Come on over kiddos, Uncle Craig wants to tell you a story. The best kind of story, because this one is 100% true and it is full of survival lessons.
In all seriousness, I am full-time professional survival (and related topics) instructor. If I am not outside studying or teaching something, I am at home reading and researching about it. Part of the reason I am incredibly passionate about it is because of real-life event that happened to me when I was a teenager that changed my life forever and put me on a course to be writing to you today.
A Story of Personal Survival
I was 13 years old and I lived on the same rural road that my extended family did. It was a great place to grow up in that we were fairly close to town, while at the same time we were surrounded by fields, and a big creek. The type of creek that serves as a playground for a bunch of young boys that have moms who are tired of them tearing the house down.
One of my older cousins had his driver’s license and we would regularly drive to a national forest about an hour from our homes to bowhunt for whitetail deer. On one such hunt we went down a trail and split up. He went down one ridge while I went down a nearby ridge. We were both stalking deer rather than setting up in deer stands. Shortly after leaving one another, I came across a well-used deer trail that had fresh tracks on it leading a particular direction. It was there that I had my direction of travel and headed out cross-country to track and otherwise find these deer.
After about a hour of stalking through the woods, I could faintly make some deer out about 100 yards in front of me in some large growth timber. I continued to stalk and make my way to them. It was early and these deer were on their way to a bedding site and were constantly on the move. This required some great stalking skills on my part. I was slowly, but surely, closing the time and distance gap between them and myself. When I got within forty yards of them, I knew I was getting close enough to them that I was going to get a good shot on one. They turned around the end of a ridgeline and went out of sight due to a large outcropping of rock.
This gave me the opportunity to close the gap quickly as I could move without alerting them as long as I stayed quiet. That is exactly what I did. When I came around the rock the deer were well within range and I pulled up to take a shot, but was surprised by a deer much closer that I had not seen. That deer alerted the others and took off running which prompted the other deer to do the same. That’s deer hunting right? You betcha it is, sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t.
That is only the first half of the story though. The second half started the moment the deer left. I realized I had been working so hard on camouflaging my movements and stalking properly that I had not paid attention to how far I had walked. When I took time to look at my watch, I realized I had been at it for over three hours. It had felt like 15 minutes to me.
I then turned around and headed back to the ridge I could see not too far behind me. The same ridge that I had come down and started the stalk. When I got there I realized after walking down the ridge that it wasn’t the ridge I thought it was. I had somehow gone down the wrong ridge and was at that point effectively lost. In my mind I kept telling myself if I just went to that ridge over there I could find myself. So I did exactly that and kept finding myself, farther and deeper in the the woods.
Like most good farmboys, I had chores and work to do before my dad returned home from his regular job. I had plenty of time to get them done if I had hunted to about noon and then headed home. At this point it was well past noon and I started to panic knowing that I was not going to get home in time to get my work done and therefore upset my dad. That is not a good position to be in. This caused me to start running through the woods.
After what felt like a lifetime of running and many falls on the ground and through creeks and briars and other inhospitable briars, I fell down nearly exhausted. It was at this point that I realized I had taken one of my jackets off and lost one of my boots! I had been in such a panic that I had not even noticed it.
It was starting to get dark and I was concerned I was going to be out there for the night without the proper clothing. I decided to climb to the top of the nearest hill. Here I would attempt to achieve a better vantage point to see what was around me. I was nearly up to the top of the hill when I stumbled across a well-developed logging road. By chance, I picked the right direction to travel and made my way to the main road. I then road hiked my way to where my cousin was with the vehicle.
Survival Lessons From The Field
I share this with you not as an encouragement to do what I did. Go hunting yes, get lost no. I do use it as an example of what not to do. Here are some things that I could have done (and exactly what I teach my students now) to make my situation one in which it was enjoyable rather than panic stricken.
- Know the area better. I could have done this with a map and kept up with direction with a simple compass. In that manner it would not have taken hardly any effort to know which ridge I should be traveling on.
- Once I realized I was lost, I panicked and sped up. You should calm yourself and sit down. It is difficult for us to think clearly under stress. You can combat stress by sitting down and taking a few deep breaths before making decisions.
- Tell someone else where I was going and when I expected to return. My cousin and I both had work to do, but when we were to leave was unspoken. While he knew that I was heading down one ridge and he another, we had no idea how far or which direction the other was going. On top of that our parents had no idea where we were at all. For all they knew we were in the barn getting hay loaded up for cattle. Let me say it again for emphasis. When traveling outdoors like this, you should always tell someone where you are going and when you should be expected.
These simple tips will help you spend more time outside in a much safer manner!
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