Editors Note: while this article is geared towards high
altitude hunters, much of the information here applies to hikers and
campers as well.
By the Colorado Division of Wildlife
Every year more than a few hunters must be rescued from the wilds
and high country of Colorado. Hunters get trapped by snowstorms,
injured in various types of accidents or simply get lost in the
Hunters must remember that altitude can affect their health and
their ability to move easily. And in the Rockies, weather can change
quickly with fast-moving storms dumping a couple of feet of snow in
just a few hours.
Be prepared for all types of weather -- wet, cold, dry and hot. Take
appropriate clothing and the right camping gear. If possible,
especially for those coming from lower altitudes, spend a few days
at higher elevation before hunting season to allow your body to
Heavy snowfall can occur starting in September. High-country
hunters, especially those who backpack into wilderness areas and
have to get out on foot, need to watch the weather closely and pick
their escape routes before they choose a campsite. Snow can
obliterate trails or make them impassable.
Survival experts recommend that you never go into a wilderness area
alone. Unavoidable accidents do happen. Learn how to use a compass,
take a map of the area and orient yourself before leaving camp.
Explain to your hunting partners where you'll be going and when you
plan to return.
Always carry a survival kit and know how to use it. Such a kit
should include a knife, waterproof matches, fire starter, compass,
reflective survival blanket, high-energy food, water purification
tablets, first aid kit, whistle and unbreakable signal mirror.
If you get lost, sit down, regain your composure and think for a few
minutes. Many times people who are lost can figure out where they
went wrong and make it back to camp. If you truly don't know where
you are, stay put.
Survival experts explain that survival is 80 percent attitude, 10
percent equipment and 10 percent skill and knowledge.
If you are caught in a storm or forced to spend the night out, there
are three keys to survival: shelter, fire and signal.
If you can't find camp and have to overnight in the wild, your first
priority is shelter. Even if you have nothing else going for you -
no fire or food - an adequate shelter that is warm and dry will keep
you alive until rescuers find you. That means anything from an
overhanging rock shelf to a cave, a timber lean-to or snow cave.
Always prepare for the worst and build a shelter that will last. Cut
boughs from evergreen trees and use them as padding and for
Dress in layers and take extras with you. Put on layers before you
become chilled and take off a layer before you become damp with
perspiration. Staying warm is a process of staying dry. Do not dress
in cotton – it becomes wet easily and is difficult to dry. Use wool,
wool blends or synthetic clothing that wicks moisture away from
Be sure to carry a quality stocking cap that is made of wool or
synthetic fleece. You lose up to 45 percent of your heat around your
head, neck and shoulders.
Winter headgear should conserve heat, breathe and be water
repellent. The old saying, "If your feet are cold put your hat on"
is good advice.
Use water-proof footgear, wool or synthetic socks, and always
remember to carry gloves.
Fire is the second priority if you are forced to stay out overnight.
Know how to build a fire even in wet or snowy conditions. That means
carrying lighter, metal matches or wooden matches in waterproof
containers and a fire-starter – such as steel wool, cotton or
sawdust saturated with paint thinner or alcohol. Camping stores sell
a variety of fire starters. Experiment with various materials before
going into the field. A fire will warm your body, dry your clothes,
cook your food, and help you to signal for help.
The third priority is signaling. This can be done by fire - flames
at night or smoke from green branches during the day; with a signal
mirror in bright sunshine; and with sound - hence the whistle.
You can live up to three or four weeks without food. You will,
however, be more efficient and alert, and have more confidence if
you are able to satisfy your hunger. So carry some high-energy food
in your survival kit.
Water is more important to survival than food. Your body needs about
three quarts of water a day to metabolize its energy reserves and
carry away waste. Carry iodine tablets to add to water taken from
streams or snow banks. Avoid drinking ice-cold water which can cause
your body temperature to drop.
Altitude sickness is another danger. Hunters who are fatigued, cold
or exhausted are vulnerable. At the very least, altitude sickness
can ruin a hunting trip; at the worst, it can be fatal. Hunters who
are coming to Colorado from low altitude areas should be especially
Take time to acclimate and do not move quickly above 8,000 feet.
Symptoms of altitude sickness include shortness of breath, fatigue,
nausea, headache and loss of appetite. To avoid altitude sickness
get in shape, limit alcohol consumption, acclimate for a few days
before the start of the season and drink lots of water. Staying
hydrated is key factor in reducing your chances of getting altitude
Hunters with any heart problems should be extra careful in
Colorado's high country. To prevent problems, hunters should consult
their doctors before going to the high country. If you have a heart
condition you should keep any prescribed medication with you at all