Ever been lost? Most experienced woodsmen will deny it, though a few may offer, “I’ve been a mite turned around a time or two.”

Hunters joke about it any time someone is a little late getting back to the road, camp or home, but it can be a very serious matter when someone gets legitimately lost.

In addition to the immediate and direct threat to the hunter’s own personal safety, there’s the recovery effort. Depending on circumstances, it could require considerable time, money and resources, taking wardens away from the job they should be doing and putting rescuers at risk as well. Being properly prepared can go a long way toward keeping you from getting lost, helping you get found, and ensuring your comfort and safety should you have to spend an unexpected few hours, a night or several days in the woods.

Obviously the best scenario is to avoid getting lost in the first place. That sounds easy enough, but in the heat of the moment, things happen quickly. You take off after a wounded buck and the next thing you know you’re someplace you don’t recognize. It’s overcast and getting dark. Now what do you do?

First and foremost, don’t panic. Take a moment to assess the situation, collect yourself and decide your next step.

Smartphones and hand-held GPS devices can be very helpful in finding your way in and out of the woods, but there’s no substitute for a compass. It doesn’t require batteries, which could die, and it will never lose its connection. Never, ever go into the woods without one. Learn how to use it. Always trust your compass and if for some reason you don’t believe it, take out your spare compass and compare the two.

Be familiar with the area you hunt, pay attention to landmarks, and study the maps before you enter the woods. Streams lead downhill to rivers, which often run alongside or under roads. Small logging roads lead to bigger ones, and the angled intersections typically point to the way out. Look for lights and listen for the sound of traffic or other human activity.

If it becomes clear you may not make it out, find a suitable nearby location to establish yourself. Find a space to show your face. An open area is better as it will make it easier for rescuers to locate you. Shelter from the elements is preferable, if you can find it nearby.

Another thing most hunters too often neglect is a survival kit. By now most have taken a hunter safety course, which requires them to bring a survival kit to class. Unfortunately, that’s often the first and last time it gets used. Having a few extra items in your day pack could make the difference in keeping you comfortable and possibly alive.

At the very least, you should carry the following items. A sharp knife has multiple uses, like cutting boughs for a shelter. Some means of starting a fire, like waterproof matches, a butane lighter or a magnesium fire stick, will allow you to stay warm and signal rescuers. You may also want to carry a resealable plastic bag with 12 cotton balls saturated with petroleum jelly. A signal whistle can help searchers locate you. So can a flashlight, which you should have anyway. Throw in an energy bar or two, a small space blanket and some paracord, and you should have enough to at least survive an overnight. Other options include water treatment products, spare batteries, a signal mirror, spare glasses, medications and first aid, and obviously, water.

Unless you have a very strong reason to move, it’s best now to stay put. Rescuers may be using cell phone signals, infrared sensors or tracking dogs to locate you. Every time you relocate you make that job more difficult. Signal shots may help but save those for when you know someone is within hearing range.

Obviously this is a very cursory overview of getting lost and found. Be practical, not proud or overconfident. The truth is, it could happen to anyone. Even the most experienced woodsman could get more than a mite turned around. Make sure you have the right equipment and knowledge before you enter the woods, and it will be a lot easier to make sure you come back out.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer, registered Maine guide and certified wildlife biologist who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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