Survival Skills for Bowhunters

  Erik Barber   FeaturedBowhunting   June 6, 2019

Whether you hunt farm country or wilderness areas, survival skills and tools will help keep you safe, and give family and friends peace of mind during your next hunt. Let’s review some of those necessities.

Map and Compass

Many bowhunters rely on smartphone apps to navigate their hunting area. These tools are useful, but a map and an old-fashioned compass are lightweight items that take up little space in your backpack. They make great backups if your phone or GPS unit dies. Study your maps before heading out, and learn the area’s road names and prominent landscape features. Identify anything that stands out, including large crop fields or the property’s highest point. To prepare for an emergency, note the general travel direction leading to the nearest road.

Basic Navigation Skills

If you don’t have a compass, learn how to use constellations as your map. Photo Credit: Kids Discover

The sun is a powerful navigational tool for determining directions during daylight. Never forget that the sun rises in the east, moves across the southern sky, and sets in the west. Those references provide reassurance if you forget your compass.

On starry nights, locate the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. That endpoint, the outermost star in the handle, is the North Star. Likewise, draw a straight line out from the two outermost stars in the Big Dipper’s bowl. That line points to the North Star. As its name suggests, the North Start helps you determine which direction is north.

Even so, unless it’s an emergency, it’s best to rest at night and wait for daylight to seek safety. Moving at night in unfamiliar country can cause panic or injuries, further complicating a bad situation. Instead, build a shelter using deadfalls and pine boughs, and try to rest before seeking civilization in the morning.


Lighting your way in darkness is important whether you hunt the back 40 or a remote national forest. Keep two headlamps with fresh batteries in your backpack to ensure you have a backup if your primary light fails. Headlamps make navigating and blood tracking easier, and make you feel more comfortable if you must spend a night alone in the woods.

Chargers and Batteries

Make sure you have the means to charge your phone in the woods. Photo Credit: Mom Goes Camping

Cell phones pull double duty as navigation and communication devices. Ensure you always have ways to recharge them. A portable charging block can keep your phone charged for days, which keeps digital maps at your fingertips and lets you call for help if you have reception. Keep extra batteries in a sealed, waterproof bag to ensure you have dry, fresh replacements for headlamps or handheld GPS units. 

Fire Starter

A fire can keep you warm while pinpointing your location for rescuers. Butane lighters are cheap and take up little room, so be sure you stuff two or three into your backpack before heading out. Wet conditions make it hard to start fires, so bring a small, flammable fuel, too. Most sporting-goods stores carry travel-sized charcoal briquettes that stow easily and make great alternatives to wet kindling.

Food and Water

Water filters are a great way to allow you to drink virtually any water without having to carry gallons on your back. Photo credit: Vestergaard

You must stay fed and hydrated to ensure you have enough energy to hike to safety. A portable water filter will help you obtain safe drinking water from most sources. Snacks such as trail mix or granola bars are lightweight, calorie-rich foods that fuel you on long treks.

Stay Strong

Above all, mental toughness is your survival kit’s most valuable tool. Getting lost is frightening, but you must focus on your escape plan and use every tool available to avoid panic and find safety. Never let fear get the best of you. Prepare before each hunt, and stay confident that your prep work will get you home.

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