| Aug. 21st, 2014

How to Survive Getting Lost in the Maine Woods

Matthew LaRoche is Superintendent of Allagash Wilderness Waterway. The Exception does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in guest editorials.

There I was staring at the brook in disbelief -- it was running in the wrong direction.

My thoughts raced as night was fast approaching: Where am I?

After some thinking, I came to the conclusion that I had been traveling south instead of north, and the brook I was looking at was actually Thoroughfare Brook and not Churchill Brook. My next thought was: Do I have enough time before it gets dark to get out of the woods, or should I just plan on spending the night right here?

I decided to follow the brook down to Churchill Lake and then follow the lake shore north for a few miles to Churchill Brook. I could then follow that brook up to the road, which was near where we started hunting that morning.

I was lucky enough to get to the lake before pitch dark. When I got to the lake, I felt a sense of relief because I knew where I was and I had a plan for getting back to camp. The thought of a hot meal, warm camp, and soft bed kept me going. It was actually a nice clear night, the stars were out, and once my eyes got adjusted to the dark, I could see surprisingly well.

There I was trudging along the shore of Churchill Lake in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway by the light of the twinkling stars. It was an experience I will never forget!

I eventually made it to Churchill Brook and was able to follow the brook up to the road where I was delighted to find fellow ranger Brian Cain sitting in his truck waiting for me. I asked Brian, “How did you know I would come out here”? He simply said, “I figured this is where you would come out.” Brian went on to have a distinguished career with the Maine Warden Service, where he became an expert in finding lost hunters.

Unfortunately, some version of this scenario will be played out many times this hunting season. The best plan is not to become lost in the first place. The second best plan is to be well prepared for the unexpected. After all, even the best of us can get turned around while hunting in the Maine woods.

I have learned a lot since that night I spent walking along the shore of Churchill Lake many years ago. The most important resource you have if you become disoriented in the woods is your brain; remain calm and use it! Every situation is different; don’t panic. Think about your predicament, formulate a plan and go with it.

Having a basic survival kit with you is a must, with matches and a knife at the top of the list. Some other items to consider carrying with you while hunting include: a map of your hunting area, space blanket, flash light and the free booklet, “Lost in the Maine Woods,” published by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Two other items that should be carried with you are a compass and GPS unit, but they won’t do you any good if you don’t know how to use them. Ask for help from an experienced outdoorsman or enroll in an adult education course and practice using these navigation tools so you are comfortable using them. Don’t forget to bring extra batteries for that GPS unit and flash light!

I love hunting and really enjoy spending a week at hunting camp with the guys. We hunt hard during the day, tell stories, play cribbage, eat, and solve the world’s problems at night.

There is something very satisfying about walking back to camp after spending the day out in the woods and seeing smoke coming out of the chimney, with the glow of the gas lights shining out of the windows, especially when everyone is out of the woods for the night.

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