Survival skills a matter of life and death for some

Dennis Clay
The Outdoor Sportsman

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series about survival skills.
Learn and live is a great motto when it comes to survival. Every year this column presents some basic outdoor survival ideas. The thought being readers will absorb these ideas and learn the necessary skills. However this is just the beginning of the survival story.
The basic responsibility is with those who have learned survival skills to pass these skills to others. The others are not just our youth, but include adults as well.
Imagine taking Cousin John, who has lived in San Diego all his life, on his first camping trip. He has never spent an hour at a campsite or in a forest of any type. He is a city boy and has been forever, even though he is 45-years-old.
His family is camping with your family at Swan Lake near Republic. On the first morning at the campsite, John decides to hike around the lake alone, before anyone else rolls out of bed.
John is having a great time, taking in the view of the lake and the wildflowers while staying on the well-defined trail. Then he spots a deer in a clearing off the trail.
This is an interesting development on this hike, so he follows the deer off the trail. Within 15 minutes, he is lost. He turns and walks to the right and then to the left. What John doesn’t realize is he is walking deeper and deeper into the forest with little chance of finding the trail again.
OK, let’s back up to the day of arrival at the campsite. Each family consists of two adults and two youth. Around the campfire on the first night is a great time to discuss outdoor survival.
The first item to discuss is the idea of what to do when realizing a person is lost, young or old. Simply stated, the person should stop and stay put.
The job of the lost person is to make camp and continue to improve the camp, making it as comfortable as possible. Think about collecting firewood, making a fire and keeping the fire going, all day and all night.
A shelter is the next step. A large black garbage bag can easily be made into a shelter. A few years ago, I watched as the Air Force Survival School instructors cut a trash bag on two sides, making it one large rectangle.
They tied one corner a couple of feet up a tree and anchored the two side corners and the last corner to the ground. This shelter wasn’t large, nor was it high off the ground, but it was a shelter to hold body heat and keep rain off the person inside.
Another type of survival shelter is called a debris hut. Usually the forest is covered with debris, everything from tree limbs, small dead trees and leaves. This hut will be made from dead material, so there is no need to cut or gather any living material.
The idea is to take a limb or dead tree, which is a little longer than the lost person, and place or wedge it in the spot where a tree limb and the tree trunk meet. This piece of wood should now be at an angle from the tree to the ground.
Next, angle other pieces of dead limbs or other wood against this first wood. Finally, pile a bunch of leaves and other debris against these limbs. This may sound crude, and it is, but it will keep the person warm for the night.
The following morning, the job of the lost person is to keep the fire going and to improve on the shelter. Gather more firewood, until you have enough to last for several days, as the idea is not to run out, but to always have a surplus. Collect more and better debris to improve the shelter.
One of my mental practices while deer hunting is to check out places that would make a good shelter when lost. So far, the best ones are evergreen trees having lower branches that touch the ground. The ground under these special trees remains moisture-free even during rain or snow storms.
So far we have discussed the plight of a person who heads into the forest with no survival gear. So the question remains, what should a person carry when hiking or hunting in the Great Outdoors?
Next week: Survival gear discussed.