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How to avoid getting lost in the woods

A grouse hunter moves through a dense aspen stand in Northeastern Minnesota. News Tribune file photo

Grouse hunting is, by its nature, a walk in the woods. A couple of recent lost-hunter incidents, one in Pine County and another near Remer, serve as reminders that hunters can sometimes find themselves turned around. Both of those incidents involved hunters being lost for multiple days and requiring rescue.

With that in mind, here are some tips on how not to get lost grouse hunting, from David "Swede" Johnson, a regional director for the Ruffed Grouse Society from River Falls, Wis.

What you take with you when you go into the woods can make all the difference. Here's what Johnson takes when he ventures into the woods:

• A pin-on compass on his vest

• A surveyor's compass in his vest pocket

• A Garmin Oregon handheld GPS

• A butane lighter

• A lightweight rain poncho (could double as rudimentary shelter)

• Two 32-ounce water bottles

• Clif Bars or other energy foods

• A Leatherman or similar multi-tool (for removing porcupine quills from his dog)

Why two compasses? In case the needle on the vest compass sticks, Johnson said. (And because sometimes a lost hunter doesn't believe the first compass.)

Before he enters the woods, Johnson tries to orient himself with some major feature — a road, a railroad, a pipeline — that he could walk toward if he becomes disoriented. As long as he knows, for instance, where an east-west road lies, he could walk north or south to find it.

That plan could be complicated if a major swamp lies between a hunter and his known geographical feature. But much of the time, it works.

Johnson doesn't use his GPS to navigate while he's hunting.

"I use it to mark the vehicle, and then shut it off," he said. "I just want to go where the cover takes me. Then, if I can't figure out where I'm at, I'll use the Garmin to get back to the vehicle."

Getting found

A cell phone can be helpful if you become lost, said Aaron Albertson with the St. Louis County Rescue Squad, which answers lost-hunter calls each fall. If you have cell service, and if your phone hasn't run out of battery power, use it to call 911. In many cases, the 911 service can get your location from your cell phone when you call, Albertson said.

Or, if you have a GPS device with you, tell the 911 operator your coordinates. That will help rescuers reach you sooner.

Also, Albertson said, if possible let someone know where you'll be hunting. It's especially helpful if the information you leave with that person includes the starting point of your hunt — a specific trailhead or the nearest road junction. That tells rescuers where to start searching.

"Since GPS and cell phones have become so popular, our lost-hunter calls have gone down dramatically," Albertson said. "People are able to carry maps on their phones now. Having a good map and a compass with you is a huge thing."

And, finally, if you become lost, stay in one place, Albertson said.

"Especially if we have your location, we generally want you to stay put, and we'll come to you," he said.

By staying put, a lost person stays warm and conserves energy, he said.

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