Outdoor Survival – a Rule of Threes

My hunting buddy and I scouted this area months before, it looks a bit different in the fall without any leaves as when it did in the summer, all lush and green.

We part ways at o dark thirty and I make my way along a logging road to the spot I’d picked out.

I’ve been sitting for hours. There is still a lot of afternoons left but I’m hungry and it’s well past lunchtime.

A few hours after first light I’d decided to sit a bit further upwind. I’d left my spot and made my way deeper into the woods. Taking note of landmarks as I’d forgotten my compass in the truck.

1:04 pm: I decide to climb down from my rock perch and head back to the truck. I’d walked in from the left so if I head left I’ll hit the logging road.

1:21 pm: Can’t remember how long it took to get to my rock perch once I’d cut in off the road, it should be coming up soon. Check my phone but the battery’s almost dead. Stupid crappy phone, should’ve sprung for the nicer one with a better battery. Pretty confident I know where I’m going.

1:44 pm: I’m starting to feel a bit concerned, I’m pretty sure I should have hit the road by now. I stop to get my bearings, up ahead and to the right, I see a huge outcropping of lannon stone. I breathe a sigh of relief as I sort of remember passing that.

2:19 pm: Ok, starting to get WAY MORE concerned here. I’m pretty sure I must’ve veered off somewhere so I turn around and try to retrace my steps. I pull out my phone and try to get GPS to load but I can’t get a decent signal. As I wait I get the “Battery Alert; less than 15% of battery life remaining”. Message. Disgusted, I turn it off.

2:58 pm: Ok, this is ridiculous, this public land isn’t THAT big, a couple of square miles, I must’ve gotten turned around again. I stop, take a breath and try to figure out where the sun is behind the murky clouds obscuring the sky. I think it’s ahead and to the right. So that must be west right? I think of the map, we headed east into the forest so if I head due west I’ll at least come out on the hwy.

4:36 pm: Full blown panic. I’ve been lost for 4 ½ hours, my phone’s dead, the sun has just about set and I can’t find my goddam way out. WTF?

5:21 pm: Complete meltdown. The temps are falling quickly, last night it got down to about 16 degrees, my blaze orange suit is warm but not THAT warm!

Most of us like to think that we’d stay clear-headed in the face of an outdoor crisis situation. But the truth of the matter is you don’t know until you are actually in that situation. If you keep the “Rule of Threes” in mind; it may just save your life.


  1. Don’t panic – 2 seconds of running in the wrong direction can get you hopelessly turned around in the woods.
  2. Without oxygen, you cannot live more than 3 minutes without permanent brain damage.
  3. If you’re exposed to extreme temperatures, you will have about 3 hours to find some sort of shelter to get warm before permanent damage is done to your body.


  1. An average person cannot live more than 3 days without water.
  2. However, you CAN live up to 3 weeks without food.
  3. 3 puffs of a smoky fire are the signal for SOS, as well as 3 short bursts of a whistle.

QUESTION: What survival tips would you give to someone who was lost?

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11 thoughts on “Outdoor Survival – a Rule of Threes

  1. I specifically bought a gutting knife with a place in the handle to hold matches and a compass. If I’m hunting, its always with me. Good tips CarrieZ

  2. Daniel Boone once said, “I’ve never been lost, but once I was confused for three days.”
    It always pays to be prepared. Remember if you are lost or in a dangerous situation, “STOP, stop, think, observe and plan.” As mentioned in your story, a hasty action or panic can result in disaster.
    L. Ross

  3. 1. matches, 2 a whistle, 3. knife. 1. compass, 2. 20′ of rope, 3. candy bar.
    never leave home without them if you are going to go into the forest. If you have a buddy but you get seperated, and he is lost… (just kidding… ) Stop. Then 1. make a fire. 2. build a place to rest in… 3. wait until he finds you… Blow on the whistle three times every 15 minutes or so…. It will scare away the black bears, and give you something to do while stoking the fire. In the mean time listen for your buddy to whistle back…. If you hear his whistle… then blow loudly and stay put… but now blow every minute three times…. then when he finds you..you can ask what did he bring for supper… and share your candy bar with him…. If you don’t hear anything… and you didn’t drop M&Ms on your way into the forest… then just use your shelter for the night with your fire and in the morning watch from which direction it is getting light…. that is East… and adjust your walk accordingly… To keep from going in a circle… pick out an object in the direction you wish to travel well ahead of you and proceed to that point then pick another until you have walked the required distance to reach a trail, road, or landmark that you recognize. Stop again about 2 in the afternoon if you are still not out of the woods and begin to make your shelter and fire plans for the second night. Before you set off from your first spot…. make a huge mark into the ground to show the direction that you plan to head…. and as you go make many more should your buddy come across your trail they can follow it easier to find you…. keep your head… and your whistle handy… don’t blow your mind… just your whistle….

  4. In a true survival situation, the ability to get fire is so very important. I learned a valuable lesson in my first Hunter Safety Class years ago. The snack food, Pringles is an excellent fire starter. It is potatoes that are shredded and reformed using oils. If you take a single match to a single Pringle chip, I’m told even a damp Pringle, the oils will combust and burning oils will drip off the chip onto kindling. While you enjoy the warmth of the fire, you can snack on some of the balance of the Pringles.

  5. I had a confusing moment in Arkansas bow hunting one year. After wandering off trail and confused I came up on a cedar glad on top of a ridge that I could see the sky clearly. I made note of that location and used that as my base camp so if I was stranded after dark I could see the stars. I thought I should go west, so I took a straight line from my base west so I could return for the night if needed. Luckily on my last excursions from the base before dark, I ran onto one of my hunting buddies.

  6. Very true, growing up dad always said “if you get lost Stop, Sit, Stay, and I will find you.”. Not panicking is key!

  7. ThanX…most hunters know or have proper survival tech’s if we need them.. but really how often do we call upon them. Never I hope. I’m a big believer in the 5 P’s. But as a reader I never get tired of reading about a critical situation that had a good outcome because someone employed the knowledge they remembered from a story they read somewhere. How many of us have sat around straining over any problem and the answer came about something like this..”hey I remember reading…” ThanX Carrie….

  8. My tips are (generally);
    Never cross a fence, follow it. Fences generally lead to something.
    Head down hill.
    Being lost is not fun. Spending the night in the woods is not fun but in most cases is doable if you can keep dry and warm.

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