SURVIVING A MEDICAL EMERGENCY WHEN YOU’RE IN THE FIELD DEMANDS A BASIC UNDERSTANDING OF FIRST-AID PROCEDURES AND THE RIGHT SURVIVAL GEAR
Wilderness hunts require tremendous survival preparation, everything from securing tags and scouting to setting up camps and practicing with your rifle. For most hunters, though, this is all a labor of love, an essential part of the backcountry experience.
Perhaps you’ll be working with a team of close friends, a guide, or an outfitter, or maybe you’re planning on hunting solo. Whichever way you go, a wilderness hunt can be an unforgettable adventure. For a small percentage of hunters each year, though, backcountry hunts turn into a nightmare.
It can happen in an instant: a misstep in steep, rocky country; an errant slip of a sharp skinning knife; a plunge through ice that was too thin to cross.
Medical emergencies are not reserved for wilderness hunts. You could be injured in the woodlot behind your house or during a casual afternoon of glassing during the off-season.
The decisions made in the minutes and hours that follow an injury might mean the difference between life and death, and if you are unprepared and unequipped to respond rapidly in these situations, the results could be devastating.
Whether you’re close to home or far from civilization, you need to be prepared to survive in these instances, and that requires the right knowledge and tools.
Kerry and Lynn Davis founded Dark Angel Medical in 2011, and their company provides survival trauma kits and in-the-field medical training to thousands of military and law enforcement professionals and civilians each year.
Chief Instructor Ross Francis was a Navy Corpsman who was attached to a Marine Corps infantry unit and was the Emergency Medical Services Program Director at the Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan.
With their decades of combined experience, the Dark Angel Medical team knows how to keep people alive under the worst circumstances.
We all hope to never find ourselves in the midst of a medical emergency while in the field, but if you’re a hunter you assume a level of risk with each new adventure. You need to have the survival knowledge and tools available to save a life – maybe your own.
A hunter falls into an icy river.
Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat more quickly than it can be replaced, and the results can be deadly. The key in this situation, according to Ross Francis, is to rewarm the body as quickly as possible.
“Rewarming is difficult if shelter and a fire are not nearby,” he says. “You’ll want to remove the wet clothing and replace with dry layers if possible. A space blanket or wool blanket is an excellent option. If you do not have shelter, you can create a fire to warm the individual, and if you do not have dry survival clothing for them or you are unable to start a fire, skin to skin contact under a blanket may be your only option.”
Francis says its vitally important to remain aware of the individuals mental state and to determine whether they can be rewarmed in the field or if you’ll need additional help.
“Constantly assess their ability to remember common things like names, what they were doing, where they are, and so forth. Get them to warmth immediately and consider calling emergency services if their condition does not improve.”
While hiking, a hunter slips and falls and cannot bear weight on their foot.
One bad step in rough country can lead to serious problems, especially if you are far from medical treatment. You’ll need to assess not only the injury but also the logistics involved in getting the hunter out of the field.
“Depending on the proximity of emergency services and the terrain and weather, the hunter may need to self-extricate,” Francis says. “In this case, it would be best for the victim to immobilize the injured leg as much as possible, making sure to stabilize the entire foot and ankle all the way to the knee and potentially, as far as the hip. Almost anything can be a good survival splint: tree branches, the internal or external frames of a pack, or lightweight manufactured splints.”
“If the victim must cover large areas to extricate, or the weather is inclement its best to leave footwear and clothing in place for protection from the elements. However, if there are any open wounds or bones protruding from the skin, they must be dressed and covered to prevent the spread of infection. Standard gauze or other types of manufactured bandages are preferred, but one can also use a shirt cloth or whatever they have on hand.”
A hunter becomes dehydrated during a strenuous hunt.
Hard hunts that require a lot of hiking and climbing can rob the body of fluids at a rapid rate, especially at higher altitudes where the humidity is very low. This is most obvious when hunting in hot environments, but dehydration is a risk anywhere and at any time of the year. Sweating—the body’s natural method of heat regulation—can result in a loss of fluids and electrolytes, setting the stage for a potentially dangerous situation.
“As the exertion and dehydration worsen, the hunter will begin to feel weak, dizzy, nauseous, and may develop a headache and muscle cramps,” Francis says. “At this point, the hunter is suffering from heat exhaustion—the loss of electrolytes and fluid due to dehydration and overexertion.”
“Should the hunter continue to ignore these symptoms, the body will quickly overheat and heat stroke will set in, causing increased and potentially debilitating confusion, lethargy, and unconsciousness. The body is so overheated that the brain is cooking’ inside the head.”
“Heat stroke is classified as the loss of electrolytes and fluid, in the presence of dehydration, overexertion, and a core body temperature greater than 104 degrees Fahrenheit” Heat stroke can be lethal, ignoring the symptoms can have tragic consequences.”
“A hunter with heat stroke must receive medical care or get emergency services to them as quickly as possible. Field treatments include removing the victim from out of the sun, putting wet towels or, preferably, ice packs around the sides and back of the victim’s neck, under their armpits, and in the groin area. Allow the victim to drink small sips of water only if they are conscious enough to talk and swallow. Electrolyte-rich solutions that are low in sugar are preferred.”
A hunter comes upon an unconscious person in the woods. It appears they have fallen from a treestand.
Falls from treestands can be lethal. Unfortunately, hunters die as a result of these injuries every year. If you encounter this situation. Francis says the first step is to try to make communication with the individual, letting him or her know you are there to help.
“If the hunter does not respond to your calls, be wary of a possible spinal injury. Assess for any bleeding. If none is found, open the victim’s airway with a jaw thrust maneuver and assist with breathing if they do not start on their own. Take extra precautions to ensure you don’t move the injured person’s head unnecessarily. Contact emergency services immediately and leave the victim where they lie.”
In some rare survival instances, it may be necessary to relocate the individual, and if this is the case, you must proceed with caution. “If the victim must be moved, ensure the airway is kept open and reassess frequently and minimize movement of the head, if possible.”
You are field-dressing an animal and the blade of your knife slips, resulting in a deep laceration on your arm.
Deep cuts can cause extensive bleeding, and this is why it is absolutely critical to have a trauma kit in the field. Your first priority, Kerry Davis says, is to examine the location and severity of the wound.
“Apply direct pressure first,” Davis says. “If the cut is bleeding heavily, and that isn’t stopped with direct pressure, you need to apply a tourniquet, whether it has bright red, pulsing, spurting blood or not.” Most field trauma kits contain tourniquets, but a belt or a rope will work in an emergency.
“Current guidelines state a tourniquet shall be placed approximately four inches above the wound, or above a joint if it falls close to the four-inch mark and the source Deep cuts can cause extensive bleeding, and this is why it is absolutely critical to have a trauma kit in the field. Your first priority, Kerry Davis says, is to examine the location and severity of the wound.”
“Apply direct pressure first,” Davis says. “If the cut is bleeding heavily, and that isn’t stopped with direct pressure, you need to apply a tourniquet, whether it has bright red, pulsing, spurting blood of the blood is readily visible, or be placed as high on the extremity as possible. Either survival method is acceptable, and in the event of a life-threatening wound, the tourniquet is absolutely necessary.”
Once the bleeding is under control using direct pressure, you’ll need to cover the injury with a gauze or bandage. If those items aren’t available, Davis says that any clean material can be used. Once the bleeding has stopped, you need to continually monitor the wound for re-bleeding and to start making efforts to get to a hospital for further treatment.
A hunter reaches up onto an unseen rock and is bitten by a venomous snake.
Snakes are a threat during the warmer months in many hunting areas. Often-times, the potential damage from a snake-bite is compounded by inaccessibility to prompt medical services. The best method to prevent a snakebite is to avoid potential risks by stepping on top of and then over fallen logs, avoiding dense vegetation where visibility is limited, and never placing hands in areas where snakes might be hiding.
If this fails and you or your hunting companion are bitten, you’ll need to act quickly. The first step, Francis says, is to leave the area. Once you are safely away from the snake, the best thing that a victim can do is remain calm, control their breathing, and seek emergency care. “If possible, don’t allow the victim to move under their own power, which increases the heart rate and spreads the venom more quickly. However, if you are alone, get to help however you can.”
“Envenomation should be assumed for all snakebites, even if the signs and SHOTGUN READY symptoms are not immediate (these include burning pain at the bite, swelling, possible metallic taste in the mouth. and difficulty breathing).”
“Field treatment includes dressing the wound to prevent further infection, keeping the affected area below the heart if possible, and potentially immobilizing the limb to prevent gross movement, which will spread the venom more quickly. The only definitive survival treatment can be provided in a hospital, so the victim must get to the closest emergency room as soon as possible.”
A diabetic hunter seems confused and irritable.
If you know that you are hunting with someone who is a diabetic, learn to recognize the symptoms of uncontrolled blood sugar. Resolving blood sugar problems might be as simple as offering them something to eat, so be sure to pack plenty of snack foods. According to Francis, its important to recognize early symptoms of blood sugar irregularities, such as increased urination, excessive thirst, blurred vision, and altered mental status.”
“If unrecognized or untreated, irregular blood sugar levels may cause the individual to become unconscious, which is a true emergency,” Francis says. “Contact emergency services if they do not improve with food or if they become unconscious while out in the wilderness.”
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS SPOT GLOBAL SATELLITE PHONE
Survival situations often depend on your ability to reach help, and in many areas the only communication option is a satellite phone.
SPOT Global Satellite Phone features a backlit color display with four-line, 12-character LCD and illuminated buttons for making calls in complete darkness.
This phone comes with a U.S. – based number and offers excellent voice quality and fast handheld data speeds that will allow you to connect quickly from even the most remote areas when you need assistance.
Battery life is four hours of talk time (36 hours on standby). The phone itself is just over five inches long and weighs seven ounces, so it doesn’t add a lot of bulk to your pack.
This phone will act as your lifeline to emergency care if you are injured or lost in the wilderness.
The cost for the phone itself is $499. This does not include satellite service, which is provided by Globalstar. The phone must be activated online before using it in the field.
While stalking game in brush, a hunter turns and is jabbed in the eye by a stick, suffering immediate pain and bleeding.
Eye injuries are a constant hazard for hunters. When these injuries occur, you must make sure to take all steps possible to prevent further damage, and that requires quick action. “The first priority of treatment is to stop the bleeding and protect the eyeball itself from further damage,” Francis says.
“A large gauze pad or roll should be placed directly against the eye, tight enough to prevent further bleeding but not so tight as to cause pain and discomfort. If other hunters are present, the victims unaffected eye can also be covered to ease visual strain and movement of the injured eye caused by movement of the one which is uninjured.”
DARK ANGEL – D.A.R.K. KIT
Dark Angel Medical has designed a compact emergency trauma kit for outdoor enthusiasts. Known as the D.A.R.K. (Direct Action Response Kit), it contains color-matched trauma shears, vacuum-sealed nitrile gloves, HALO seals, one four-inch Israeli bandage, gauze, a Mylar blanket, Ten Tac-Med Tips Assessment Card, and much more.
Multiple colors are available, and you can upgrade the kit to include rip shears, a decompression needle, and many more items depending upon your needs. The Gen 3 nylon pouch is compact and keeps all the items readily accessible, and there are multiple attachment options for carrying the survival kit in the field.
Each of the kits is customizable, so you can purchase a D.A.R.K. that is designed with the features and accessories you want and is light enough and small enough that it can be easily transported in the field while still providing the tools needed to survive an emergency situation.
See a selection of First Aid Kits at Amazon.com.