Aside from needing stitches on a couple of occasions and experiencing a few scary "where-the-heck-am-I?" moments, I've been pretty lucky in the outdoors. Most of us are, to be honest.
From chance encounters with venomous snakes to negotiating sheer cliffs to carrying sharp sticks up mountainsides, the potential dangers for the adventurous bowhunter are many.
These, of course, are all outside dangers and don't include the little time bombs inside our bodies that could go off at any moment — including those moments when you're six miles from the nearest trailhead and a lifetime away from the nearest cell tower.
The odds are low that anything will go seriously wrong, just like when we drive down the road to pick up our children at daycare. However, knowing that we are most likely safe doesn't keep us from fastening our seatbelts in that situation, just as knowing that every time we set foot in the woods we'll probably make it home just fine doesn't excuse being prepared for the one time when it shakes out all wrong.
Anyone traveling into serious backcountry, whether we're talking Arizona or Alaska, needs to have a way to communicate with emergency services. This might involve carrying a satellite phone, or these days, a SPOT Gen3 from Globalstar — a company that produces a litany of useful outdoor products including some handy tracking devices.
The set-it-and-forget-it Gen3 operates on four AAA batteries and can be programmed to send a continually updating record of your tracks. If you choose the Unlimited Tracking route, you can opt to send your tracks every five, 10, 30 or 60 minutes as long as your Gen3 is on and you're moving. Opt for "Extreme Tracking", and you can vary your track rate to send as often as every 2 1/2 minutes.
Of course, the Gen3 can do more than track your progress through grizzly country. It can also call help for you with the push of a button, should you run into a feisty, cub-protecting sow or take a bone-busting tumble. Through GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center, this handy little device will provide your GPS coordinates to 9-1-1 responders.
You can also simply check in with the Gen3 (the device will send a text message and your GPS coordinates or an email with a link to Google maps showing your location) to let your loved ones know that you're doing okay despite being well away from cell service. With a retail price of $170 and a weight of only four ounces, there are very few reasons to not carry a Gen3 on your bowhunting adventures.
Connected Anywhere, Anytime
It's pretty common for a group of hunters to rent a satellite phone for far-flung, bucket-list hunts. While that's a great idea, it might not be necessary any longer thanks to the SPOT Global Phone. At $500, this phone is inexpensive enough to split between a few members of your bowhunting party and it's truly cheap insurance.
The Global Phone operates off of 100-percent satellite technology meaning you can connect to family, friends or emergency services from literally anywhere in the world.
Measuring a shade over five inches tall and two inches wide, this 7.1-ounce phone is ideal for extended trips to the areas least traveled. To ensure you'll be able to connect when it matters most, the Global Phone operates off of a lithium-ion battery that can provide up to four hours of talk time, or 36 hours on standby.
A Safe Investment
We often view products like the Gen3 or the Global Phone as a necessity only for hunters who board planes to fly to distant destinations. Certainly, they need a way to stay connected, but what about you? Personally, having grown up in the Upper Midwest, I've always felt like I have been pretty safe in the woods. When I started hunting the true big woods of the North Country in my home state of Minnesota and across the river in Wisconsin, however, that changed.
There is no place I know of where it is easier to get lost than when you're slogging through tamarack swamps and the relatively flat, thick, no-high-point-in-sight places where swamp bucks and ruffed grouse thrive. Ditto for the hunter setting out in the Adirondacks at first light or the Deep South bowhunter looking to fill his tag well off of the beaten path.
Cell service in those areas and countless others might be iffy at best, and while you should always carry a GPS unit (and an old-fashioned compass) to mark waypoints and find your way home, it's worth carry extra insurance. After all, the GPS doesn't do you much good if you fall from a treestand and snap both ankles or happen to stumble into a testy water moccasin's sleeping quarters and need help from emergency responders.
We often feel like it can't happen, until it does. Being prepared with the right equipment is the best way to ensure that you'll see your loved ones again.