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Survival kits for hunters

Cleve Cheney looks at priorities in bush emergencies and discusses the putting together of a survival kit

< Figure 1: A useful survival tool should have more than one function.
Bush emergencies usually come unexpectedly and for the unprepared outdoorsman can have serious and possibly fatal consequences. Every bowhunter should have a basic survival kit – equipment which could make all the difference between life and death in a worst-case scenario. Now, you get survival kits and survival kits. Some are so exhaustive that you would need a large backpack to accommodate all its components. Others are so basic that they are next to useless. Whereas more is generally better, it is not always practical to lug a lot of survival gear around with you when hunting on foot. Bowhunters should have a basic kit which could fit into a small hip pouch with them at all times.

> Figure 2: The contents of a basic survival kit.

When thinking basic, one has to narrow down the emergencies which could be life-threatening in the short term. In the modern context, hunters will seldom be exposed to medium or long-term survival situations – meaning five days or more. In most instances, if a hunter does not report back to the outfitter, his fellow hunters or the landowner by nightfall, or return home to family or friends when expected, a search-and-rescue operation is sure to be launched. Knowing more or less the area in which the hunter was hunting makes it easier for searchers to know where to begin looking, so as a precaution it is always advisable for a hunter to let family and / or friends know where he will be hunting, for how long and when he can be expected back. Survival challenges will in most cases therefore be of short duration – one to three days – and it is important for us to identify some of the most likely scenarios of this kind when we decide on the contents of a basic bush survival kit.

Unfortunately, some commercially sold survival kits are put together by people that have little experience of the bush or of survival and these kits often do not have some of the most important items. Or they contain items of little practical value. It is important to get someone who has the relevant experience to make up a kit for you. After all, your life can depend on it.

< Figure 3: All the items mentioned fit into this small hip pouch.
Basic essentials for life
When we think of survival, we should be thinking in terms of meeting physiological and mental requirements to sustain the essential processes for life. What are the basic essentials for life? We need air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, to be in an environment where we can sustain body temperature at 37º C (give or take a few degrees), and to avoid or to be able to treat serious injury or illness.

Air (or rather the oxygen in it) is vital for life. Four minutes without air will result in unconsciousness as the brain becomes starved of oxygen and damage to brain cells commences. A person can still be resuscitated at this stage, but if the brain receives no oxygen for a period of six minutes the brain itself dies and, under normal circumstances, the person cannot be revived and is said to be brain dead or biologically dead.

> Figure 4: A more comprehensive intermediate kit which could fit comfortably into a small back pack.

Water is another essential element for life and in a hot environment where there is an increased demand for water to replace that lost in sweat, urine and bodily excretions, a person can die from dehydration and the physiological consequences resulting from it within the space of three days. The African bush can be an unmercifully hot place to be and heat exhaustion and dehydration pose a very real danger.

Food, although essential for maintaining body metabolism and providing energy for physiological processes, is not a short-term necessity. A person will not die of hunger within the space of a week or, for that matter, a month or more. In fact it takes between 60 and 70 days for a person to die of hunger and it is extremely unlikely that a hunter will be lost for that period of time.

< Figure 5: Every hunter should be equipped to deal with a survival situation.

Maintaining body temperature within normal limits is necessary for survival. Become too cold (hypothermic) or too hot (hyperthermic) and you can die within minutes or hours. Both scenarios are possible in a hunting environment, where bushveld temperatures can soar into the low forties (ºC) and fall to well below freezing.

Injury leading to severe blood loss can lead to death within minutes. Other life-threatening medical emergencies which a hunter could be confronted with are heart attacks, strokes, snakebite, and severe allergic (anaphylactic) shock resulting from bee sting, foods, or medication to which the person is allergic.

Kit priorities

How do we now go about prioritising what we will include in our basic kit?
In the event of a hunting buddy having a heart attack or an emergency involving cessation of breathing, it would be wise to include a CPR mouthpiece which could be used when administering rescue breathing. You should also be trained in how to give rescue breathing and how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Water is a priority, so carry a minimum of one to two litres in durable containers with you when you go out into the bush. A camelback is a convenient option.

Hyperthermia (heatstroke or heat exhaustion) and dehydration are soon precipitated by inadequate intake of water, so the means for procuring and purifying water are absolutely essential. Take enough water-purification tablets to purify three litres of water per day for five days. Also include a small aluminium pot for cooking purposes and in which you can boil water to purify it if you run out of purification tablets.

Remember that drinking unpurified water can be fatal. Diseases such as cholera and amoebic dysentery are contracted from drinking contaminated water and lead to severe vomiting and diarrhoea, which will further compound problems of dehydration.

The ability to make a fire is absolutely essential as fire provides light, warmth, protection from wild animals, the ability to cook, and the means for sterilising instruments and working with metal. It aslo dries wet clothing and equipment. Carry at least two fire-making implements such as a flint and steel (recommended), a butane lighter, waterproof matches (or ordinary matches in a waterproof container), or a magnifying glass. Also learn fire-making techniques using naturally available materials. Always dress warmly when leaving on a hunt. Warm clothing can be shed if it is too hot, but can be available if the weather turns cold or wet.

A waterproof jacket is advisable but if you consider it too bulky to carry with you, include a sheet of durable plastic (or a couple of garbage bags) in your first-aid kit with which you can build a shelter or cover yourself to help keep you dry if it rains or if there is heavy dewfall. If you become wet you will lose body heat very quickly and will be far more prone to hypothermia, so at all costs try and remain as dry as possible.

Although food is not a priority in short-term survival, it does provide energy and is a morale booster. Carry a few teabags (or coffee), some sugar, a few packets of soup, Smash (add water to make mashed potatoes), a little salt, and a couple of energy bars. If you are out hunting you will be armed and can shoot something for the pot to provide yourself with fresh meat.

A multi-tool pocket knife is an essential item for any survival kit, as it has literally hundreds of useful applications. A small knife sharpener would be useful but not essential.

An ordinary compass (not a GPS that relies on batteries which could go flat) would be a valuable aid in finding direction and a small torch (fitted onto a headband) would be very useful in the dark.

As far as medical supplies are concerned, the following are recommended to be carried with you:
•    Two first-aid dressings to cover wounds and help control bleeding.
•    A haemostat to help control severe bleeding.
•    A few assorted plasters.
•    Three sachets of Rehidrate powder – to replenish essential electrolytes lost during excessive sweating, vomiting and/or diarrhoea.
•    Six tablets for diarrhoea.
•    Six tablets for nausea and vomiting (e.g. Valoid or Stemetil).
•    Ten tablets for mild pain and fever (e.g. Disprin).
•    Your own personal medications. If you are a diabetic – enough insulin and extra sugar or glucose sweets. If you have a heart ailment (high blood pressure, low blood pressure, angina, etc.) – carry enough medication with you for your specific ailment.
If you are allergic to bee sting or have other allergies of which you are aware, include injectable adrenaline available in pre-measured doses in your survival kit.
When selecting survival tools, look for those which can serve more than one purpose. An example is shown in Figure 1. This tool has a small button compass, a whistle to attract attention, a signaling mirror, a flint for striking a spark, and a waterproof compartment for keeping small items such as matches, fish hooks, water purification tablets, or some other useful item. The small knife also has a torch with a long-lasting LED light. Always think in terms of compactness and multi-use when putting a survival kit together.
All the items mentioned in this article can be fitted into a hip pouch (apart from the water containers), are lightweight and can be life-saving. See Figures 2 and 3. Every responsible hunter should ensure that he has just such a kit riding on his hip before he departs into the field. He will then be in a position to deal with an emergency should one arise. See Figure 5.

A better-equipped kit can be put together which contains more useful items and could comfortably be fitted into a small backpack. See Figure 4.

Don’t take this issue lightly. Many people die each year from accident, disease or exposure because they neglected to take a survival kit with them. How much is your life worth to you?

I make up custom survival kits for hunters and outdoor recreationists on order. Kits are available in three sizes: A basic kit (suitable for survival up to three days) called the “Day tripper” for R450, an intermediate kit called the “Adventurer” for R1 200, and a very comprehensive kit called the “Expedition” suitable for extended trips, overland safaris, etc. for R2 800. If you wish to order a survival kit which can be lifesaving in hundreds of scenarios, you can phone 082 922 5547 to place an order. Because the kits are “custom made” there is a delivery time of three weeks.


About the Author

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney

Cleve Cheney,  hunting and environmental editor of Africa’s Bowhunter is a very well known figure in bow hunting and in conservation circles in South Africa. Cleve Cheney has been in conservation for 27 years, of which 20 years were spent with the National Parks Board – most of it in the Kruger National Park. During the time spent in the Kruger National Park Cleve culled no less than 50 elephants with a rifle and he has hunted most African game during culling operations.

Cleve has also been an avid bow hunter for 22 years and he has an extensive technical knowledge on bows, arrows and broadheads. Cleve is also an accomplished bowyer and has built many recurves over the years. He began offering bowhunting education courses more than 15 years ago. Until recently, Cleve was a lecturer at the South African Wildlife College where was a lecturer and instructor. He has a diploma in Nature Conservations and a MA degree in animal Physiology. Over the years Cleve has written more than a hundred articles on tracking, hunting, survival skills, and bow and rifle hunting. He started an 18 month long professional hunters course at the SA Wildlife College where he trained the first group of professional hunters.

Cleve has trained many bow hunters and his educative articles on how to hunt African game, as well as many other articles on different aspects of archery bow hunting an bush skills has been published in Africa’s Bowhunter, Game and Hunt magazine, Universal Hunter and many other magazines. He has been the lead article writer for Africa’s Bowhunter for more than 14 years.

His book on tracking, The Comprehensive Guide to Tracking: In-depth information on how to track animals and humans alike, is probably the most in-depth study on this subject available. For those who want to learn more than the basics, this book is a treasure trove of tracking information, insights, methods, and knowledge. The book is divided into logical sections: teaching yourself to track; understanding wildlife behavior; identification of tracks and signs; gait patterns and pressure release; blood trailing; tracking specific animals; track, stalk, and approach; bird, reptile, and invertebrate sign; man tracking; and dangers in the bush.


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