For all the enjoyment I get from my time in the outdoors, the satisfaction of bringing home a bounty to cook and serve to my family and friends is unparalleled. Good shooting, excellent dog work, snappy retrieves, spectacular misses, and the beautiful scenery are the memories that season a hard earned meal, and sharing these memories, and a hunting tale or two at the table complete the experience. It's also among the many reasons to get home safely; Something I think too many sportsmen take lightly, as I have in the past. Maybe because I'm getting older, and don't bounce off the ground like I used to, or perhaps it's the result of a close call, but I think about preparedness, and safety more than I ever did in the past. Whatever the reason, a bit of emergency preparation is something we should all think about. To steal a bit of wisdom from the pro-gun advocates; better to have a plan and not need it, than need a plan and not have it.
So,...What exactly is "the Plan"? Well, I don't believe there is any one size fits all plan, as we all experience our outdoors is a variety of ways. I have taken bits popular safety convention, and put together what I feel works best for me. Here's what I've done, why, and some of the draw backs to my plan.
The first thing I did was to put together a small survival kit. My kit is nothing extravagant; two small survival blankets, two ways to start a fire, a lighter, and a magnesium starter, an extra knife, a small spool of parachute cord, and a snack which I rotate to keep fresh. Why this collection? I figure, should I need to use it, staying warm and dry will be the two things I'd want the most to accomplish. One safety blanket can serve as a rudimentary shelter, aided by the parachute cord, the second blanket will undoubtedly end up wrapped around me. With two ways to start a fire, I'm pretty confident I'll get one started, provided I'm not subject to a downpour or blizzard like conditions. When I get hungry, the snack gets sacrificed, which I'm sure will be good news for the dog. As most of my hunting involves a dog, and a gun I don't feel the need to worry about dangerous wildlife very much. I try to always carry this kit with me, even when I'm not going far. I reason, if I should turn an ankle I may not be able to get myself out of the woods, but I will probably have enough mobility to collect a bit of wood for a fire, and get myself someplace dry while waiting for help.
Another thing I've taken to doing is letting someone know where I'll be. A couple years ago, while duck hunting alone in early November, I capsized my canoe. Common sense had me wearing a life vest, and I'd tucked an extra paddle under the seat, but I hadn't secured my gun. Fortune shined on me that day. The autumn had been relatively warm, and the water wasn't numbingly cold, so I was able to swim, dragging the canoe behind me to a beaver lodge which I climbed up to drain the canoe. After I collecting my flotsam and jetsam, while paddling back to my car in the dark I realized that not only had I ruined my cell phone, which I'd figured I could use if I had any trouble, but also that I hadn't told anyone where I was going. Neither my friends, nor my wife was aware that I'd decided to go duck hunting. Bad move. I now try to let someone know where I'll be, and when to expect me back. In fact, when I go duck hunting in the canoe now, I not only tell my wife where I'll be, but set up a check in time with her. If I don't call by a certain time, she's to alert the local PD. Sometimes I'm unable to inform anyone of where I'll be as I often hunt way up north where cell phone signals don't exist. Also, I'm seldom in one place the whole time, as I move from one spot to the next, so this system isn't fool proof, but I use it when I can.
The last principle I have been adhering to is not getting lost in the first place. I've bought a GPS, and have learned the basic functions and use. The GPS I use is the type that shows a topo map on the display screen. I've found this to be useful when navigating the woods, and though I haven't been lost in the woods yet, I have confidently navigated into, and back out of some big woods areas, rather easily because I could relate my travel direction to the land features. The GPS has it's drawback, however. Batteries can run out, which is why I carry a couple extra with me, as well as keeping rechargeables plugged in and ready to go at camp. I switch the batteries whenever I reach or near the 50% level. Another drawback is the human factor. Yes, I've forgotten to mark my starting location before, and once, after marking the car's location I headed into the woods leaving the GPS on the roof of the car. Good thing I had an idea of which direction the road ran, and had a compass with me. Which leads to one last point; a GPS is no excuse to leave your compass at home.
These three provisions are just a small sampling of ways to be safe and accounted for, and while they may be what I think will work for me, they may not work for everyone. As I've shown, they aren't fool proof, but they're better than nothing. We give our recipes a lot of thought, so why not give a little consideration to getting these gifts from the outdoors to the table, whatever it may take.