It was just going to be an evening hunt, but it inadvertently ended up being an overnight trip. It so happened just a few years ago on an overcast autumn evening, I was headed up into the hills on a high-country station to photograph a stag.
My Labrador and I left the wagon at the end of a farm track in a saddle and climbed and then circled around onto a flat-topped spur that overlooked a deep scrub and bush filled valley.
It was a gully where I had often seen a deer or two most times or even several on one occasion. I had the rifle in case the opportunity for a wild pig or a good venison deer such as a scrubby stag chanced along, after a photo or two.
I sat on a spur that descended steeply into the gully and roared and waited. Soon, I spotted a curious stag. He was not roaring back but just quietly sneaking in towards me. As he got closer, I saw it was a spindly eight pointer. I was engrossed in photographing the stag when suddenly I noticed the descending cloud and the rapidly fading light.
Ten minutes later, the dwindling light was bordering on darkness, so I rummaged in my pack for my torch. Good grief, there was no torch!
The fog had descended engulfing man and dog. It became dark. I hurried on, feverishly but not frantically. The fog gently swirled around, and I headed uphill. Then I encountered some bluffs and the fog had moistened the rock faces making it potentially slippery.
I thought things over and the more I did so, the more I thought I should not go on. So, I prepared for a long night. I felt in my pack and located two priceless items, though one only cost $2. It was a light plastic poncho. The other was a heavy-duty orange coloured plastic survival tube.
I settled in for a long night and a long night it was. My Labrador snuggled in and I was thankful for the warmth. Morning eventually came after a fitful night’s sleep punctuated by a southerly change and showers. In the dawn’s first light, I eased cramped limbs into action and made it back to the 4WD wagon.
The experience showed the value of having a few basic essentials as long as you don’t leave them at home, such as I did with the torch. The survival tube is a must and it’s so light.
I almost always wear my Bush Ridge polar fleece jacket. It’s like a jersey but if it’s warm, I roll it up and stow it in my pack. But inevitably, I’ll don it once the sun goes. Polar fleece clothing is wonderful for not retaining moisture and in its rapidly drying quality.
Make sure a functioning torch – even just an AA battery one – or a headlamp is in the pack. Reverse the top battery when not in use so the torch is not accidentally turned on, making the batteries dead. Some chaps just tape the switch to ‘off’. Even a couple of spare batteries wouldn’t go amiss.
I carry two torches, a cheap AA one plus the headlamp. That way, I’ve got back-up batteries and a back-up bulb.
My policy is if it’s not taking up any significant weight, having a plan B is a good insurance policy.
I carry an extra spare knife (Mercator type) in my emergency kit; again, as a sort of insurance. A hunting companion once shot a deer and then discovered from his pack that he had left his knife at home. Any spare knife, even a pocketknife, would have been better than nothing. But the flat Mercator style knife is relatively light and does the trick.
Being benighted could happen a second time. And in case of an accident, carrying an emergency locator beacon is a must.
It’s easy to be cavalier about going for a hunt at first light or into the evening. Just slip a few rounds in your pocket, put your wee digital camera in another pocket, knife attached to your belt, and away you go. But if it’s an evening to dusk hunt and you don’t have a torch and night falls, then you’re struggling. Without a survival tube for starters, you’re due for an extra miserable night. Worse still, if conditions are cold, unprepared, you’re a potential target for hypothermia.
You need a pack with a few of those essentials. To not do so is courting disaster or at the least an unpleasant experience. So before you head out, double-check your day pack and contents just to make sure you haven’t left your torch behind.