The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

5 Vital Survival Tips for Hunters

At RECOIL, we review every product fairly and without bias. Making a purchase through one of our links may earn us a small commission, and helps support independent gun reviews. Learn More

This article originally appeared in CARNIVORE 1


Hunters are in a class of their own as skilled outdoorsmen. Far from the neon clothing-and-gear-carrying granola crowd, hunters are generally more in tune with the environment, seeking to blend in rather than stand out. And we must know the environment and understand our surroundings to be successful.

While hunters are likely better equipped to survive in the wild than your average hiker, trail runner, or mountain biker, accidents can very easily thrust even an experienced outdoorsman into a serious survival situation. We’ve assembled the top five survival tips for hunters to keep you in pursuit of game and out of harm’s way.

1. Don’t Get Lost
All it takes for a hunter to lose his bearings is to lose track of what’s important. Instead of focusing on returning to the truck at the end of the day, a newly discovered set of game tracks through uncharted territory can quickly pull you off the beaten path and closer to an unexpected night out.

The excitement of a successful hunt can overshadow the urgency of getting out of the woods before dark. A hunter can quickly become lost or disoriented during dawn or dusk hours, without proper gear such as a reliable compass, map, and flashlight, as well as the knowledge to use them.

Prior to any hunt, you should perform map reconnaissance of your hunting area. Study, identify, and document routes to and from the trailhead, potential water sources, and alternative travel routes in the event of inclement weather. Mark possible assets in the field such as fire watchtowers, ranger stations, and game check-in stations.


Once this essential knowledge is gathered, stick to your plan and don’t stray from your predetermined hunting ground. Relay your departure times to someone who can start making inquiries if time frames and communication go awry. (Think Aron Ralston.) Be aware of how much chaos you’ll sow should something go wrong after hitting mountain X when you told family members you’d be on mountain Y. Have a plan and stick to it.

2. Plan from Success Backwards
Before stepping off into the backwoods, a hunter should have and follow a plan for success. This usually means zeroing your rifle, utilizing appropriate camouflage, and carrying the right gear to observe your prey, such as binoculars and spotting scopes. You can have all the right gear with you to harvest game and forget what you need to process it. As previously stated, when a hunter gets into a survival situation, it’s usually due to an accident.

Not being able to effectively drag a deer safely can result in a trip or fall. Processing game with the wrong knife or a dull knife can lead to a cut hand or worse. Not having the right resources such as clean cloth meat bags or enough salt to preserve meat in the field can lead to ruined meat.


Always plan from success backward. Think of the gear needed to effectively bring game out of the field, the gear needed to process it, and what it’ll take to keep predators away. Mentally prepare for a successful hunt and visualize what it takes to avoid injury. The first time you harvest game needn’t be the same day you actually do it in the field — visualization is a powerful tool; use it. If it’s the little things that cause hunters the most trouble, this is one way to tie up loose ends before they ruin your day.

3. Emergency, Now What?
Falling out of tree stands is a very common accident and can result in life-threatening injuries. Hunters get tired from waking up early and being hyper vigilant. They get sore from sitting too long and let their muscles cramp up. A fall from a tree stand can lead to a broken bone, puncture wound, or head injury.

Just as a firearms enthusiast should carry a trauma kit for shooting-related medical incidents, a hunter should have a kit to deal with injuries that go beyond the obvious.


You must become your own medic, as help might not find you in time. Carrying a tourniquet, hemostatic bandage, and pressure bandage could save your life. If you’re a tree-stand hunter, wear a good harness. If you think it looks goofy, consider this: You look a hell of a lot better wearing a harness than you do on the ground in a pool of your own blood.

4. Layer Levels of Preparedness
While the average hunter probably has a basic gear list they carry in the outdoors, they may not have redundant layers of preparedness. For instance, a small metal water bottle kit can provide the means to make fire, signal for help, set up a shelter, and treat water by boiling it.

Warm drinks not only prevent dehydration, but also keep the body warm from the inside out. Building on basic kit, you can tuck extra lighters in pockets and even some basic emergency gear on a rifle sling or buttstock pouch. If one layer fails, another layer backs it up.


Layers of preparedness are also layers of protection. You should think about how to stay warm in layers. Clothing (worn in layers), dedicated rain gear to protect from the elements, insulation from the ground, warm liquids in a thermos (limit caffeinated fluids to slow dehydration), and plenty of high-calorie foods to keep the internal furnace going. Exposure is a real killer, but with layered preparedness, you can survive the night.

Levels of preparedness exist for signaling methods as well, including a whistle, a charged cellphone, two-way radios, and a flashlight. Whenever possible, the old adage of “one is none, two is one” should be applied. This includes hunters as well. While hunting alone is an escape for some, a hunting buddy can watch your back and vice versa.

5. Be a Camper Posing as a Hunter
When you go hunting, always be prepared to spend the night in the clothes you’re wearing. Mentally and physically prepare for that night out by doing dry runs within reach of a warm place of refuge. An unexpected night out can induce fear from many angles; with the correct attitude, you can reprogram your mind. There’s nothing to be afraid of if you view the unexpected bivouac as a temporary hunting camp rather than an emergency shelter.


The long hunters, like Hugh Glass who inspired The Revenant, spent many nights out in hostile environments and became legendary. Remain calm and remember that panic is a killer. Darkness will eventually turn into daylight. Those noises in the dark are just the natural sounds of the woods. Those expecting you will know you’re trained and give you time to contact them. Trust your training; it won’t fail you. Remaining calm during an emergency will prevent it from becoming a full-fledged survival situation.

Emergency blankets, carried by hunters and often purchased at the last minute, are effective when used correctly — and dangerous when misunderstood. Emergency blankets aren’t magical, and they don’t provide any insulation. What they do well is reflect heat. This reflective property is negated when draped closely over the body. Ideally, a space blanket should be used with an external heat source when the body isn’t providing much of its own.

The ideal setup for using an emergency blanket with minimal other equipment is in front of a roaring fire. Hold the blanket around your back loosely and the fire’s heat will be trapped by the reflective side and directed back to your body. If you don’t have a roaring fire, perhaps just a small votive candle, you can sit cross-legged on an insulating surface like a stadium seat and trap the heat of the candle burning between your legs. If fire isn’t an option, another effective way of using emergency blankets is with disposable hand warmers. A couple placed under the armpits and by the kidneys will help the body warm up and produce enough heat to be trapped by the reflective surface.

Emergency blankets can’t warm the body if no warmth is present. They also won’t stop convection cooling if placed directly against your body in a stiff wind. If you’re going to carry an emergency blanket, rubber band a fire starter to it to better your odds of survival. Include a hand warmer to bring some dexterity back to your fingers if there’s little left. Don’t trust emergency blankets to save you unless you fully understand how to use them effectively.

Kevin Estela is the owner/head instructor of Estela Wilderness Education, a bushcraft and survival school in New England. He’s a Sayoc Kali associate instructor, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, and an avid marksman. As a “survival athlete,” he can be found regularly testing his physical and mental limitations in the gym, woods, and urban landscape preparing for the fight.



Enter Your E-Mail to Receieve a Free 50-Target Pack from RECOIL!

NEXT STEP: Download Your Free Target Pack from RECOIL

For years, RECOIL magazine has treated its readers to a full-size (sometimes full color!) shooting target tucked into each big issue. Now we've compiled over 50 of our most popular targets into this one digital PDF download. From handgun drills to AR-15 practice, these 50+ targets have you covered. Print off as many as you like (ammo not included).

Get your pack of 50 Print-at-Home targets when you subscribe to the RECOIL email newsletter. We'll send you weekly updates on guns, gear, industry news, and special offers from leading manufacturers - your guide to the firearms lifestyle.

You want this. Trust Us.

Add a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to the Free