Lost and Alone: Could You Survive?

I am worried about the next generation of hunters. They seem overly fascinated with technology while neglecting basic woodsmanship.

True woodsmanship is comprised of skills that can't be lost or left behind. Photo by Tony Bynum

Many are more in tune with how to program a trail camera than in actually knowing how to follow a game trail. They can boil water as long as they have a stove with a pietzo ignition switch, but they're helpless if they have to light a real wood fire. Don't even get me started about building a shelter for the night with a hatchet and natural materials at hand.

Skills vs Batteries

In my youth, my favorite book was How To Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angiers. It was written in 1956 and is full of useful skills — from determining true north with a leaf and needle to making shelter out of branches to catching fish with a trotline.

The grocery list for a six-month British Columbia canoe trip was probably a bit impractical, but I still read the book from cover to cover probably 20 times between the ages of 10 and 20. And I'll admit I still reread a chapter or two each year. Impractical and archaic in today's age of high-tech tools? Hardly.

"While modern technology is a fantastic thing, it can go down, be lost, or, in moments of excitement, simply left behind. But what is never left behind are knowledge, determination, and basic woodsmanship skills." - Mike Schoby

On an elk hunt in my late teens, I had a pack full of the latest high-tech gear, including an early GPS, a bivy sack, and military freeze-dried MREs. I was having lunch in our main camp when a herd of elk strolled through. I grabbed my bow and, in the rush to pick up the fresh trail, left my pack. Since the elk weren't spooked, I didn't plan on venturing more than a few hundred yards from camp. Ten miles later I lost the trail and realized three things: 1) It was quickly getting dark, 2) I had no survival gear, and 3) I was hopelessly lost.

Knowing What to Do

As the sun set behind the mountain, I stuffed my cotton shirt and pants full of grass, laid some pine boughs against a ponderosa, and filled the space with a huge pile of dry pine needles. Burrowing deep inside, I shivered my way through a cold September night in the high country with no fire. At dawn I got my bearings from the rising sun and started my long hike back to camp. I eventually made it and then assessed my decisions from the previous 24 hours.

Clearly, I did many things wrong.

I didn't leave a note in camp as to my direction of travel. I didn't grab my pack — with it I would have been warm and fed. Possibly most important, I didn't have the basic items, such as matches, knife, and compass in my pocket. But I did do a few things right — things I learned from reading that old book. I stopped when I knew I was lost, I used natural materials for insulation, and I determined my location by using the sun.

While modern technology is a fantastic thing, it can go down, be lost, or, in moments of excitement, simply left behind. But what is never left behind are knowledge, determination, and basic woodsmanship skills.

Return to Woodsmanship

Maybe it's time to focus on DIY hunting and survival skills — such as 20 Skills Every Hunter Should Know or the chronicle of a really cool survival hunt on the Hebridean Islands of Scotland, where putting meat on the table is far more important than putting antlers on the wall.

I hope you enjoy these articles and possibly even learn a thing or two along the way. But if you already know everything we're trying to pass on, please pry the iPad out of some kid's hands and teach them some real skills.

It just may save their life.

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