How to Survive Alone in Woods


Could You Survive Alone if Injured?


© copyright 2004, by Gary Benton

The man was in deep pain and knew his right leg was broken. While the bone had not pierced the skin, the foot was bent at an unnatural angle. He removed his sheath knife and cut his pants up past his knee, because he knew the leg would start to swell soon. He leaned back on the dark green moss and thought of how dumb he had been that day. First, he had elected to go out hunting alone, even though he knew it was unsafe. And, his second mistake was made when he attempted to step between two logs. His weight had shifted to his right as he twisted and then fell. He had actually heard his leg break. He had a survival kit with him, though it was small, and he knew his wife would notify the police when he did not return at his usual time. But, he was still facing a cold and painful night alone deep in the back woods.


Many of us who hunt, often do not consider the potential dangers we face. While it is much safer now than it was years ago, there are still a number of things that can reach out and hurt you. What can we do if we find ourselves in a situation like the man did in the beginning of this article? Well, I suggest we can do many things, and some should be done before we leave for the woods. We should be prepared, first, to be in the woods.


Before we leave on a hunting trip, always tell someone where you are going and when you will return. If you are late for any reason, always contact them and let them know. Additionally, I never hunt alone. I just don't think it makes good safety sense to hunt by myself, because too many things can happen in the woods. I know some of you may do it all the time. I mean, after all, you know the area like the back of your hand, right? I can assure you, I know the area I hunt very well, and I still always hunt with a friend.


First, regardless if you hunt alone or with a buddy, always carry a survival kit. You can buy a commercial one or make one yourself. When I hunt, I wear a survival vest, made from an old fishing vest. It has more than enough pockets and space for me to carry all the items I would need to survival for at least 48 hours. But, make sure any kit you have along is a small minimum survival kit and not too heavy. Most commercial minimum survival kits will fit in pocket. Also, if you are inexperienced with survival procedures purchase a very small survival manual to go along with you. At least make sure your kit has these items,


1. A quality penknife or jack knife.

2. Condoms for water storage, un-lubricated.

3. Water proof matches

4. Flint and steel or a metal match

5. Water purification tables

6. A long strip of aluminum foil folded up to cook with

7. Fishing kit, i.e., hooks, sinkers, and some line. Nothing fancy.

8. Commercial back packing first aid kit (with instructions). I carry a verysmall one.

9. One small pack of gum and one of hard candy (energy)


Now, lets see how our man in the beginning of this article spends his lonely night in the field.


The man groaned with pain as he pulled his survival kit out of the cargo pocket on his left leg. He also removed his canteen from his belt and placed in on the ground beside his survival kit. Making sure his pant leg was off of the injured area of his swollen leg he washed and cleaned the scrape he had sustained when he fell. Opening his first aid kit, he then cleaned the wound with an alcohol pad, and took two 500 mg pain relievers (per the instructions). After he took the medication, he carefully wrapped his leg injury with strips torn from his tee shirt to keep scrape clean. Using the same tee shirt, he placed two pieces of wood (one on each side of his broken leg) and made a crude splint. He almost passed out from the pain before he had finished these small tasks.


He realized he was lucky in some ways. He was lying among some dead logs, and within a few minutes he had a very small fire going. While the night would be chilly he had plenty of small pieces of wood to keep a teacup size fire going all night. With his leg broken, he knew making a shelter was out of question, but his survival kit had a space blanket in it and it could be wrapped around him to retain his body heat. He just had to keep the space blanket away from the fire. He also had his canteen, which was more than ¾ full, so water was not a problem. All in all, he realized, it could have been much worse.


The night was difficult due mostly to his pain. His leg had shot sharp waves of pain up his body each time he moved, and he had moved often. His biggest problem most of the night, was keeping faith that someone would come looking for him. All night he had fought back short periods of deep depression, sudden anxiety, and profound fear. But, deep inside, he knew he could and would survive until rescued. He had once attended a short survival class where the instructor talked about survival and psychology. He slowly remembered the instructor's words,


"Panic is a real killer. When you actually realize you are going to have to survive, keep your head about yourself. Stop. Find a place that offers you temporary shelter and think things out. Do not go stomping around in the woods looking for your way out. Just stop." The man realized the part about stopping had been decided for him. He had no option but to stay where he was. What else had the instructor said?


"Consider the, who, what, when, and where of your situation. Who knows where you are? Did you do as I recommend and tell someone about your trip? This should always be done, even if you know the area very well. Tell any person (a boss, friend, wife, husband, etc.) the what, when and where of your trip. They should know what type of trip it is (fishing, hunting, hiking, or travel), when you left and when you will return (i.e., I will leave on Tuesday morning and will return seven days later on Tuesday evening by eight), and where your trip is to be (to the National Forest or to Majestic Lake). Make sure if you change your trip in any way to call or contact the person you informed. Many rescues are started each year because of a change in plans and no notification. If you have handled the who, what, when and where of your trip, rescue should be fast."


The man groaned in pain once more as the thought of some other points the instructor had made. "Always organize yourself. Unless you are suicidal, this step is a must. Take an inventory of what you have on hand. This step serves two purposes. First, it calms you down. The time it takes to inventory your gear will assist in deescalating your initial panic. Second, most of us carry a lot of "junk," as well as needed items with us, and this is a time to see exactly what you have. All items on you can be used toward survival. Keep all of it for future use."


The injured man popped two of the hard pieces of candy from his survival kit into his mouth as he remembered, "Keep busy. An active mind is less likely to dwell on the situation as hopeless. Notice I wrote hopeless and not helpless. In a helpless situation, there is no help. While you very well may feel helpless, perhaps due to an injury, you can always help yourself to some degree. But, in a hopeless situation there is no hope. I think you always have hope, as long as you are breathing. And, don't start feeling sorry for yourself. It is normal for you to experience some panic or fear. You can expect all kinds of emotions to come out. Resist the negative thoughts and concentrate on the little successes you may experience, while letting the failures slide off. See, the more little successes you have the better you will start to feel. Start with something small, like a fire and a shelter."


A little later the injured man checked his watch and took another pain reliever per the instructions in his first aid kit. He also thought more about the survival class as he added some more wood to his fire. "Find a shelter and start a fire. Do this even if you don't need either. Why? Well, once again for two reasons. The first is to keep you busy as I stated above. The second is they may be needed later when you are too exhausted or weak to make them. Additionally, there is a deep primal need for safety satisfied when you have shelter and fire. Ever notice how comforting a campfire is at night? The fire may not even be needed, so the comfort is usually just psychological. Additionally, a fire does not have to be large to attract the attention of those that may be searching for you too. Anyway, always get a fire going, construct some type of shelter shelter, and wait for them to come to you."


Well, he had a fire going and his shelter was wrapped tightly around him. He felt fairly warm and knew his own actions had helped him fight off a very uncomfortable night. He also realized that the information the instructor had provided had been true. Even with his leg broken, he had been able to treat his injury, start a fire, and find shelter. So, there is something that can be done in all situations after all.


He knew he had not slept but a couple of minutes all night when dawn broke over the nearby trees. It was only a few hours later when he was found by a search team, who had heard him blowing his survival whistle, and rushed him to a hospital. Later that day, in the comfort of his own home, he felt his exhausted face break into a smile as he told his wife how he had survived on his own, deep in the woods, with a broken leg. He also told her, he owed his survival to his survival kit, a survival class he had once attended and the fact he had told her where he was hunting that day.


Survival is never easy. The field can be unforgiving to those of us who are ill prepared, or lack the basic knowledge needed to enter and leave safely. If you spend time in the outdoors, always tell someone about your trip, when you will return, who is with you, and where you are going. It could save your life one day.



Survive Alone

Gary Benton has over 45 years of outdoor experience in camping, hiking, fishing, and other activities. He's no armchair survival man, he's walked the walk from the arctic to the desert and all the area in between. Gary has an associates degree in Search and Rescue, Survival Operations, a B.S. in Industrial Occupational safety, and all but his thesis completed for a M.S. in Counseling Psychology.
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