Hunting is a safe activity, but every year hunters find themselves deeper in the woods than they expected and longer than they planned. Fall hunting season also comes with fall weather, which in Idaho means anything from 70s to sub freezing, and sometimes within hours of each other.
Mix in snow and rain, pursuing game into more rugged and remote places than you would normally go, and you can get yourself into precarious situations.
For those reasons, it’s smart for hunters to carry survival gear. But don’t think of it as strictly stuff you use in a worst-case scenario. You can also use it during your normal hunts and still have it if things go sideways.
You don’t have to carry everything listed here on every hunt, but these are valuable items for many purposes.
Lighters: They’re cheap, light and don’t take up much space, so get a bunch of them. Carry one in your pocket, another in your day pack, and have spares in your vehicle. You’re constantly needing a lighter to start a campfire, light a stove or lantern so try have one or two with you. Remember inexpensive lighters that get saturated won’t ignite, so stash one in a waterproof container.
Fire starter: Don’t expect to always find dry wood. Buy some fire starter or make your own. Don’t feel like it’s only for emergencies. Fire starters are good for campfires, and you can make a small fire in the field and heat up a lunch or hot drink. Bring a small pot or metal cup to heat water.
Compass: Even if you carry a GPS, have a compass. A GPS is electronic and requires batteries, which means it can fail. A compass is more reliable. Use it at the start of each hunt to orient yourself to certain landmarks so you can reference them later.
Space blanket: These work for emergency shelter, but you can also use them to lay meat to keep it clean when you’re quartering or butchering in the field. A word of caution: don’t wrap meat in them for transport. Space blankets are designed to retain heat, and you’re trying to cool the meat.
Signal whistle: These are small, cheap and lightweight. A couple quick blasts will get someone’s attention, and the sound carries farther than shouting. Handy for locating your hunting buddy.
Wide-mouth, plastic water bottle: Even if you use a water bladder in your pack, have a plastic bottle to stash other items inside to keep them dry and protected. You can fill the bottle from any water source when you’re butchering an animal so you don’t sacrifice drinking water to clean up.
Spare long-john shirt and socks: Changing into a dry shirt and/or socks makes a huge difference on a cold, wet day. Store them in a heavy duty, waterproof plastic bag. A one-gallon zip-top bag can also carry water, or carry a heart and liver so your pack doesn’t get bloody.
Lightweight rain jacket: Wearing a fully waterproof jacket and get you sweaty during a hike, so many hunters opt for more breathable jackets. A lightweight raincoat will keep you dry in heavy rain. It might only get used once or twice a season, but it can save you from getting drenched.
Parachute cord/rope: Comes in handy for a variety of things, such as hanging quarters or dragging an animal. In an emergency you can use it to build a shelter.
Instant soup, hot beverages: Hot soup, hot chocolate, tea or instant coffee can warm you up on a cold day and provide an energy boost.
High-energy food: There are so many energy bars and similar calorie-dense foods on the market that you can carry a lot of calories without much weight or bulk. Carry some extras for those unexpected, prolonged outings. You might also try a military MRE. They’re a little heavy and bulky, but if pull the main course and the heating packet you can have a hot meal that provides a lot of calories.