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When Adventuring Outdoors, Be Prepared for the Unexpected

U.S. Forest Service

  When I lived in Colorado, I tried to get out hunting whenever I could. I usually went small game hunting, 

  seeking jackrabbits, rocky mountain cottontails, coyotes or grouse. I would try to use a combination of maps and atlases to find land open to public hunting. I would take my old AMC Gremlin as far down the trail as I could, and then I would start walking.

I recall one hunting trip in particular that could have turned to disaster in a hurry. As usual, I used the maps to try to find a new place to hunt. I found a parking lot, grabbed my old Stevens 12 gauge pump shotgun, and started up a narrow rocky trail that skirted a canyon edge. The further I went, the narrower and steeper the trail became, until I started to wonder if it was actually a trail at all. I am not exactly sure what happened next, but it resulted in me dropping into a crevice, which is a narrow crack in the rocks with smooth sheer sides that disappears into blackness far below. I felt myself falling, and instinctively thrust my arms straight out to both sides. I had a tight grip on my shotgun, which was long enough to span the crack which had swallowed me now up to my armpits. Once I was able to catch my breath and analyze the situation I had ended up in, I was able to pull myself back out of the crevice and return to the hunt.

I got home safely that night, but what if I hadn’t? This happened in 1995; there were no cell phones, and if handheld GPS units existed, I hadn’t heard of them yet. I was in the wilderness with a map, a compass, and a shotgun. I had no drinking water, no lighter or matches, not even the most basic equipment for emergency management or survival. My wife had no idea where I was headed, or when to expect me back. I was a lot younger back then, an experienced hiker, rock climber, and hunter, so I figured I could get through whatever might happen and return home without incident. This was one of several trips, though, where one near miss made the difference between a typical hunting trip and a missing person search.

Today things are different. Everyone has a cellphone, and handheld GPS units are readily available, if you don’t want to just use an app on your phone—right? I would argue that every time you head out into the woods, you should assume that your electronics will fail, and have a contingency plan. I have had two GPS units crash, and my cellphone cannot make it through a twelve hour day without at least one charging cycle. Furthermore, even if I do have battery, I rarely have adequate signal strength to make a call.  When I head out, I leave a paper map taped to my equipment room door at home with common location names written on it. When I head out hunting, I write down which location I am heading to, the closest major road intersection, and when I plan to be back for my wife. If I change my plan for any reason, I call or text her with that change. If I have reason for concern once at my destination, I leave a note with further detailed information inside my vehicle. I carry a map, compass, flashlight, a lighter, toilet paper, drinking water and a snack bar everywhere I go, even if it is just a short loop or in to check a bear bait. In the truck, I have a first aid kit, a phone charger, and a toolbox.

There are many hunting seasons now open. Have a plan, tell someone your plan, and be prepared should problems arise. Get into the woods, explore new places, be safe, and enjoy.

Jeremy Holtz is a Wisconsin native. After starting college with plans of teaching high school music, he got married and left school to re-evaluate his long-term career goals. It took a couple of years, but he returned to college to study natural resource conservation. He ultimately earned his Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology from Colorado State University in 1998. He worked in Colorado, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota before returning to Wisconsin as a Wildlife Biologist in Florence in 2006. After five years in Florence, he transferred to Rhinelander, where he has lived with his wife Carol, and their three sons Jay, Brett, and Trey since fall 2011.
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