Lost hunters need to stay put and signal rescuers

By V. Paul Reynolds

This story is true. The names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Doug is deer hunting the North Woods with deer camp chums. The afternoon hunt plan is to split up and hunt to the stream, linger there, and head back to the road to the trucks by last light. Doug’s camp mate, Frank, has worked his way back from the stream and is sitting on a log in a chopping above the stream not far from the road, waiting for dark to come on. At about 4 p.m., Frank sees Doug off to his left working his way out to the road, or so he thought.

Just before dark everybody shows up at the trucks, save one – Doug. He is nowhere to be seen or heard. His camp buddies wait. By 5 p.m. the missing hunter’s friends begin making lots of noise. “Doug, Doug,” they yell at the top of their lungs. They blow a whistle. They fire two shots.

Nothing. No response from the missing hunter. They begin to worry. Doug is not a novice deer hunter but he was not known the world over for his woods navigation skills. He had gotten “turned around” before. The silence from the darkness is dreadful. Worry turns to gut-wrenching anxiety and even fright.

Doug’s friends begin to imagine the worst. They blow horns and shout “Doug” into the night. Minutes drag on, then…..

Pow! A gunshot, quite a ways to the south on the other side of the road. “It must be Doug. He is alive. Thank God!”

The worried hunters fire a shot near the trucks. Pow! Doug answers back with a shot. He is a long way from where he was supposed to exit the woods. The hunters take a compass bearing on Doug, and one of the  hunters volunteers to go find him, to head into the inky darkness and tangled woods armed with flashlights and lots of signal ammo.

Time passes. The signal shots reverberate and suggest changed headings of both the rescuer and the rescuee. Thankfully, the night is still, no wind. An hour after dark it becomes clear. The lost hunter is a moving target. He is not sitting still awaiting rescue.“Oh, my Gawd. He is moving in the darkness!”

It is now 6:30 p.m. There is a rising moon, but cold is descending. The waiting hunters blow horns to no apparent avail. Finally, they dial 911 in an attempt to reach the Maine Warden Service and get the wheels rolling for some professional help.

Suddenly, the hand held  radio squawks with good news. “Bob, this is George. I have Doug. He came out on the Endless Lake Road. Sonny is almost out. I see his headlamp in the chopping.”

 The 911 dispatcher is advised that all is well.

There is deep relief and thankfulness all around. Doug gets bear hugs and verbal scoldings all at the same time. He feels bad. He is a wash of sweat. The hunt buddy who tracked Doug through the woods is dog tired. He never expected to be chasing the lost hunter. The assumption was that  Doug would stay put for the rescue, just like in the hunter safety brochures.

As they say, all’s well that ends well. Hunter safety courses teach the acronym S.T.O.P. to all hunters. The takeaway is quite straightforward. If you don’t know where you are, you ARE lost. Admit it. Sit down. Think, Observe, and Plan.

Doug took the Hunter Safety Course, but the fear or the flight instinct overcame his common sense and his book learning.

His mishap was a learning experience, not only for him but for his hunting companions as well.

The author is editor of the “Northwoods Sporting Journal.” He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program — “Maine Outdoors” — heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on “The Voice of Maine News – Talk Network.” He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com. or www.sportingjournal.com. Contact email — vpaulr@tds.net.

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