Farm Progress

A hunting duo’s overnight ordeal in the woods shows the importance of planning for the unexpected.

John Vogel, Editor, American Agriculturist

November 1, 2017

3 Min Read
BEFORE YOU LEAVE: While amusing, this sign won’t leave enough detail for others if you turn up missing.mj0007/iStock/Thinkstock

You’ve never lost your bearings while hunting, right? Most hunters would never admit it if they did.

But it does happen — and did happen this fall to a seasoned hunter and his teenage granddaughter. Fortunately, the pair was tracked down by Pennsylvania Game Commission officers and a K-9 unit dog in Centre County game lands during the pre-dawn hours of the next day. The two failed to meet up with the rest of their hunting party when expected. As darkness fell and hours passed, concern for their safety grew. The grandfather was diabetic and didn’t have insulin or food with him.

About 11 p.m., wildlife conservation officers, state police, members of the Mountain Top Fire Company, and family and friends gathered to begin a search. Wildlife Conservation Officers Mike Steingraber and Derek Daly, both trained in human tracking, put their skills to work. Daly interviewed members of the hunting party and learned the direction the individuals had planned to go. Then they studied a map of the terrain to determine where the hunters might have become lost. 

Steingraber, Daly, a K-9 unit dog and deputy wildlife conservation officer Jim Snook began searching at the location the hunters last were seen. The dog quickly picked up their scent. The searchers followed the trail for about 2 miles into a densely vegetated area where they thought the hunters might have become disoriented.

At about 2 a.m., they called out to the hunters who responded from about 100 yards away. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hunter that happy to see a game warden,” says Steingraber.

The hunters had planned to spend the night in the area and then try to find their way out the next morning. The grandfather reported that he had accidentally gone farther than anticipated. After seeking high ground to get his bearings, he realized there wasn’t enough time to make it out of the woods by nightfall.

“I had forgotten my flashlight and didn’t want to risk trying to get my granddaughter back out of the woods over the rocks in the dark,” he recalled. “So, I told her that we were just going to hunker down and either wait until someone found us, or wait until morning to walk out along the creek bed.”

Steingraber says it was a smart decision to stop moving instead of going even farther in the wrong direction. “That area is so thick with shrubs that it would be easy for anyone to get disoriented there,” he says. “We’ve had multiple people get lost in the same location; it’s a tough environment.” By 3:30 a.m., the hunters were back with family and friends.

Prep and prevent
No one expects to get lost. But it’s wise to be prepared. Here are a few tips from Steingraber and others on being so:

• Always tell someone else where you plan to hunt and what time you expect to be back. That information was critical for locating the Centre County hunters.

• Carry a backpack with a few supplies such as warm clothes, a flashlight and food in case you get lost.

• Take a cell phone or smartphone with you, but be aware that it may not always pick up a signal.

• Carry a compass — unless your smartphone has one — to help you get your bearings.

• If you’re hunting in new terrain, consider adding a terrain map to your backpack to get a better “feel” of the landscape and potential hazards.

• If you do become lost, hunker down and wait.

About the Author(s)

John Vogel

Editor, American Agriculturist

For more than 38 years, John Vogel has been a Farm Progress editor writing for farmers from the Dakota prairies to the Eastern shores. Since 1985, he's been the editor of American Agriculturist – successor of three other Northeast magazines.

Raised on a grain and beef farm, he double-majored in Animal Science and Ag Journalism at Iowa State. His passion for helping farmers and farm management skills led to his family farm's first 209-bushel corn yield average in 1989.

John's personal and professional missions are an integral part of American Agriculturist's mission: To anticipate and explore tomorrow's farming needs and encourage positive change to keep family, profit and pride in farming.

John co-founded Pennsylvania Farm Link, a non-profit dedicated to helping young farmers start farming. It was responsible for creating three innovative state-supported low-interest loan programs and two "Farms for the Future" conferences.

His publications have received countless awards, including the 2000 Folio "Gold Award" for editorial excellence, the 2001 and 2008 National Association of Ag Journalists' Mackiewicz Award, several American Agricultural Editors' "Oscars" plus many ag media awards from the New York State Agricultural Society.

Vogel is a three-time winner of the Northeast Farm Communicators' Farm Communicator of the Year award. He's a National 4-H Foundation Distinguished Alumni and an honorary member of Alpha Zeta, and board member of Christian Farmers Outreach.

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