Guide Outdoors: Hunkering Down

Camping 101: Hunkering Down

My SAR team was just getting ready to search one of the mountain valleys in a pass on Kodiak Island. It was late winter; there had been a storm the previous night and a hunter was overdue. As we were slinging our survival packs onto our shoulders, a figure appeared, trudging toward us in the snow. Rather than stumbling through the the cold night, the hunter had decided to wait it out – he had hunkered down.

Someone once said that the difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.  For many outdoor enthusiasts, the adventure might be camping, hunting, canoeing, backpacking or other backcountry pleasures. Challenges arise when injuries/illness occurs, gear breaks, gets washed away or the weather simply goes sour. In the last case, at least, you can make sure all your camp is secure, settle in and hunker down.

The challenge to this scenario is whether or not you have provisions for an extra night in the woods, or if your gear is adequate for shelter and warmth. There are all levels of hunkering, depending on what you’ve brought along or can jury-rig from your surroundings. In that sense, your level of “hunkering” is directly related to your level of self-reliant skills.

Hunkering down, in it’s mildest form might be no more than enduring extended hands of gin rummy sitting out a wind-lashing cloudburst during your annual escape to your fishing cabin. At the other end, it might be a rather boring session on your haunches crammed into the back of a lean-to along the hiking trail. In either case, it’s a matter of simply waiting out the storm.

Anticipating a “hunkering” might mean you consider certain clothing or extra gear you might not normally carry or feel you’ll need on your specific outing. Since, however, being ready for emergencies should be part of your preparation anyway, you should have basic necessities to ward off exposure – and the major threats (hypothermia, dehydration) – that are crucial to your survival.

For the hunter in the opening example, our SAR coordinator had learned he was an experienced Alaskan hunter,  was respected as a capable outdoorsman and knew the area well. While we went in prepared for dealing with the worse case scenario, we also sensed that perhaps this was just a case of someone wisely deciding it was simply time to hunker down.

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