Bob Frye: Lost hunters show need to prepare for unexpected
They were in many ways very fortunate.
On Oct. 21, two hunters — 58-year-old Jeff Cherry of Altoona and his 17-year-old granddaughter, Megan Settlemyer — got lost on state game lands 33 in Centre County. They were hunting with other family when they become separated.
With darkness coming on, Cherry made the decision they would stop and spend the night where they were.
“I had forgotten my flashlight, and I didn't want to risk trying to get my granddaughter back out of the woods over the rocks in the dark,” Cherry said. “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.”
As it turned out, help wasn't far off.
By 11 p.m., specially trained wildlife conservation officers with the Pennsylvania Game Commission launched a search. They were assisted by deputies, state police, Mountain Top Fire Co. members and family and friends of the lost hunters.
They found the hunters three hours later and had them out of the woods in four.
Not all lost hunters can expect the same.
Cherry and his granddaughter were hunting with others. Someone knew approximately where they were — or at least had been — and when they were expected out of the woods. That allowed searchers to narrow things down considerably.
Hunters out alone or hunting apart from friends, might not be so lucky.
And at this time of year — in deer season and beyond, when temperatures are typically much colder — having to spend an unexpected night outdoors can be rough if not downright dangerous.
It makes sense, then, to be prepared.
The first thing to pack is shelter. That can be a tube tent, a tarp or bivvy sack.
Two large, heavy duty garbage bags can be good, too. As explained to me once by a search and rescue trainer in Pennsylvania, you step into one and slide the other over your head, poking a hole in the front for your face.
The bags work almost like a mummy-style sleeping bag, but one that retains heat while repelling water.
The second thing to pack is tools for starting a fire.
That can be waterproof matches or a lighter — or maybe both — as well as fire starters. They can be homemade or store-bought.
A third thing to carry is a whistle. You can whistle for help longer than you can yell, and the sound travels farther anyway.
A flashlight or even a headlamp, which allows for light that's hands-free, is good to have, too.
And don't forget water. Food's not really important — other than for any psychological boost it can provide — but water is. Carry some — maybe in a metal container, as you can then warm it — and maybe carry a filter or tablets for purifying more.
Of course, a cellphone is a no-brainer. Don't count on it, though. Cell reception out in the places hunters cruise can be spotty.
If all goes well, you will never need to use any of those items. But having them and not needing them is better than needing them and not having them.