Every bowhunter has gotten turned around in the woods, but we usually get back on track after a minute or two. No one ever expects to truly get lost, but it can happen to anyone.
Pre-trip planning goes a long way toward rescue in the event you do get lost. Always tell your spouse or hunting partner where you’ll be hunting and when you plan to return. If you’re late and unreachable by phone, your rescuers will have a good idea of where to start looking.
Besides that, always carry a map, compass and GPS in your hunting gear. They take up very little space but could potentially save your life. These days, we are inseparable from our smartphones, and they can get us out of a bind. Smartphones can show you where you are on the landscape, with a compass to help navigate. And of course you can use them to call or text for help. But batteries go dead, reception can be nonexistent, or an accident could destroy the phone.
When you realize you’re lost, sit down, try to relax and remain calm. Look for recognizable landmarks, such as a distinctive tree or mountain, a cell tower or smoke from a distant factory. Listen for trains or traffic on a highway; anything that could help you figure out where you’re at.
Your phone could save your life in many ways. You may be able to use the compass feature or navigate on Google Maps, even without cell service. If you have an iPhone and take a photo with your location services on and send it to a friend, your friend can actually pull up your location just from the photo. If reception is poor or limited, send a text rather than call, and consider getting to a high spot for better service. A call may drop, but if your phone gets a few moments of reception, a text can go through. In many areas, you can now text 911, and in some cases you can call 911 without reception. Your phone may say, “Emergency calls only.” Try 911, even if the call won’t go through. Rescuers may be able to find out which tower was pinged on your attempt, which can help them find you.
Your phone has other tools as well. The flashlight can be helpful in the dark. Your phone can be a real lifeline, but it’s no good when your battery is dead. Keep the phone on airplane mode most of the time to conserve battery life, and also keep it warm, especially at night.
If you realize that you’re lost with no connection, the U.S. Forest Service reminds you to remember the acronym STOP, which stands for Stop, Think, Observe and Plan. Read the full details here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/visit/know-before-you-go/if-you-get-lost.
If you’re lost, have no clue which direction to go, and your phone doesn’t work, don’t make things worse by wandering. Stay put and assess your situation. If people know you’re missing, rest assured, help is coming. It’s probably best to sit and wait for rescue. Consider building a makeshift shelter, and make yourself as comfortable as you can. Keep clothing dry if possible. Wet clothing will chill you, which speeds up hypothermia. Think creatively about all the gear at your disposal. A tarp makes a dandy shelter. Cotton game bags could work in a pinch. Use your hunting knife to cut boughs to sleep on, which will keep you off the cold ground. You might even consider sleeping on your backpack for added protection from the ground.
Are you hurt? Hungry? Thirsty? Tend to any injuries before they get worse. Water is more important than food. You’ll want to purify water before drinking it, either with purification tablets, a straining pump or by boiling. You can survive three weeks without food, but when you’re hungry, you may make poor decisions. Obviously, your bow can help you obtain food, but don’t forget about fruits, nuts or other edible plants. Turn on your phone periodically to help rescuers home in on your phone’s signal.
As a last resort, or if you’re in urgent need of food or medicine, you might try to walk to safety. Use a compass to maintain a consistent direction. Leave behind signs that show where you were, such as an extinguished campfire. Make arrows out of sticks, showing your direction of travel. When you head out, follow a river, if possible. Rivers usually cross a road or lead to a town eventually. Remember, though, that if you’re really lost, attempting to find your way out could make things worse. It is usually better to stay put.