The image of the lone hunter, moving quietly and confidently through the woods, appeals to everyone who ventures out in search of game.
Government officials trotted that image out in April, during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. They urged people to practice social distancing by turkey hunting.
Six months later, with the virus still among us, the fall hunting seasons beckon. Many of us will don our hunting clothes, shoulder our day packs, pick up our bows or firearms and take to the woods alone.
Most of us will have a great time, but some of us will come to grief.
We’ll sprain ankles, fall out of tree stands or get lost in dense fog. If we head into the woods prepared, chances are we’ll be OK. If not … well, we might not be OK.
John Akers, a phone company retiree from Charleston, has been there.
Once, in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains, Akers made arrangements for friends to pick him up at a chosen rendezvous point.
“We got a storm that dumped 6 to 8 inches of snow on the ground,” he recalled. “I was late getting to the rendezvous. I saw tire tracks there and realized my friends had already been there and left.”
Akers didn’t panic. “I had everything I needed to stay the night there,” he said.
He realized, though, that most people don’t.
Perhaps that’s why, when he decided to write a novel, he wrote a story of extreme survival. His 2017 book, “West of the Midnight Sun,” grippingly centers on a man’s struggle to survive after a plane crash in a subarctic wilderness.
The book’s theme has proven popular with readers. Every reader who rated it on Amazon has given it five stars. One commented that if he were ever lost in a wilderness, he would want Akers there to help him survive.
At a recent Lewisburg Literary Festival, Akers said several readers stopped by to say the book made them more aware that an outing in the woods could turn unsafe in a hurry.
“I was a little surprised to hear that what they got out of the book was that they needed to be prepared in case something simple happened, such as a sprained ankle,” he added.
Cellphones, Global Positioning System units and other marvels of modern electronics tend to lull folks into complacency. “If something goes wrong out there, I’ll just call someone” is two things: It’s lazy, and it’s dangerous.
In West Virginia, cell-phone service can be unreliable. Dead spots abound, and signals degrade due to heavy cloud cover, lightning, rain, snow, ice and even high humidity.
Akers said he believes it’s wise to have a few low-tech items on hand when high-tech gadgets don’t work.
“In my day pack, I always keep a book of matches, and I waterproof the matches by dipping their tips in melted wax,” he said. “I carry a little bit of fire starter in a Ziploc bag, and a 3-inch piece of white candle. Also, I always carry one of those aluminized [Mylar] survival blankets, a roll of string and a plastic garbage bag. Those things weigh next to nothing, but they can keep you dry and warm.”
For the other absolute wilderness necessity — water — Akers carries a Life Straw, a filtered straw that allows him to safely drink from streams, ponds or even puddles.
“Those things will keep you alive long enough for someone to find you,” he said. “People tend to lose their common sense when they get lost or hurt in the woods, because they haven’t been in that situation before. Having a few simple survival tools on hand can help them focus on what they need to do to stay alive.”