Colorado Hunter: Survival Skills 101

Ten essentials

■ Topo map, magnetic compass and other navigational aids such as cellphones, a GPS or Personal Locator Beacons. “Keep your batteries in a pocket next to your body and keep the cellphone off until you need it,” Levingston said.

■ Waterproof matches in a waterproof container, candle/fire starter. Levingston brings a film can with Vaseline-saturated cotton balls, and weatherproofs his matches by dipping the tips in molten wax or hand sanitizer gel.

■ Extra clothing, including gloves, hat, jacket and raingear.

■ Space blanket or heavy-duty trash bags.

■ Whistle. “On some rescues, the missing person said he could hear us yelling,” Levingston said, advising a pea-less whistle that won’t freeze up. “A whistle can alert rescuers.”

■ Flashlight (with extra batteries and bulb). Hint: Flip over a battery to avoid draining it by accident.

■ Extra food and water

■ Pocket knife

■ Sunglasses

■ First-aid kit

Hints for Flatlanders

Steamboat Springs physician Dr. Dan Smilkstein offers the following advice for those from lower elevations heading to the high country:

■ Be aware of your elevation. Some people develop altitude sickness as low as 4,000 feet, while 8,000 feet affects most others.

■ Watch for disrupted and irregular sleep, loss of appetite, mild nausea, low energy, drowsiness, and mild headaches. If you experience any of these, don’t go any higher; within 24 to 48 hours, your body should adjust. If the symptoms get worse, descend.

■ Drink plenty of fluids and eat a carbohydrate-rich diet. Avoid alcohol. Keep a steady flow of calories and energy.

■ Don’t sleep 1,000 feet higher than you did the night before. Spend two to three days in the valley before heading up to high camp.

■ Don’t push yourself the first 24 hours. A high level of exertion while acclimating can aggravate health problems.

■ Tylenol and Ibuprofen (and hydration) are fine to treat headaches. Be careful with sleep medications (Smilkstein recommends Diamox for sleep quality and ventilation). Before heading to altitude, speak with your doctor about potential medications and any underlying pulmonary and cardiac conditions.

With most trophy animals located off the beaten track, inherent risks come with hunting. You are often far from help, in unfamiliar terrain, and alone. Knowing basic survival techniques and packing appropriately is essential.

Routt County Search and Rescue team member Darrel Levingston has spent many a cold night locating lost hunters and has seen all the mistakes, from not monitoring the weather to getting lost.

His advice: Utilize modern technology. Cellphones and global positioning systems help your orientation and rescuers. But he cautioned not to rely on them. “Technology has changed search and rescue, but electronics have limitations,” he said. “Always also take a map and compass.”

These aren’t the only things you should pack. “Also bring a basic survival kit — even if it’s just a first-aid kit, matches, water and flashlight,” said Brett Mason, of Routt County’s Longshot Ranch. A survival kit also should include an emergency poncho and blanket, a whistle, an extra knife, a fire-starter and a signal mirror.

Staying hydrated also is paramount. Mason brings as many as four water bottles per hunt. “You can go a night or two without food,” he said. “But not without water.”

Then comes the weather. While a cold snap can bring animals down from the high country, it also can wreak havoc on your hunt. Scott Brennise, of Craig’s Superior Guide Service, recommends bringing layers of dry clothing. “The weather can go from 60 to zero quickly,” he said. “I tell people to bring Gore-Tex tops and bottoms, a good jacket and two sets of boots.”

And be ready for anything, Levingston added. “You need to have clothing and equipment for all four seasons, regardless of what the day might look like,” he said.

This holds especially true in late fall. “Weather becomes even more of a factor then,” said Kevin Rider, owner of Rifle’s Timberline Sporting Goods. “Bring rain gear in the earlier hunting months, and winter layers in the later seasons.”

Also alert others of your whereabouts, telling someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. “Western Colorado is a big place to look for someone,” Levingston said. “Communicating your whereabouts can cut search time down dramatically.”

While Mason and Brennise usually hunt one day at a time, they said the time doesn’t matter; everyone should be prepared, no matter what. “We’ve had people get lost on a half-day hunt and not get back until nightfall,” Mason said. “You never know when you might get hurt or get lost. Play it safe and always bring the basic essentials.”