LITTLE ROCK - Nearly a year ago, two northwest Arkansas hunters died tragically in Oklahoma on a duck hunt in the middle of a winter storm on a large public lake. The story was national news as the new year began. Rescue parties were unable to reach the men before both had perished.
It’s a reminder as this year ends that colder weather will be on the way, but hunters are determined to take out for waterfowl or other game, and inevitably, out in the wild and without proper equipment, it’s easy for a hunter to get lost and need rescuing. However, there are precautions to take that can help a lost hunter be easily found in time by rescue teams, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officer Norman Cornish says.
Cornish, based in Monticello, was part of a rescue operation recently when a squirrel hunter, in his 40s, became lost in a portion of the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in southern Bradley County near the confluence of the Ouachita and Saline rivers. A combined effort in an overnight search by Cornish, AGFC wildlife officers from Hamburg, the Bradley County Search and Rescue, and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office found the hunter by 11 a.m. the next day. The hunter was found standing in a creek, disoriented and suffering from hypothermia, and was briefly hospitalized in Warren.
Cornish said he will see two or three lost hunter calls a year, and the most recent was the second one of the season – earlier in deer season, he was part of a rescue of a hunter who had his cell phone and could describe where he was. “We got him out pretty quick,” Cornish said.
In the case of the most recent lost hunter, it was 11:45 p.m. on a Saturday night before a call was made to the Sheriff’s Office and forwarded on to Cornish. It is believed, he said, the hunter started out about midday Saturday; he had told his father where he was going but not when he’d return. The hunter left his cell phone in his boat, left the area where he had left the boat, and eventually couldn’t find his way back. In the process, he also lost his shotgun.
Cornish, who teaches survival techniques in his Hunter Education course, uses that example for how a lost hunter can be found more promptly:
- If you have a cell phone, keep it with you, even if there is limited service in the hunting area.
- If lost, call 911 – even is a signal if brief or lost, the call-fielding operator can help search and rescue teams find the caller through GPS coordinates.
- Also, always carry some other signaling device: a shotgun or a whistle, for example, Cornish said. He added that when he is out searching, he will signal with a shotgun for a lost hunter and listen for a response.
- Dress appropriately for cold weather.
Boats can turn over – such was the case in Oklahoma for a two Arkansas hunters last year. Cornish says to always wear a life jacket. And, in what may sound counter-intuitive to people but is a must to remember should they get soaked in hunting gear in cold conditions: Do NOT begin removing layers of clothing. Cornish said. “What I teach these Hunter Education kids, even though you may be wet, you’re holding in your body heat. You can even add more heat by doing pushups or jumping jacks, but just don’t take off the layers of clothing. If you do that, you’ll lose your body heat and get hypothermia really quickly in cold conditions.”
Make sure to inform someone of where you are going, when you will return, and try to stay in that spot, Cornish said. “It makes it a lot easier for us to get you out of there.”