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by Michael Strahan

Hunters in Alaska are in a unique situation from hunters just about anywhere else in the United States. Most Alaska hunts take place in remote areas that can be accessed only by airplane and in some cases an airplane and a whitewater raft. If an emergency occurs in the field you will be at the mercy of your own resources until help can arrive. Without the proper signaling gear, the time between the injury and the arrival of help can be substantial and life-threatening.

I had a real bad scare a few years ago with a hunter who almost died on us (not our fault), and I suppose I tend toward over-preparation now. Be that as it may, here's what I would suggest to folks who want to be prepared for emergencies in the field.


Satphones provide perhaps the single best means of getting help in an emergency. Other electronic signaling aids such as ELT units have reliability problems but most importantly do not allow for voice communication. The Globalstar phone currently available will allow you to directly contact emergency rescue personnel, and let them know your exact position and the condition of the injured party. An added advantage of satphones is that they can also be used to contact your air charter for an early pickup or a mid-hunt meat haul if needed.


ICOM is the best, in my opinion. They make several models, but the one I prefer comes with a rechargeable battery (not so good) and a special battery pack that uses AA batteries (really good, since my headlamp and GPS use the same size batteries!). Whatever you do, make sure you get a radio that broadcasts a long ways - a cheapo is not a good idea because this is a piece of life-saving equipment. If you need it, no expense is too great in my opinion. If you contact Gary Bennet (Senior or Junior) at Northern Lights Avionics here in Anchorage, he should be able to assist you. Both the father and the son know more about this stuff than I ever will. I'd expect to pay around $300 or so. Make sure yours comes with a detachable antenna. By the way, never turn the radio on without the antenna installed. I hear it can really mess them up. Also, you might want to get one of those paint pens and write the emergency frequency on the back of the radio (121.5 MHz) in case someone else has to use it. I leave the radio tuned in to 121.5 all the time, that way it's ready to go when I turn it on. Another note: 121.5 MHz  will not always get you help. Commercial airlines are not required to monitor that frequency. Although they have two radios in the cockpit, it's common for one to be tuned in to a company frequency and the other to be tuned in to the local area frequency. For that reason, you also want to write down the local area frequencies and the frequencies your air charter uses in the area. I write the frequencies on my maps and make sure the hunters know where the info is - just in case something happens to yours truly. Same goes with operating instructions for the rest of the emergency gear.


I use a Garmin GPS 12. There are better models out there, but I stick with Garmin. The GPS works well in conjunction with either the satphone or the radio. The best tactic is to make the mayday call initially until you get a response. Once you have someone, let them know what the nature of the emergency is AND GIVE THEM THE GPS COORDINATES! I try to transmit those two pieces of information right at the start - that way if for some reason the call is dropped or we get cut off, at least they know where we are and what's going on.


The contents are too detailed to go into here, but generally the ones made by Adventure seem to be the most complete. Most medical kits are deficient in some areas, so you will want to supplement the kit with some things of your own - I added a SAM splint, some Aleve, Ibuprofin, Aspirin, Pepto-Bismol or Immodium AD, super glue (for suturing cuts- be careful here though- you could trap infection in there), and whatever else you think you might need. If your hunter is allergic to bee stings, for example, you might want to have something to prevent / treat anaphylactic shock, such as an EpiPen (self-injectable epinephrine). Hunters who are in this situation would be well advised to bring the stuff with them. You can learn more about it here.   Be sure to toss in a good first-aid manual and some extra bandages to boot.


This includes things such as smoke canisters, aerial flares and the new hand-held laser signaling devices. These things are best used to assist rescuers who already know generally where you are. The smoke is especially useful for helicopter pilots in determining wind direction and speed. Other passive signaling aids could be ground-to-air signals (rarely used any more), reflective tarps, mirrors and the like. Use these things as supplemental to your electronics.


As you probably know, this is a huge subject. I don't think it's possible to be too prepared though- because you never know what might happen. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared to offer true "First Aid", and if the condition is life threatening, you need to be able to communicate with rescue folks who can get them out of the field ASAP. You should know that the helicopter folks with the Alaska Air Guard are the most experienced with this of anyone in the country and they have the most field experience by far. They can come in and get you in inclement weather and after dark as well. It gives me a lot of peace of mind to know this.

Michael Strahan is a long-time Alaska hunting guide, and the author of an upcoming book on Alaska hunting.  He lives in south central Alaska.

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