunt plan should provide other ways to contact you. If you’re on a backcountry hunt, consider carrying a satellite-communication device for emergencies. Among your options are renting/owning a satellite phone; texting devices like SPOT and Garmin inReach; or personal locator beacons from ACR Electronics. Test these products before going afield to ensure you and those with your hunt plan know how to use the technology.
If you end up in an emergency situation, your hunt plan can be turned over to search-and-rescue officials. Be sure your plan includes information about allergies, medical conditions or required medicines you or your companions have. This could be life-saving information when they find you.
Many hunter-education courses include blank hunt plans online. Here is a hunt plan you can download, print and fill out. Be sure to update your hunt plan regularly.
After you’ve compiled this information and covered the possible contingencies, make sure you share it with reliable people. No hunt plan can help if nobody has it besides you. Let someone know your plans every time you go afield. That simple text, email or paper could save your life!