When a person goes on a hunt in a Wilderness Area it is logical to assume that they will go with maps, compass, GPS units, satellite communication equipment and an emergency beacon. However, most people get lost in smaller areas closer to home where they did not think it necessary to take the forgoing or even simple survival gear.
This point was recently brought home to me when I spent a cold night out in the woods as a result of getting disoriented on a squirrel hunting trip on a peninsula and being caught when darkness fell. What happened here is that I took my boat and paddled it over from a public launch to the peninsula which was accessible only by water because it had been cut off by a canal located at its neck on the eastern side. So the once peninsula, now island, extended from east to west as it projected out into the lake.
The map that I had been provided was a very poor map, and I did not have an adequate idea of its scale. My hunt plan was to go out, bag a few squirrels and then return to my boat to do some bowfishing in the lake before dark.
No one can get lost on a peninsula. Right? All I had to do was to walk along any shore line and ultimately get back to my starting point.
Wrong. First off the peninsula was much larger than I expected and covered about five square miles. Secondly, it was not possible to walk along the shore because of deep drop offs and thick jungley vegetation next to the shore line. Even had I intended to do so, walking around the island in the water was unwise because the weather was near freezing, and the last thing that I wanted to do was to risk hyperthermia by getting my relatively few clothes wet. Although it had been cool the night before, by the time I started my hunt I was only wearing trousers and a T-shirt.
As I was just going to step out of the boat and quickly return, I left matches in my truck, took no food with me, did not take my GPS or compass, left even the poor map I had in my shirt pocket in the boat and just grabbed the gun, a few shells and a bag for the squirrels. As I followed barking squirrels from clump of trees to clump of trees I walked in a random pattern and when darkness approached I started back walking east.
Ultimately I found myself approaching full dark in a thick tangle of vines and second growth and water on all sides of me, except for the way I had come. I was on a prong of the peninsula, getting cold and increasingly disoriented. I had already circled back on myself twice. It was time to sit down, take stock and wait until daylight until I could see what I was doing and use the rising sun as a directional beacon.
Thrashing around in thick stuff in the dark was only inviting personal injury and exhaustion. It was better that I stayed the night where I was. It was going to be a cold night, but nothing life thretning, just uncomfortable – so long as I stayed dry. As I was by the shore, I had the chance of attracting a passing fisherman and getting a lift back to my boat.
Where is a fisherman when you need one? None came. After a cold night partly covered up by rushes that I had cut and insulated by a carpet of them on the ground, I found my way to the highest point on the peninsula and quickly returned to my boat with clear directional guidance provided by the rising sun.
Knight and Hale now makes a directional Beacon that you may hang over your deer stand, boat or other location and activate by using a remote switch. This can help you find your way back to your boat after duck hunting in a salt marsh (one of the easiest places to get very badly turned around), swamp or other location. (Product provided by manufacturer.)
The lesson in all of this is, take basic location and survival stuff with you even if you are only going out for a short woods walk in a unfamilure area. I have hunted, lived and worked for months at the time in Alaska and elsewhere. Spending an uncomfortable night in the woods came as an inexpensive reminder to me not to forget my basic location and survival equipment.