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Squirrel hunting can be tough

Hunters must be prepared in woods

The trees all looked alike, cedar after cedar, and then a few more cedar. The limbs and needles were rough and scratchy; it was a fight to move ahead even a few yards. The land didn't seem to have any logical flow, it was up one minute and downhill the next and game trails, streams and paths were nonexistent.

Instead of a great morning of squirrel hunting I was scratched, bruised and thoroughly lost in an unfamiliar part of north Mississippi and I was way overdue for our noon meet-up and lunch. This was a horrible start to a long awaited camping and hunting vacation.

There were four of us in camp, at dawn we each headed out on a different compass point. I'd gone west, now there was a lot of National Forest between me and civilization. As the sun got lower and dimmer my hopes of finding camp or, at least a road that led in the right direction, went down quickly.

The Global Positioning System in my pack wasn't much help. The unit showed a lot of nothing and the Forest Service map I'd looked at last night pictured few roads in this area. Seemed like I had limited choices: either make a camp and hope smoke would draw rescuers, or use my compass and GPS to try and run a reciprocal course back to camp.

Finally, to be doing something I started dragging up dead wood and set up the best dry camp I could make. I backed up to a big tree and built a smoky fire using lots of green wood in front of me.

Soon after dawn my companions tracked the smoke and rescued me. I was actually only about a half-mile from where I'd started, but by the time I stopped for the night I was so confused I didn't believe the path the GPS showed, or my compass. The experience made me much more careful about knowing where I was going, paying attention and not getting lost.

We're at the beginning of the season when many hunters traipse off to the mountains of Colorado and New Mexico for elk, or Canada for moose. In these far from the beaten path locations getting lost can not only be unpleasant, it can mean death by injury or slow starvation.

For those hunters who venture off the beaten paths there is a new piece of equipment that can save your life in these situations. Personal Locator Beacons send a signal to an orbiting satellite that can pinpoint your location and make it much easier for rescuers to locate you in the wilds.

The United States is setting up a state-by-state plan to track people who get lost carrying these beacons in remote locations. Each state will have monitoring equipment and the ability to track an activated signal.

Vermont is the first state scheduled to come on line. In August of this year they had a system check to test all the facets of the system. They monitored the activation of two PLB units and the automated alert processing through the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. Finally they checked the mission control center to see how quickly search and rescue personnel could be moved into the area.

These units aren't for everyone, but for hunters or adventurers who really get out there they can make the difference between life and death. The unit is about the size of an ear of corn, weighs less than two pounds and transmits a unique ID number which can be matched to the user through registration.

Having one of these units wasn't necessary for me but for outdoor adventurers who travel deep into wilderness areas far from roads and cell phone signals it could make a critical difference.

Jill Easton is a freelance writer from Long Beach. Reach her at

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