Winter travel is always risky. We could lose our way in a whiteout, slide off the road, get stuck, blow a tire or kill the battery. While seeking help we could suffer a heart attack, a broken leg, or frostbite. Yet some drivers heedlessly head out unprepared in case things should go wrong.
The latest driver to survive in spite of his foolhardiness is a 46-year-old Winnipeg corrections officer who spent 23 days lost in dense bush near Steinbach, Manitoba after he went deer hunting alone in his F-150 Ford pickup.
He had set out Nov.15 for a day of hunting intending to be home by dark. He drove along a snowmobile trail until his truck got stuck in ice. Soon he was hopelessly lost walking in a maze of branching trails.
Dozens of searchers including police and planes were unable to locate even his black truck until weeks later when he gave them directions.
Before starting out he had stopped in Marchand to buy supplies. Yet for those three weeks he had only melted snow and one apple to sustain him. No media has reported what supplies he might have bought in Marchand.
He spent nights in his truck, without heat after his gasoline, battery and matches ran out on the fifth day. The night of Nov. 26 the temperature dropped to -26°C.
During the day he tramped around trying to make himself visible to any search planes, and started brush fires in an effort to alert searchers, until he used up all his matches. He never saw any animal that he might have shot for food, not even a rabbit.
Why he went hunting alone, ill prepared to drive clogged trails through thick bush, is baffling.
His truck offered him oodles of cargo space for survival gear. Still all he had along was a mirror (bush canopy was too dense for the mirror to be effective), an extra pair of socks, gloves, a cell phone (probably with scarce minutes left and no backup batteries, given his boy scout preparedness), matches and a flashlight.
Websites such as Gary Clancy’s Hunting Tips advise carrying a plentiful supply of both lighters and waterproof matches packaged to keep them dry, as well as cotton balls soaked in vaseline as fire starters.
Candles to ward off hypothermia and frostbite would have worked in his truck cab. A knife. Blankets or a space blanket that folds to wallet size. Food such as Trail Mix and energy bars. Bottled water.
A whistle (three toots is a standard distress signal). A compass, GPS, flashlight and cell phone all with spare batteries. Surveyor’s tape to mark a trail. And a ground sheet and cord for a shelter.
News media reported this hunter’s cell phone was found lying along a road.
If you need special medications, carry an extended supply of those. And take along iodine purification tablets in case you end up drinking from puddles.
Wilderness survival instructors advocate letting friends know where you plan to go and when you expect to return. (This man seems to have done neither.) Always go with a partner, and if possible, a second vehicle. (Someone experienced with Manitoba’s impenetrable bush advises installing a winch on your truck.) Anytime you leave your vehicle, carry a backpack or fannypack with survival gear (compass, GPS, cell phone, fire starting material etc).
On Dec. 10 as he made his way along a road he was picked up by an ice fisher and given a ride into Marchand where he bought a sub sandwich and a Gatorade before being medically checked at a hospital.
Doctors declared him to be fine except for losing 40 pounds, complaining of damaged feet and numb fingertips. Next day searchers recovered his truck.
Luck, not planning, saved his life.