Staying safe in Ontario forests
Ontario, particularly Northern Ontario, is a massive area of land and water that is not only beautiful but also remote, much of it is far away from cell service. This means you must prepare for more than just the hiking, canoeing or hunting part of the trip. You must prepare yourself and your group in case you get lost or turned around in the bush.
For those with a guide/resort owner (required for US visitors for bear and moose hunts) be sure to check before you leave home with your guide as to what they provide for you. Do not assume, ensure that you know.
To-do list and packing list
Leave an itinerary with someone at home before you depart on your trip and do not deviate from this plan without ensuring the folks at home are aware of the change.
This is vital to ensure that if you do get lost, you can be found by searching the areas listed on your itinerary.
Make sure that you are packing proper clothing for multiple types of weather. If you are fall hunting deer, you could encounter cold and snow, so pack and dress accordingly. This is for your own safety.
Always ensure that you pack hunter orange outer clothing so other hunters in the forest can identify you as a person and not an animal. We all understand that a well-worn and faded vest or coat may feel lucky or just plain comfortable, but it might be past its days as a legal hunting garment.
Please note: it is the law to wear hunter orange in Ontario. You must at the very least wear a solid fabric vest and hat. “Hunter orange means a daylight fluorescent orange colour with a dominant wavelength between 595 and 605 nanometers, excitation purity of not less than 85 per cent and a luminance factor of not less than 40 percent but does not include camouflage hunter orange colouring. O. Reg. 665/98, s. 26 (5).”
Ensure you have a map of the area, ideally a topography map. The definition of a topographic map by the MNRF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) is a “detailed, accurate graphic representation of features that appear on the Earth's surface, including: human-made (e.g., roads and railways, provincial and national parks, place names, municipal and township boundaries, lots and concessions) natural (e.g., lakes and rivers, falls, rapids and rocks, wooded areas, wetlands). The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has a web map application that you can use to make a topographic map of any area of Ontario that interests you. Like other web map browsers, you can:
- zoom in and out
- find places
- turn satellite imagery on or off
- add your own text
- print the map you make
You cannot download topographic data directly from this web map, but you can order it from the Land Information Ontario website.
Always be sure to orientate yourself on the map before you set out to track your prey every day before you head out in the bush.
Prepare your backpack with your daily needs
You need to have a backpack, and there are certain items you need to bring with you in the backpack each day. They include your:
- Hunting license and tag. This should be put in a place of easy access. You must access this to tag an animal and produce it, should you see a MNRF Conservation Officer in the forest. Keeping this documentation with you is just smart thinking.
- GPS unit (Global Positioning System). This can be the best money you can spend for your hunting trip. In areas in the forest particularly in Northern Ontario, the majority of which does NOT have cell service, a GPS unit can get you out of the forest in a timely and safe manner. GPS is based on the use of satellites in the Earth’s orbit that transmits information that measures the distance between the satellites and the user. When signals from three or more satellites are received, simple triangulation will make it possible to determine the location of the user. A GPS unit is not an expensive purchase and could save your life.
- Topographic map
- Orange clothing
- Headlamp or flashlight. It doesn’t take long to get dark, particularly in the fall.
- First aid kit, which can be as simple as two or three small, medium, and large band-aids, antibacterial cream, hand sanitizer, paracord and anti-itch cream. Pack for needs for the entire trip, not one usage.
- Rain gear that is made of a material that will wick away any moisture.
- Strong knife.
- Rubber gloves to protect you from any type of parasites/germs from an animal you are dressing.
- Survival blanket, which is small and lightweight, but can keep you warm if you do get lost.
- Baby wipes, which you can use for various things (to clean your hands to eat, to wipe off the blood following the dressing of an animal, etc.).
- Fire starter and a lighter. If you do get lost, having the ability to start a fire to keep warm is of the utmost importance.
- Food, snacks and more water than you will drink in one day, just in case. Water is one of the most important things to have with you.
- A whistle for distress calls.
- Hand warmers and foot warmers.
If you get lost, remember to stop
If at any point you feel lost in the forest, do not panic. Sit down, have a drink of water and clear your head. Even the most experienced hunters can panic, so it’s important to calmly assess the situation. Remember to always follow the S-T-O-P signs.
S (stay calm): You can’t use your brain well if you’re in a panic. Breathe slowly and deeply.
T (think): Get out that topography map you brought and see what you can figure out. Look at your GPS unit that you packed. You will be glad you did.
O (observe): Look for your footprints. Do you recognize any landmarks? Find the clues and maybe you can solve the mystery of where you are.
P (plan): If you’re pretty sure of the way back, start heading back …carefully, marking your trail with broken branches/rocks and things in case you are wrong. This way you can always come back to where you were.
Dig out that whistle and remember that universal distress calls always come in threes: three shouts, three blasts on a whistle. Start calling.
The Ontario forests are beautiful and teaming with countless opportunities. But always plan ahead in order to ensure that your trip is enjoyable and safe.
Last updated: September 14, 2023