John's Journal... Entry 113, Day 1
LOST IN DEER COUNTRY
EDITOR'S NOTE: Probably every outdoorsman who has spent hours hunting in unfamiliar places has at some time in his life been lost in the woods. To enable you to navigate more effectively and safely through deer country and to get into these remote locations where big bucks stay, the Night Hawk internet team interviewed some of the nation's leading woods navigators and survivalists.
John Street, president of Woods Walker, Inc., is a nationally-known survival expert whose company made the original space blanket. Patrick McHugh is the general manager of Outdoor Safety Products Division of MPI Outdoor Safety. A woodsman and outdoor safety expert, McHugh and his company have designed products not only to prevent you from getting lost, but also to aid you in the event that you do become lost. Al Kavalauskas is a veteran woodsman, an expert navigator and a well-known outdoorsman. Bill Wildprett is division manager of the Silva Company, which makes and sells compasses worldwide.
"A hunter usually becomes so engrossed in his hunt or his pursuit of game that he becomes disoriented and fails to pay attention to where he is going or where he has been," Patrick McHugh says. "These hunters are not prepared with the right equipment, the proper skills, or the correct knowledge to get into and out of the woods efficiently."
Al Kavalauskas believes most hunters make two basic mistakes that cause them to become lost in the woods. "They don't study the land they plan to hunt before they actually hunt, and they don't carry compasses. By looking at a topographical map or an aerial photo, you can see where you want to go, check the direction with a compass and determine the direction you need to follow out of the woods before you actually hunt. If you carry a compass with you, you often forget to check the compass direction you take into the woods. Then you don't know what direction you need to follow to come out of the woods. To navigate effectively in deer country, you must know the compass direction you want to follow to get to the area you plan to hunt and the compass direction you have to follow to return to your vehicle. When you get deep into the woods and discover that you are lost, it is too late to determine where you are or where you have come from."
Being lost in the woods can be similar to being lost in the city. If you don't know the address of the place you are trying to reach, the street names or the directions the streets run, you can get as lost in downtown Manhattan as you can in the Everglades of Florida.
"Before a hunter goes into the woods, I highly recommend he acquire a United States Geological Survey topographical map of the area he plans to hunt," Bill Wildprett explains. "If you study this map before you hunt, you generally can determine how to reach the region you want to hunt and how to return safely to your vehicle before hunting season arrives. When hunting season comes in, you can go to your hunting site quickly and easily without becoming lost."
John Street agrees that pre-trip planning is the key to becoming familiar with a region you don't know. Then you can navigate efficiently to and from a new hunting site. "Pre-trip planning is the first step a hunter should take when he considers hunting a new area," Street explained. "Not only should the hunter know the lay of the land, he also should plan to be able to navigate through that land - no matter what weather conditions he encounters. Pre-trip planning means effective and safe hunting without the fear of getting lost."
Experienced hunters who consistently bag their bucks each season scout and plan their hunts before opening day. Experienced woodsmen who rarely, if ever, get lost spend just as much time planning and scouting the routes they will take into the woods to their stands as they do pinpointing the right place to hunt.
Besides using topographical maps and aerial photos to plan your hunt ahead of time, McHugh suggests that you know the three P's for effective woods navigation. "Then you'll rarely get lost," he explains. "The three P's are preparation, practice and planning. If you have the proper equipment, the right skills, and the knowledge of the area you plan to hunt, you can hunt more effectively with less worry. Practice your navigation skills, prepare a survival kit, and plan where you are going to hunt."
Wildprett also advises that you "take a large piece of paper or cardboard and write in big, clear, block letters your name, phone number, the area you plan to hunt, the date you've entered the woods and the date you plan to return. Put this information on the dashboard where someone can read it easily and quickly if he or she comes across your vehicle and you're not there."
Also, learn to read a compass and map. All the experts agree that you must know how to use a compass and a map. A recent survey shows that 85 percent of the people who hunt are unfamiliar with the people who hunt are unfamiliar with how to read a compass and a map. If woods navigation is such a critical key to deer-hunting success, then why do so few black-powder hunters know how to do it?
* Know your own strengths and limitations.
TOMORROW: WHAT TO DO IF YOU BECOME LOST