You should never let fear overtake your ability to make rational decisions. Finding your way out of the wilderness after becoming disoriented will require you to stay calm and use your knowledge of land navigation to get back on track.
Responsible hunters should at least attempt to learn navigation skills—or, at a minimum, have a plan for what to do when and if they or any member of their hunting party gets lost.
LOST VS. DISORIENTED
When a person is “lost,” it means they do not have the skills to use the terrain, the stars, nature or their equipment to aid them in reorienting themselves and finding their way back to wherever they came from. On the other hand, when a person is “disoriented,” they might not know where they are, but they will have the confidence and training to utilize the terrain, as well as nature, the stars, their gear and even math to reorient themselves quickly and get back on track.
Let’s admit that not all hunters have solid land navigation skills; in fact, there is a large group of outdoorsmen who would be in a large amount of trouble if the batteries on their GPSs were to die midway through their hunts.
Something else to consider is that small children just learning to hunt might not have the best navigational skills, so they need to understand what to do if they get separated from the hunting party. Because learning does not happen overnight, and because most people are not going to stop going into the wilderness cold turkey until their navigational skills are up to par, it is imperative that everyone in your hunt party knows what to do if they become separated—or, worse yet, find themselves disoriented or lost.
One of the many acronyms I had drilled into my head during two decades in the Army Special Forces was SLLS (pronounced “Sills”): Stop, Look, Listen and Smell.
The first thing a person should do when they find themselves lost or disoriented is to stop and try to make as little noise as possible. They can then take in their natural environment, and noises such as people calling their name, whistles, vehicles, streams and busy roads will all be amplified. Take notice of smells, and look for signs of people—for instance, fires (campfires, raked piles of leaves in the fall, etc.) and food being cooked.
After conducting SLLS, it will be time to make a decision: Stay in place and wait for someone to find you, or begin to walk and find your own way out.
Another important acronym you can use to help you decide if you should move or stay in place is called HITMET (pronounced “Hit-Me-T”): Health, Illumination, Training, Materials, Elements and Terrain.
Health: This is critical, because if you are sick, injured or out of shape, that will be a big factor in your decision. You might have all the survival skills in the world; however, for example, if you’ve fallen, hit your head and are feeling woozy, it might be best to stay put.
Illumination: If it is about to get dark, you might want to consider other needs that will soon be more important than finding your way out: food, water and shelter.
Training: Your training in land navigation skills, as well as in wilderness survival and outdoorsman skills, will play a huge role in your choice of action: The fewer skills you have, the better idea it is to stay in one location and wait for rescue.
Materials: “Materials” refers to the equipment you have with you, along with the natural resources available to you, to both navigate and to survive. Firearms, flares, whistles and air horns are all good ways to let people know your location. Maps, compasses, protractors and GPSs are all good materials to help you reorient yourself.
Elements: Nature can be a gigantic factor in the decisionmaking process. There might be times when shelter and warmth take precedence over all other needs because of a sudden change in the weather.
Terrain: Are you in the mountains, where you can use terrain association or a map to help you re-find your way? Is there a water source to help you survive? What about a river or stream you can follow back to civilization? Rivers and other prominent terrain features can help you locate your position on the ground and guide you to safety.
You need to eliminate fear and panic from the equation. The best way to do this is through knowledge—not just knowing what to do, but also having the practical application to apply it. For instance, a person can study about how to build a fire using only sticks, but unless they do it, the skill to do it when needed won’t be there.
The more you know about land navigation and survival, the more confident you’ll be in your abilities. The more you know, the less you will panic and the easier it will be for you to reorient yourself and find your way back on track.
Brian Morris is a retired Army Special Forces master sergeant with more than 25 years of active-duty experience. He is a former Special Forces weapons sergeant with multiple combat tours in the global war on terrorism. Morris is also an avid hunter, fisherman, outdoor enthusiast and self-proclaimed “prepper.” He is the author of two books: The Green Beret Pocket Guide and his newly published book, Spec Ops Shooting.
A version of this article first appeared in the January 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.