If you’re an avid hunter, it pays to know some basic survival skills in the event that something should go wrong while you’re out in the woods. Even a seasoned hunter on familiar land can get turned around and quickly find themselves lost.
Rather than spend an uncomfortable night (or even a few days) in the woods risking hypothermia and dehydration, we’ve put together the top four basic survival skills that will ensure your survival and safety.
From there, you can increase your survival knowledge with other tips and tricks, but these are the most fundamental skills you need to know when things go downhill quickly.
Finding Clean Water
While adult humans can go for as long as three days without water, if you’re expending a lot of energy (due to hot weather or from running about in a panic because you’ve realized you’re lost) you can quickly become dehydrated to the point of passing out in just a few hours.
This is why we’ve labeled being able to find water as the number one survival skill that you need to know. Most sources of water in the wild are not safe to drink without purifying in some way, due to pollution or pathogens that can make you quite sick. Boiling the water will kill off all pathogens. However, it still won’t make that stagnant puddle water truly potable. Not to mention, boiling water is not always an option.
Fortunately, there are still sources of clean water that you can access outdoors. As mentioned, puddles are always to be avoided if you can’t purify the water. Precipitation, such as snow and rain, and dew are great options that won’t need to be purified.
Dew can be collected with a clean cloth, such as a bandanna, by pressing it against plants or running through wet grass and then wringing it out into another container. Another option is to find a maple or birch tree. You can remove a small section of the bark to let the sap flow. This can be drunk as is without worry of getting sick. Plus, the slight amount of sugar within this fluid will provide some caloric intake.
Making a Shelter
Shelter serves two purposes only: it protects you from the elements and keeps you warm. Insulated shelter literally makes the difference between hypothermia (and death) and getting through this situation. Here are two simple shelters you can easily make that will insulate you from the cold, trapping body heat to keep you warm, and will get you out of the rain. The second method will work to get you out of the sun and can be made with only one wall to allow for greater air flow in hot weather.
Method #1 - Branch Shelter
This method requires you to have some survival gear on you, as you will need a large sheet of plastic. This can be folded up and kept in a pocket or a hunting bag just in case. This sheet of plastic can be used to create a simple lean-to. You’ll need to find a large branch and two smaller branches roughly the same size. The larger branch should be several feet long, for you to be able to lay down in your shelter. The smaller branches should be about three or four feet long.
Bind the two smaller branches together at one end so that they make a “v.” You can use a boot lace, fibrous plants, or vines to do so. Set the bound branches so that the bound end is in the air like a bipod. Lay the larger branch upon the top of the bound branches with the other end resting on the ground. Next, you can drape the plastic or tarp over the large branch and secure the ends securely to the ground with stones.
This shelter will keep you dry and will provide some insulation against the cold by trapping body heat. The last step is to place a good half a foot of debris (i.e. dried leaves, ferns, moss, etc.) on the ground inside your lean-to. The ground will suck the heat from you, so having that good thick layer along the bottom is essential. If you aren’t sure if your flooring is thick enough, add more debris.
Method #2 - Fallen Tree Shelter
This method is well suited for if you don’t have any materials that could be used to construct a shelter. This is another way to make a lean-to using only natural found materials.
Look for a tree that has fallen and is either resting against another tree or on it's own base at an angle. Alternatively, you can take a larger branch or a smaller fallen tree and rest it against another tree at an angle. Take branches and rest them against the angled tree or branch to create a wall; you can repeat this along the other side to provide greater insulation against the wind and cold.
From there, layer dry leaves, ferns, and/or moss across the branches to further block the wind and provide insulation. Now you can place a good six-inch layer of debris along the bottom to keep you off of the ground and keep you better insulated against the cold.
Making a Fire
There are a number of ways that you can use to start a fire. For example, a battery can be used to create a spark. Do this by short circuiting the battery by connecting wire, a metal gum wrapper, or steel wool to the positive and negative sides of the battery. Then direct the spark toward your tinder.
You can always use your glasses or a bottle of water to amplify the light of the sun to ignite tinder, too. However, this is one of those reasons why it pays to always carry a means to starting a fire on you. A lighter fits easily into any pocket, and a few packs of matches can be placed in a waterproof plastic bag or container and kept in your pocket or hunting bag. It’s also an excellent idea to carry simple DIY firestarters on you as they can make it easier to start a fire in inclement weather.
Once you have the ability to create fire, you need to find a location out of the wind or construct a windbreak to protect your flame until you can get a good fire going. You can build your fire against large rocks or along the side of a log, for example. It’s also wise to make your fire off of the ground if the ground is wet, as this will ensure your fire keeps going. You can construct a platform out of rocks or branches and then construct a teepee style fire atop it.
Choose your kindling carefully in order to build a strong fire. Starting with pieces of wood that are toothpick size and slowly adding larger pieces of wood will do the trick. You can also use pitch wood (wood that is super saturated with pine sap and can be found on stumps or near places where a pine tree has been cut.) Pitch wood burns fast and, thus, works well for starting a fire.
This can be one of the most challenging parts of being stranded outdoors. We took a look at some great edible plants that you can forage in the wild in a previous post, but there are some additional ways you can supplement your emergency diet to better meet your caloric needs.
During warmer months, insects can provide you with enough energy to make through this situation and see you safely home. While there are many toxic insects and most of the edible insects require cooking first, the big four you can get away with raw include crickets, grasshoppers (not the bright yellow ones, stick to the brown ones,) grub worms, and earthworms. With grasshoppers, it’s a good idea to remove the heads and smaller legs. With earthworms, it’s a really good idea to let them clear themselves of any dirt they’re carrying internally. You can do this by placing them in a container with some damp grass for a few minutes. Once they’ve excreted all of the dirt, you can wash them off and eat (though, we recommend frying -the taste will resemble jerky.)
You can also construct a gig to better spear small animals and fish. You’ll need a sapling about an inch in diameter. Cut it down and to a good manageable length (you’ll want at least three feet to be functional.) Cut the fatter end into four roughly equal sections running about ten inches down. Splay them out by placing a twig or thin branch between them. Sharpen the ends of each section into a sharp point and you’ve got a more effective hunting tool than a single point spear for fish and small animals. This can also be used for protection should you need it. The video below shows a good example of this spear.
Basic Survival Skills - Final Thoughts
There are a great number of skills that are necessary for long-term survival, as well as many techniques that can significantly improve your comfort. Further skills that should be learned would be first aid (especially learning to set broken bones, what to do with a sprain, and how to treat burns), navigation, and signaling.
However, learning the four core competencies we explained in this article -through research and practice- will leave you well prepared should disaster strike. They are the foundation for true survival skills and are a great place to start in teaching older children how to handle themselves outdoors in case of an emergency.