All photo credits: Brady Miller
All photo credits: Brady Miller
In part 1 of this article, I went over being prepared by having a first aid kit, fire, dry clothing, a knife and a compass and map. In part 2 of this article, I will go over five more items that are equally important and also equally versatile if you want to survive some of the worst-case scenarios during your next backcountry hunt. As always, it is important to look at your specific unit, time of year, temperature and present dangers and assess what you should bring; however, this list is fairly universal to any deep or high country hunter who is trying to prepare for some of the accidents that can occur when you are miles from the truck and from help.
Typically, you may not think about carrying around a paracord or lightweight rope with you; however, this item can serve a lot of purposes during both emergency situations and normal day-to-day hunts. I always have some amount of paracord or high strength rope rolled up or around the handle of my knife just in case I need it. In normal day-to-day hunting, I find myself cutting a small piece here and there to perform normal tasks, such as securing a shed or an elk head to my pack, hanging meat high in a tree when I have to leave it overnight or repairing a broken belt or strap on my pack. In emergency situations, a length of paracord can help you splint up your leg, restrict venom flow after being bitten or stop the blood from gushing from an artery after a bad fall. Paracord can help build a shelter, hoist up a tarp or get your pack of food up into a tree and outside of a bear's reach for the night. Though I usually only carry a few feet of rope on my hunting trips, when I am in bear country, I always carry more. You always want to keep some distance and height between bears and your day-to-day food source.
On my first ever solo hunting trip out West, I made it to camp around mid-day just in time for an afternoon hunt. I packed my pack and was weighted down as if I was heading to a spike camp for a week. This was a huge mistake and my legs were the ones that paid the ultimate price. Though I thought it might have been over the top, I chose to pack my ultralight tarp and man was that a good idea. The first evening brought an unbelievable amount of weather while I was out in the mountains. It rained, then sleeted, then snowed. The temperature dropped from around 30 degrees to barely above zero as a storm moved in. For the first few minutes, I tried to keep hunting, but then realized that if I got too wet and cold, I would have to head back to the truck and it was only 4 p.m. in the afternoon — hours until prime time. Instead, I quickly headed for the trees and set up that tarp as a canopy in order to shield myself from the elements. After about an hour, the rain, sleet and snow stopped and the sun came back out. I was dry so I packed up the tarp and kept hunting, only to find multiple bulls getting out of bed early to shake off the precipitation and head to feed. If I wouldn't have had that tarp, then I would have been soaked and cold and heading back to the truck instead of having one of the best adventures that got me hooked on elk hunting. For this reason, I always pack a tarp with me. Even if it's sunny, the mountains have a way of brewing up a storm in a matter of minutes. A tarp always allows me to be prepared to wait it out.
A lack of light is an amazing thing that we seldom experience in our lives. We walk into a room after dark and flick a switch, lighting it up. We go on a night run underneath the street lights and jump in our car as the automatic headlights illuminate the road. In today's day and age, we are seldom without light, which is why it is an essential survival item in the backcountry where the only light is the moon and stars and whatever you have in your pack. Having a main light source, batteries and a backup light in our pack can help us on a hunt and also during emergencies.
There have been so many times where my batteries die due to extreme cold and I am glad I have a backup set and a backup light for peace of mind. Having a light source in your pack will give you the peace of mind to stay deep in the mountains until the last light. If you can do this, you will have a better chance of harvesting a mature animal. A lighted path is the only safe path so do yourself a favor and have a great headlamp with high lumens and good battery life — and a backup.
When it comes to backcountry hunting, there is one thing that is often taken for granted and this is water. It is estimated that over 60% of an adult body is made up of water and we need an adequate supply of water to keep us hydrated and at our best performance. This is especially true in the West where the arid climate combined with physical excursion will quickly suck moisture out of our body. Having clean, filtered water is important — especially out in the mountains where it is common to have water carrying bacteria like giardia. There is a barrage of possibilities for brands and types of water filters; however, my favorites are a Sawyer Mini Water Filter, Sawyer Micro Water Filter or Katadyn Vario Filter. I also carry around Aquatabs Purification Tablets. The goal of all of these —and other brands available at the GOHUNT Gear Shop — is to provide safe water to hydrate your body. If you get stuck in the backcountry for whatever reason, you will be glad that you have a way to filter your water.
By far the most important emergency preparation you can take is not any survival item you can buy, but, instead, someone you can trust. The most important emergency item I carry with me is peace of mind that someone back home knows exactly where I am going and when to expect to hear from me. Most of the places I hunt have very limited to no cellular service no matter who your carrier is. Telling someone what drainage you are planning on going in, when you should be out and when they should start to worry and call someone could save your life. When I go backcountry hunting, I always carry a Garmin inReach, but also communicate with my wife and friends who are familiar with the area as to when I should be touching base and when they should worry and call for help. Then, I stick to that plan. Not only does that give them peace of mind, but it also gives me peace of mind as I am hiking. If I were to get hurt or not be able to contact someone, eventually someone would come looking for me. Keeping a spot a secret is not worth your life so tell someone where you are going and know that someone is coming if things go awry.
Overall, there are a lot of other essential survival and emergency items you may want to take depending on the situation. For example, a high decibel whistle may allow someone to hear you from miles away, a space blanket may keep you warm, a bivy sack can keep you dry overnight, bear spray can deter curious bears, an EpiPen can delay an allergic reaction or snake bite kit can slow the spread of venom. It is important to look at every situation and trip differently and carry the things that are important. Of course, weight is always a concern; however, most of these items have been made for backcountry enthusiasts and the goHUNT Gear Shop offers an excellent selection of high-quality GOHUNT-approved items. Though weight is important, the most important thing is to have you coming off the mountain in one piece even if you are injured along the way. Stay safe out there this fall and always be prepared with some of the aforementioned survival and emergency items.