The Wild Side: Have a plan for a safe hunt
When I lived Colorado, I tried to get out hunting when 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 wildlife biologist with the Wisconsin DNR and writes a weekly column in the Star Journal. To contact him, call (715) 365-8999.