“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.”
– Daniel Boone
The event I’m about to describe happened a number of years ago. I’ve matured (*ahem*) and learned a bit since then.
The day started as any typical November deer hunting day would. I woke up before any rational human being should to go walk in the cold woods where I would sit most of the day staring at trees. It was an area I’d hunted before, but only a few times. Knowing that it makes FAR more sense to spend my time hunting where the deer actually ARE rather than just sitting down some place that looks pretty, I spent the first half of the day just scouting the terrain. The area I was hunting wasn’t like hunting in Maine’s North Woods (a subject of future posts) where it’s just miles upon miles upon miles of uninhabited forest. This area was in a rural town where I could walk into the woods off a paved road. Had this little incident taken place in the North Woods the outcome would’ve been much worse, but then again, if I’d been hunting in the North Woods, I probably would have been smarter about my casual walk into the woods, checking the topographical map, taking compass readings, etc. Instead, the “safe” nature of these woods meant I let my guard down. After all, following a few ATV trails is easy …. mistake #1 was not taking a compass reading before I entered the woods DESPITE the fact I had one on me.
It was late morning by the time I found what looked like a sweet location, a small, old chopping (Mainer talk for a spot in the wood where trees were dropped), fresh sign around, etc. There was a conveniently located old (and very sketchy) treestand about 20’ off the ground overlooking the chopping. I made a mental note of its location for afternoon hunting and followed the maze of ATV trails back to the truck for lunch with my hunting homie.
I was back at the chopping by 13:00. I set out a few Tink’s 69 “scent bombs” and I climbed the ultra sketchy treestand and sat down. Mistake #2 was sitting in that stand. While nothing came of it, looking back on it, doing so was totally stupid. It was old, flimsy and I didn’t have a safety harness. It swayed with the wind; but the view was just too good to pass up, so as an improvised safety harness, I took the sling off my rifle, wrapped it around the tree and secured it to my leather waist belt. I figured that was better than nothing (again – dumb).
I sat in the stand all afternoon, eating leftover Halloween candy, watching and listening. Anyone that knows anything about deer hunting knows that the two best times of day to bag a deer are right after sunrise and right before sunset. For this reason I pushed the legal hunting time right to the edge of darkness. It was getting dark, but I didn’t see it as a big deal, I had 2 sources of light to find my way back and walking out was easy on the ATV trails. I stayed in that stand until I had a hard time making anything out in the distance. Then I looked through my scope and could still see, so I sat a little longer. I was still within legal hunting time, but (in my opinion) legal hunting time in Maine goes too late in the day. It’s virtually impossible to see in the woods if you’re hunting right up until the last legal minute, so I departed from the super sketchy stand and picked up my Tink’s 69 scent bombs.
Mistake #3 was waiting too long to leave. It stays light in a clearing longer than it does in the thick of the woods. Of course, I knew this already, but was reminded of it when I was back on the ATV trails. It was MUCH darker in the woods, so I turned my mini-mag light on and moved fast. All was going well. I was weaving my way back via the myriad of trails, taking appropriate turns at each intersection until …. I found myself right back where I started. I realized where I took a wrong turn at that stage, so I started off again and made the correction at that intersection …. which took me to someplace completely unfamiliar.
Mistake #4 was not flagging the ATV trails on my way in with reflective flagging ribbon so I would know what trails to take back. At this stage my heart was beginning to race fast. I looked at my watch and realized my hunting homie was probably wondering when I’d be coming out. The feeling of being lost, if you haven’t experienced it before, is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s not like I thought my life was in danger, I knew it wasn’t, but panic still set in. I raced back down the trail, sloshing through massive puddles in the dark and still couldn’t get where I needed to be. That’s when I stood, took a few deep breaths, and accepted that trying to find my way back was hopeless. Feeling like a complete IDIOT, I knew this would inevitably mean family and friends getting all worried and starting a midnight search to find my sorry ass.
I know enough about forest navigation to know if you’re lost, the absolute best thing to do is STAY PUT. When search parties come looking for you they do so in a grid pattern. I’ve been involved in a search party before, as a volunteer looking for a lost kid in the woods one night. It was the same time of year and I was in college. They bused us volunteers in, gave us a brief overview of the situation, and set us out in big waves, virtually within arm’s length of each other moving through the woods in a straight line, searching around every stump and in every thicket. After we moved through a section of woods, the area was marked as searched. The reason you STAY PUT is because if you keep moving, you may end up in an area that has already been searched – and that ain’t good.
No one was searching for me yet, so I made one final attempt to get out on my own. I decided to follow the ATV trail I was standing on all the way to the end. It HAD to go somewhere. The section of forest was enclosed by roads to some extent, so I couldn’t get TOO lost. I followed (ran) the trail for probably 15 minutes before I saw house lights in the distance. *sigh* A HUGE relief came over me, and it wasn’t long before the ATV trail turned into a dirt road. Luck! More house lights appeared and I figured the dirt road was leading out to a paved road and, sure enough, it did. I walked the paved road for a bit until I came upon a house trailer with the light on outside.
I set my rifle (long since unloaded) up against the trailer and went to the door completely embarrassed. Some older, slightly overweight guy wearing a wife beater was sitting on the couch eating and watching television. I knocked and he waved me in. “Ummmm, I kinda got disoriented in the woods …. what road is this?” He asked me where I started from and I told him. “I guess you did,” he said. “You’ve got some walking to do! Got someone you can call?”
I called my father, told him where I was at, and he responded with something like “What the Hell!?” Then he picked me up and drove me back to my starting point where my friend was anxiously waiting.
– Ranger Man
BTW: If you want another story on how to get lost, read Lost on a Mountain in Maine. It’s a Maine classic about a boy who gets disoriented on Mount Katahdin and spends several days wandering the forest (the North Woods forests). It’s short and reads fast.