For the life of me, I can't remember if I was cutting black-tipped fur or splitting cartilage between the deer’s ribs and sternum, but I'll never forget the moment I realized there was a Buck Vanguard knife buried up to the hilt, in my thigh. The moment before my freshly-sharpened knife let go I thought to myself, ‘This is a bad cutting setup; we should turn the deer.’ But my brother and I were still admiring the shot, how the buck dropped at a solid hit and skidded in the snow. Pete shot the deer off-hand at 200 yards while it was running away. I watched the deer stott––doing, doing, doing––bang. The 170-grain bullet entered the pink ring on the Eastside of the Westbound muley. Pete was shooting a 30-30 lever action Winchester ’94. Is it any wonder we were admiring the shot?


Our attention was quickly refocused on the knife in my leg. We stood in eight inches of snow a little over a mile from the truck and it was -22 Celsius. A moment later, with my wool hunting pants and polyester long johns around my ankles, we examined the wound. It was bleeding alright, but not gushing or pulsing. My first aid pack consisted of finger-sized adhesive bandages and a pair of fine-pointed tweezers––neither very helpful in this situation. We found a clean wool sock, balled it up and pushed it into the wound to put pressure on the hole in my leg. My long johns over the sock held the makeshift packing in place with enough pressure to stop the bleeding while we walked out.


The local emergency room attending physician shook his head while he carefully irrigated my knife wound, calling me lucky (and he wasn't talking about Pete’s off-hand shot). After a few stitches and a tetanus shot, we returned to our deer work and found a pretty fully-mushroomed plain-Jane jacketed lead bullet had slipped between the hams  and traveled a considerable length inside the deer before coming to rest, embedded in the heart.


One of the first things first aid course participants learn about cuts and stabs is not to automatically remove whatever object is embedded. Removing a knife (like I did) can cause a secondary injury and can increase the risk of bleeding. On the other hand, many of the clothes we wear when outdoors are waterproof or heavily insulated and can prevent the proper assessment of an injury. It is best to be informed with updated first aid training before tackling those decisions in the field.


Take wilderness first aid training now


In addition to having his own consulting practice, Kris Porlier is Manager of Training with St. John Ambulance. Porlier strongly recommends anyone who spends time outdoors hunting and fishing take first aid training and pack first aid supplies as part of their standard gear. St. John’s Ambulance delivers three levels of Wilderness First Aid courses in Alberta. St. John Ambulance recently updated their first aid content and now might be a good time to prepare for the fall hunting season with a refresher.


“If you take first aid training, you're less likely to end up in a negative situation. (First aid training) is a huge prevention piece,” said Porlier.


If you are familiar with industry pre-shift hazard assessments, you will know that anticipating what might go wrong helps reduce the risk of something going wrong. The key is to think about what risks are present, what could go wrong, and how to safely complete the action.

“People don’t think,” said Porlier.


Many wilderness injuries are the result of not thinking through a particular action. Anything from tossing a fresh log on a roaring fire, to swinging your axe, fileting a walleye, or firing up your chainsaw presents the risk of injury. Rope burns are common, as are accidents involving quads and snowmobiles. But according to Porlier, the number one injury in the wilderness are knife cuts. Not thinking about cutting direction, unsafe cutting methods, or inappropriate cutting surfaces all contribute to potential knife injuries.


Think about what might go wrong with a particular task and take steps to prevent an accidental injury.


What’s in your pack?


Porlier recommends an Occupational Health and Safety First Aid kit as a good place to start when assembling the kit for the field. He suggests considering what risks you face in the field and anticipate the kinds of injury that could happen, then focus on items you might need and that have multiple purposes. A tourniquet might be called for when a chainsaw is along on the trip (specific training is required before applying a tourniquet and that application can be very painful to the injured person.)


Porlier said, “Plastic bags are your friend in the wilderness because they keep things dry and have many other uses. Nothing (in my pack) has just one use.”


Every item in Porlier’s pack has at least a dual purpose: the orange garbage bag can be used as a signal for help, worn as protection from the weather, made a shelter, or be used to collect water. The wash basin, plastic film, aluminum foil, and commercial splints he carries also all have multiple purposes. 


Each one of us wants to make it home safe and injury-free from our outdoor adventures. You owe it to yourself and your hunting and fishing crew to freshen up your first aid skills with a wilderness first aid course, and back that training up with a thoughtfully selected kit of first aid items.






Book a first aid course before hunting season. The life you save might be your own.


St. John Ambulance offers three levels of Wilderness First Aid; check your local listings to verify what training is available at what costs.


Wilderness Level I First Aid

• 6 1/2 hours

Basic information and emergency lifesaving skills for those who participate in outdoor activities with an emphasis on practical skills and adapting those skills where access to emergency medical services may be delayed.


Wilderness Level II First Aid

• 13 hours

Designed to complement Standard First Aid training and takes a deeper dive into practical skills and adapting skills as needed based on the environment, availability of supplies, and additional factors such as delays in accessing medical assistance, complications related to high altitude, and water emergencies, as well as securing and moving a casualty. This course is a complement to survival/search and rescue training and does not replace it.

Prerequisite: Current Standard First Aid certificate


Wilderness Level III First Aid

• 19 1/2 hours

Designed to complement Standard First Aid training and teaches advanced skills that will enhance an individual's ability to provide care to those who may become sick or injured in a remote setting. Emphasis is on practical skills and adapting skills as needed based on the environment, availability of supplies, and additional factors such as delays in accessing medical assistance and psychological aspects of dealing with casualties in remote settings for extended periods of time. This course is a complement to survival/search and rescue training and does not replace it.

Prerequisite: Level C of HCP CPR certificate current within 6 months