Survival was the furthermost thing from Ray's mind when he decided to take an afternoon rabbit hunt. Taking along his three beagles, he began venturing into the woods. He didn't give any thought to the possibility of getting lost. So he had no survival gear with him-not even a pack of matches.

For the next few hours, Ray became completely involved in the hunt and forgot, as hunters often do, about time and keeping his bearings. Then suddenly, the sun set and Ray realized he was lost. On an ordinary night in Kentucky, he would have spent a few uncomfortable hours alone in the woods. Then at first light he would find his way back home.

But an unusually severe cold front set in with a sudden downpour that turned to sleet, plunging temperatures into the single digits. Ray suddenly found himself in a serious survival situation, but he stayed calm and took the necessary steps to stay alive.

Because Ray had no matches with him, his most immediate problem was sustaining body heat throughout the night. He knew if he could do that, he would probably be around to tell his friends this adventure. Seeking shelter, he discovered a small cave where he and his dogs took refuge. Ray then gathered leaves and positioned the dogs around him to absorb their warmth. This simple idea probably saved his life.

Even so, Ray spent a long, icy cold night. Next morning when he tried to get up, he found that his saturated clothes had frozen. Unable to move his legs at first, he worked feverishly to get the circulation going in them. Finally up and walking again, he made his way back home.

Survival is Usually Less Than a 72 Hour Wait

Each year dozens of American hunters find themselves in a similar situation to Ray. They get lost, injured, or stranded and suddenly find themselves depending upon survival skills to survive. For most hunters, thanks to modern communications such as the cell phone and two-way radio, it is merely a sobering two or three-hour adventure. In fact, with today's methods of search and rescue, the majority of missing people are found within 72 hours after they have been reported missing. However, for some who did not take the proper precautions and who do not have survival skills it can end in tragedy.

The purpose of this article is to help you prepare for that "unplanned night or nights in the woods". With the proper preparation for a hunt, there should be little reason for an unplanned night in the woods, but if it should be your time to have to survive several .days we will have you prepared to do it with style. Survival knowledge and training pays off when the chips are down.

Several years ago, when I was working as a wildlife manager in Georgia I was to help lead a search for a missing hunter in the rugged mountains along the Georgia-North Carolina boundary. We were told that this hunter had little hunting experience but had received extensive survival training. In a blinding rainstorm, it took us two days to find the lost hunter. Much to our surprise, when we found him he had almost established a comfortable homestead.

Stay Put

When he first realized he was lost, he stopped walking and picked an opening in the dense woods to establish a survival camp. He immediately put out ground-to-air signals. Realizing bad weather was on the way, he built a shelter under some overhanging rocks that kept him dry and out of the wind. He gathered plenty of firewood and stored it in his shelter. Next, he built a fire complete with a reflector to keep his shelter warm.

It was his fire that led to his being found.

The hunter's survival camp was so comfortable that those of us in the search party used it for an overnight rest before packing out. Due to his survival training, he lived comfortably through a two-day storm. He stayed positive and worked toward being found. He used the resources at hand to make a survival camp. Will you be like this hunter when your time to spend an unplanned night or two in the woods comes?

A Two-Pound Kit Can Save Your Life

Go on hunting trips prepared to spend three extra, unexpected, days in the back country. To do this, you need to take with you items that will give you quick protection from inclement weather, retain body heat, enable you to start a fire, provide you with safe drinking water, keep you safe from biting insects and give you at least two methods of signaling for help beyond a cell phone or two-way radio. These items make up your personal survival kit. When combined with your belt knife, or multi-tool, give you the edge you need to survive.

The survival kit is important not only for its life-saving merits, but for comfort on those outings when a night must be spent in the woods or streamside, unexpectedly. I have been forced on many occasions to spend a night or two in the woods, I didn't plan on, because an outfitter was late picking me up, climbing down a mountain in the dark was too dangerous, a motor conked on my boat, etc. Each time, my two-pound survival kit provided me with a comfortable camp. Without it the wait would have been cold and dangerous.


The first item necessary for a survival camp is shelter. You'can read all you want about a .lean-to, brush shelters, etc., but nothing is quicker to erect and give as much protection as a plastic tube tent. You simply tie a strong cord between two trees, and stretch the tube to its full 8-foot length, and crawl in out of the weather. I use the Coghlan's Tube Tent. It is compact, weighs 18-ounces, and is bright orange, serving as a signal as it can be easily seen from the air. Not only have I used a tube tent in a survival situation I have used one on several occasions for protection from a sudden rain or hail storm when I didn't have a rain suit or other protection.


To stay warm in your tube tent, you will want one of the 36X84-inch MPI Space Emergency bags. This bag, which folds up to 11/2X3-inches and weighs only 4-ounces, will reflect and retain 90 percent of radiated body heat. You will need to be careful using one of these bags as boots with aggressive soles can cause them to tear .But, with a little caution when getting into the bag it will keep you warm all night.

Fire Serves Many Purposes

To build a fire you will need fresh strike-anywhere kitchen matches in a waterproof match safe. I use the full-size wooden matches because they are easy to ignite and bum longer than small matches. I keep them in a weather tight blaze orange plastic match safe.

Since starting a fire can be difficult, especially in windy or damp conditions, a package of fire starters is a must. Campmor's has a 4-ounce package of 20 Fire Lighters, each bum seven minutes.

Signaling to Be Found

Two methods of signaling should be carried. I suggest a signal mirror, such as Star Flash, and a high quality whistle, such as a Fox 40 whistle. These devices can be seen or heard for much greater distances than the human voice.

Other Essential Items

For protection against mosquitoes I carry a small packet of insect repellent. During warm weather it is worth its weight in gold. I include a small flashlight in my kit. I like the ones that use lithium batteries due to their 10-year shelf life. The flashlight can be used for signaling and is a must for doing camp chores in the dark.

One of the most versatile items I carry in my survival kit is a 24"X24" piece ofheavy duty aluminum foil folded up to about 3"X3", It can be make a vessel for boiling water, cooking food, making a reflector for a fire, and as a signal mirror.

Food Not an Issue

While food is not an issue in a 72-hour ordeal, water is. This is why I recommend carrying a bottle ofPotable Aqua tablets. Pack your survival kit in a 1-gallon Ziploc bag and it can be used to hold water while treating.

This survival kit will fit into a coat pocket or daypack and cost from $40 to $100, depending upon the cost of the flashlight.

It is not sufficient to purchase all these items and put them in your day pack, tackle box or hunting coat pocket to be there when you need them. Like any other specialized outdoor gear, you need to give them a field test, actually use them overnight, so you are familiar with them when you need them.