Hunters are passionate in their pursuits, a fact that propels them out on dark mornings, in adverse weather, and into challenging country. Even warm, early season bowhunts can become a dangerous situation when the weather turns toward wind and rain. Finding yourself miles from camp when the sleet starts falling is a real threat to the unprepared. With a few common resources for survival shelters and some practical skills, a hunter can feel more confident when the clouds build and the temperature starts to drop.
The simplest shelter can be one you find. Simply waiting out a light rain under a thick spruce or hemlock can minimize your exposure. Overturned trees with large root systems can make a basic windbreak if oriented in the right direction. Crawl back under the overhanging roots for quick protection against the elements.
Even better is a rock overhang or a shallow cave. A small fire, carefully placed near the entrance, will help keep you and your refuge warm. Check for loose rocks and other widowmakers before settling into these natural shelters. Also, pay close attention to any precipitation that might be intruding. Flooding waters could force you back out into a worsening situation.
Hunters often have a MacGyver-like instinct that can shine in challenging situations. Consider what you have on hand that might serve in creating a protective structure. Sturdy garbage bags are often included in hunting kits for protecting field-dressed game meat or as a pack liner. Cody Lundin’s book, 98.6 Degrees, details some other valuable uses for them.
A face-sized hole sliced in the bottom corner of a trash bag can create a make-shift poncho. With two bags, some cord, and duct tape (you do carry some duct tape, right?) a hasty tube tent can be constructed. First, cut open the ends of both bags and tape the opened ends together, creating a cylinder. Then, attach the cord to a tree, run it through the garbage-bag-tube, and tie it to another sturdy anchor. Finally, crawl inside and enjoy dry, if not spacious, accommodations.
Building a shelter from natural materials can be effective in keeping you warm and dry, but does take time and energy. Give yourself a head start by locating a large fallen tree trunk with plenty of downed debris- branches, bark, and leaves- nearby. Start by building a thick bed to protect you from the cold ground. Gather 25-30 dead and down branches roughly as thick as your forearm. Place the branches side by side against the tree at a steep angle, allowing just enough room to crawl under the pitched roof you’re creating.
Next, layer on smaller branches and twigs to help hold the insulating material in place. Pile on pine needles and leaves; you’ll need a lot to be an effective barrier, so plan on making this layer three feet thick. Finally, top the shelter with any slabs of bark you can find, creating a shingled roof. Alternatively, garbage bags or a tarp can be used on top of a debris shelter to provide effective rain and snow protection above the insulating natural materials.
Like all hunting and survival skills, shelter-building is something best practiced before a critical situation. While out hiking and scouting, keep these ideas in mind, noting potential natural shelters and resources. Test out these shelters in a controlled environment. The experience will be an asset you can always bring with you on a hunt.