Every hunting season, hunters get lost in the woods, and while most escape no worse than tired, chilled and hungry, the hazards of being lost in Idaho's woods shouldn't be underestimated.
Hunters can take precautions and prepare for an unexpected stay in the woods.
- Know the area you're hunting. Always be conscious of your surroundings, prominent points, river or creek drainages, and occasionally turn around and look behind you so you will remember what it looks like when you're coming back. If you're on a trail, don't hesitate to put a temporary marker at intersections. Things can look different on your return, especially if you return in the dark.
- Don't rely solely on electronics. Devices like GPS, cell phones and two-way radios are handy, but dead batteries and other malfunctions render them useless. A map and compass are low tech and less likely to fail, but you also have to know how to use them.
- Let someone at home know where you will be hunting and when you expect to return. Often hunters are out longer than expected, especially when they are pursuing big game animals far from a road. You may want to set an absolute deadline and have someone who can alert the authorities if you haven't returned or contacted someone by that time.
- Ditto for your hunting partner. Hunters often get separated, so set up a rendezvous time and place and decide in advance when a third party will seek help if you or your partners do not return in time.
- Watch the weather. You're more likely to get lost or turned around in poor visibility when it's raining, foggy or snowing, which are also conditions when it's potentially more hazardous to be lost in the woods.
- Avoid cotton clothing. It provides no warmth when wet. Many hunters wear denim jeans, but there are better alternatives. Look for synthetic, breathable fabrics like modern "softshells." They are more comfortable in nearly all conditions than traditional denim. Old-school wool is also better than cotton, and modern merino wool is itch-free, comfortable in a wide range of temperatures.
- Have a fire-starting kit. Whether matches, lighter or other devices, it should be weatherproof, and it never hurts to have more than one option, as well as tinder or fire starter. Know how to start a fire in all weather conditions.
- Bring a headlamp and extra batteries. They're valuable for navigating in early mornings or after dark.
- If you get lost, warmth, shelter and water should be your priorities. You can go days without food, but you have to stay warm and hydrated. You're not going to starve if you're out longer than anticipated, but it's never a bad idea to carry extra food with you.
- Dress in layers and be prepared for the worst weather. Temperatures frequently change 20 to 40 degrees between day and night in the mountains. The weather can also change quickly during fall, and it's not uncommon to go from warm and sunny to snowing within hours. A light, insulated jacket and a waterproof shell are lightweight and packable, and they provide good insulation in cold and wet weather. Keep them in a daypack and carry it with you.
- Commercial survival kits provide most of the essentials, but many are overkill. Think about exactly what you would want for an extended stay in the woods and keep those items with you at all times.
- Have your vehicle ready for the backcountry and prepared for minor breakdowns, such as flat tires or dead batteries. A separate survival kit for your vehicle is a good idea because space and weight are less of an issue than when items must be carried on your person.
- If you get lost, admit it to yourself and prepare to spend the night out. Build a fire for warmth and companionship, and set up a shelter. Wandering around will make it harder for search and rescue personnel to find you. It also fuels your anxiety, preventing you from thinking clearly and making good decisions.
- If you take medication daily for a chronic condition, pack several days' supply and take it with you. Tell your hunting partners of your medical condition and where in your pack your medication is located. This can make the difference between a minor incident and a life-threatening medical emergency.
- Keep a dry set of clothes in your vehicle. This isn't necessarily a survival matter, but being soggy and wet can range from uncomfortable to miserable. Changing into warm, dry clothes for the drive back to home or to camp is is a big bonus for a small amount of effort.