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August 29, 2007

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The Gun Nut's Ten General Rules of Survival

This is supposed to be about guns and hunting, but getting lost is part of the bargain. To wit, the Gun Nut's Ten General Rules of Survival:

1. If you're lost, you're seldom in bad trouble. You get into bad trouble when you start making dumb mistakes because you're lost. A friend of mine calls this "the cascade of errors."
2. If you're lost in the woods in the late fall or winter and 3 p.m. comes around, wherever you are, stop and build a fire. You're done traveling for the day.
3. Carry three means of starting a fire. Practice building fires before you get lost. It's one thing to read about it in a manual, and quite another to actually perform the task.
4. Don't count on rifle shots to signal your presence. I've seen them fail twice, once in Montana, once on Anticosti Island. In both cases, searchers were a half-mile away and couldn't hear.
5. If you have an axe or a hatchet, it's best not to use them. Lost is one thing; lost with a finger lopped off is another. I know an Alaska guide who does drop camps and will not drop you off if you have an axe. A saw, yes.
6. Don't let terror cause you to lose control of your bodily functions. I know of someone this happened to in the U.P., and he had to peel his longjohns in -10 degrees.
7. If you try to travel in the dark, flashlight or no, you're asking for it.
8. Don't worry about dying. Worry about how you're going to pay for the rescue when they find your foolish self.
9. Barring hypothermia, you can endure far more than you think you can. A man in good shape can go two weeks without food. Ask any high school wrestler.

10. If you really are going to die, do it with dignity.


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sounds like good advice to me.


Good advice Dave. I especially like #10. Make sure you have a will specifically dividing up your firearms among friends, relatives or guys like me. That should help slow down the fist fights at the funeral.

Walt Smith

You might also pay attention to where the sun sets in relation to your campsite/cabin the night before you go afield ,that way if you do have a problem and can see the sun setting you have a goodchance of making it to a familiar landmark or trail and you won't have to spend the night. This is what I did when my compass did a 180 on me in the U.P. I knew that the cabin was in line of where the sun set, not SE where my (U.S. issue) compass was showing. I followed the sunset and within a hour stepped out on one of our trails. Might not for everyone but it worked for me.

Matt Mallery

As far as #5 goes, if that guide sees my hatchet and decides he will not drop me off, then he can also promptly refund my money. I am not a cub scout, and I can make my own decisions about what gear to bring. Also, what is the logic of letting me have a gun and knife but no axe? This makes zero sense.

Ralph the Rifleman

Staying put and building a fire is one of the hardest things for most hunters to do; it signals defeat to some, but when I lived in ND, most of the hunters that died in the winter were residents.Probably thinking they knew where they were,and could handle the cold.Mother nature is unforgiving for the arrogant.


Good advice Dave, even for hunters like myself who hunt small properties.

I still carry a means to make a fire, a first aid kit, a compass, water,a cell phone (yes I know it won't reach out everywhere), a backup battery charger (from everyready) for the cellphone, and a backup flashlight that you crank for power instead of using batteries.

The one thing I always do is tell someone where I am hunting and I leave a note on my truck that says exactly what stand I will be in for the day. If I move, I make a call and tell someone where I am.


Dave, you just can't protect people from their own stupidity. #3 is a skill that goes a long way to undoing the bozo complex. Learn this at home before you need it. I can make fire with flint & steel but I want to learn to make and use a bowdrill. Seen it done, can't be rocket science.

Greg Morris

Ralph: my cellphone has saved my butt when I was lost, in the dark, with no flashlight and no means of starting a fire. I found my way back to the trail with it's meager light.

I figure if you are unable to get by with nothing but a compass, knife and flint, then you shouldn't be that deep in the wilderness anyway.

Matt Mallery

The fire bow and drill is a skill that is not impossible, but does take a lot of practice. My suggestion to to take a course that teaches it rather than learning from a book. After you have done it, you will also appreciate how difficult it is to craft the components just right and make the whole thing work under ideal circumstances, much less when you are cold, hungry, and stressed. Thinking about having to construct a firebow and drill in freezing weather is why I always carry matches and a fire striker and steel.


The closest to being lost I have been is when me and a buddy were fishing a 60 acre lake in central Florida. We weren't paying attention and it got dark. It was in an orange grove and the truck was parked behind one of the rows of orange trees. We ended up on the wrong side of teh lake and walked around ther lake for an hour before we found the truck. While this dosn't sound very bad you also must remember this lake is infested with snakes and alligators.


This article should be printed in the Magazine as a tear out. Should be taught at every hunter safety course.
With respect to the 'no hatchet' policy; definitely makes sense. You risk serious injury and use too much energy using an axe or hatchet compared to the benefit from it. A folding saw is best for breaking down firewood if necessary.

suburban bushwacker

I'm pitching my tent in the 'folding saw' camp.
stress, cold, and macho posturing are all known causes of axe-cedents.

I Don’t Know But I Been Told
TEEEENNNNN-HUT! Face front, you maggots! You’re not back home in Squirrelcrap Junction sipping sodie pops with Bobbie Jo Miniskirt! When you put on that uniform, you stepped into hell – MY hell! And if you disgrace that uniform, so help me I’ll disgrace your behind with my steel-cap boot! Stop crying for mommy! I’m your mommy now, and your daddy, and LBJ and Satan and the furious fist of God himself! And I’ll tell you a little secret: you twinkle-toed turds make me sick to my stomach! You’re about as useless as a diabetic at a pie-eating contest! I haven’t seen such a sorry pile of boobs since the last Madonna tour!

You think you’re ready for the Lenovo 3000 N Series Core Duo T2350 NoteBook? You think a pack of booger-eating genetic defectives like you could handle the Intel Core Duo processor, 120GB hard drive, and 1GB DDR2 RAM? Don’t make me laugh! Wasting this fine upstanding laptop on you chimpanzees would be like hanging the Mona Lisa in a septic tank! You expect me to put this integrated webcam, built-in Bluetooth, and fingerprint reader in your slimy paws? You wouldn’t know what to do with it! You sniveling snotballs can’t even take a dump without an instruction manual, a mirror, and a prayer! What’s the matter? Does the truth hurt your precious widdle feelings? If you can’t handle a few nasty words, how on Earth would you handle the Lenovo 3000 N Series Core Duo T2350 NoteBook? Now drop and give me $699.99!

Joe Nordin

Dave, whereabouts in the U.P. did the guy soil his skivvies? Do you do much hunting there?


I'm a pyrotechnician. I carry all kinds of amusing ways to make fire.
For hunting, the best for me is a bar of magnesium with a strip of built-in spark metal. Nothing to break and nothing damaged by water. All the same, it took numerous practice sessions to make it look easy. I'd take some pride in going out into my back yard with only a knife and start a fire with a bowdrill. What's 20-30 minutes when you're "geographically challenged?" Our hunting seasons are pretty much over by the time the really bad mountain WX sets in.

Clay Cooper

I assisted in teaching a lot of search and rescue courses. I always say, two items are a must! A magnesium fire starter and a bottle of Vaseline. Totally water proof! Yep, you guessed it, if your going to get screwed being lost you might as well make the best of it. To use the bottle of Vaseline, first you need a piece of cloth. A 2”x2”gun cleaning patch works great. Lay the cloth flat on a surface and apply enough Vaseline onto the cloth to saturate it. Then shave off a small amount of magnesium on to the patch. Not much just a pinch will do. Now use the striker to light it. You now have about 5-7 minutes of flame. Also you can use the Vaseline as a first aid cream.

Clay Cooper

If you think your lost, S.T.O.P.!

S- is for Stop!
T- is for Think!
O- is for Organize!
P- is for Plan!

Another little factoid. It’s not how in shape you are, it’s all mental. Why do kids last longer than adults? They are not thinking of giving up!

Dave in St Pete

8. Don't worry about dying. Worry about how you're going to pay for the rescue when they find your foolish self.

Please feel free to post ANY info on jackass hikers that have been charged!

I'm not against this practice, I would just like to see it applied across the board.

Mike Strehlow

In the old days, you were told that if you were ever really lost, and I mean lost in the sense that you will be frozen coyote chow if you don't do something soon, you should just find a dry dead tree (hopefully in a clearing) and set it on fire. You'll have to drag up a lot of brush and kindling around the tree to get it going, but hey, that's why God put it there. There are rangers in towers whose jobs it is to spot burning trees, and after they have come and put out the fire, you can hitch a ride home on their truck. If they are mad at you for lighting the fire, tell them they can bill you.

In these politically correct days, this suggestion will be as appealing as clubbing baby seals in hopes that their dying squeals will summon help, but you know the old saying; "It is better to be tried by twelve than it is to be frozen coyote chow."

Guess Who

David, I truly believe that you should have avoided this topic.

When it comes to survival, The Gun Nut is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Richard Grimes


Excellent post. I teach basic outdoor survival to 5th graders in my area. It revolves around three things. Stay put, have a large trash bag and have a whistle.

With STAY PUT being #1.

I can appreciate the people who add items to your list. We all have our own checklist. I call mine the 12 essentials and it has evolved for 40 years (and it's more than 12 things now too).

To the nay says, at least pack a Bible, God will give you mercy, Mother Nature does not give a damn about you!



Keep calm, keep warm, be smart. Bow drills are interesting, I guess. A few strike-anywhere matches with the head dipped in fingernail polish and stored in a plastic film canister, along with a small chunk of a fire-starter log will get your fire going, and takes up almost no room in your daypack.

Nomen Nescio

folding saws are nice, and might very well give more results for your effort (and their size and weight!) than axes do. but even so...

has it really got to the point where today's hunters and outdoorsmen just *can't* use an axe or hatchet safely? i thought i saw that skill discussed at great length in a "traditional scouting" resource not long ago. it was suggested this be taught to pre-teenage boys, for goodness sakes. now i'm being told grown men who want to spend time in the Alaskan wilds can't do it? even if a folding saw might make better sense, this still seems a sad kind of skill to be lacking.

Dave Petzal

To Joe Nordin: That story was told me by my old friend Norm Nelson, who hunted the UP with his family from the 40s through the 70s. One year, they invited a guest who had never hunted before and posted him a couple of miles from the cabin on a bitter cold morning with a stern warning not to leave his spot; they would come by and pick him up in a few hours.

But time went by and he got cold and tried to find his way back and sure enough, he got lost. When the realization sunk in, his sphincter went on vacation, and he took off his longjohns and hung them in a tree.

By a miracle he found a logging road, and a logging truck found him and got him back to civilization, but the longjohns stayed in the tree and became a landmark.

"I'll meet you by the s****y longjohns at 11."

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