Saturday, September 26, 2015

John Sain was alone, bow hunting for elk in a remote wilderness of central Idaho when his foot slipped between two downed trees and he fell, breaking his lower leg.

It's the kind of accident that can happen in a heartbeat. But it's also the kind of accident that can end your life.

In Sain's case, the fact that he was alone, with no cell phone or any other means of communication with the outside world, miles from nowhere, and with a badly broken leg almost brought him to the point of ending his own life.

For four days, Sain crawled painfully toward a trail where he hoped someone would find him. But eventually, he got to the point that he almost gave up hope. "It's just the bottom line," he said. "Do I want to suffer or do I just want to get it done with. And at one point, I was reaching for my pistol, asking the Lord for forgiveness."

After thinking about it, Sain gave up on the idea of suicide. Instead, he fashioned a splint out of sticks and strips of ripped cloth. He had a little food, a water filter, and a small survival kit, so he was able to build a fire each night to stay warm.

Each day, he crawled, dragging his mangled leg behind him. On the second day, after crawling three miles, he reached a trail. He scrawled the word "Help" in the dirt, and hoped someone would come along and find him. As luck would have it, some motorcyclists took a wrong turn and ended up on the trail where John Sain lay in agony. One of the riders used a cell phone to call for help, then cut down some trees so a rescue helicopter would be able to land nearby.

Sain ended up in the hospital, where he was treated for hypothermia and dehydration — the conditions commonly listed as "exposure" that kill most casualties of outdoor accidents.

When asked, Sain said that he will hunt alone again, but next time he will take a satellite phone or GPS tracking device so he can call for help if necessary.

Those devices are good to carry, but what if the accident were to render him unconscious so he couldn't use the satellite phone or even press the rescue button on the GPS locator beacon? Here's my advice:

  • Never go into the wilderness alone. Always hunt or fish or hike or whatever with someone else who would be capable of rendering assistance in case of an accident. 
  • Always file a plan with loved ones or trusted friends back home. The plan should include information about where you're going, how long you're going to be there, and when you should be expected to return. That way, if you don't show up on schedule, a rescue effort can be launched. 
  • Carry communication devices appropriate for the location you're going to be in. Cell coverage might not exist, so a sat phone or GPS tracker might save your life. 
  • Always be prepared to stay longer than you think the trip will take. A small stumble can instantly change your plans, extending your stay in the wilds by days or longer. 
  • Prepare for unexpected changes in the weather. Carry overnight shelter even if you think you're only going to be out there for a day hike or single day hunt. 
  • Watch where you put your feet, always expecting that bark might slip off the log you're stepping on, or the rocks might roll beneath your feet. Don't put yourself in a position to become trapped and injured.