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FWC finds lost hunters in hard-to-reach places

News Release

Friday, December 17, 2010

Media contact: Joy Hill, 352-258-3426

During the past three months alone, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers have been called out more than a dozen times to search for overdue hunters in the agency's 12-county Northeast Region. In all cases, the hunters were found uninjured and thankful for the rescue efforts.

When someone is reported overdue from hunting, hiking or boating, emergency response agencies go on full alert. The FWC is no exception. FWC officers are woods-and-water-savvy and are usually the most skilled and best equipped to search remote, undeveloped areas traversing some of the state's thickest and most remote woods and wetlands.

For these efforts, the FWC uses helicopters and fixed-wing planes, four-wheel-drive trucks, all-terrain vehicles, boats and K-9 units specially trained in search and rescue. But most important in their arsenal of search-and-rescue tools is their experience and understanding of the outdoors that can be gained only by spending so much time there.

The most recent rescue came the night of Dec. 12 at the Charles Bronson Wildlife Management Area in Seminole County. The hunter had gained access to the area by airboat, got out and walked, and then got turned around. When officers found him, he had been in the woods for eight hours, was dehydrated and disoriented, on the verge of hypothermia and beginning to panic.

"It's a scary feeling to be lost in the woods with the sun going down, the temperature dropping and no way to communicate with anyone," said Lt. Jeff Hudson, whose primary patrol areas include Seminole and Orange counties. "It is so easy to get turned around and lose your way, even for experienced hunters and outdoorsmen and women."

Hudson recommends that everyone who hunts, camps, boats, hikes - does anything in the outdoors - put together a survival kit and carry it with them just in case they are lost or injured and find themselves in the woods or on the water longer than they anticipated. Most of the items can be carried in a large fanny pack.

The survival kit should include:

  • a compass,
  • flashlight,
  • space blanket,
  • identification,
  • necessary medications,
  • matches or a lighter, and
  • some type of fire-starter - like dryer lint.

Dryer lint is great because it's lightweight, ignites quickly, and you don't need a lot of it to get a fire going. A fire not only will keep you warm, it's a great aid to search and rescue personnel.

As helpful as a compass is, it is worthless unless the person knows how to use it, so be sure to learn how it works before going into the woods. A cell phone should be part of the kit, and some people even have GPS units, but keep in mind they don't always work in some of the more remote areas, Hudson added.

"It's critical to tell someone where you're going, where you're parking or launching your boat and when you plan to be back so they can call for help and know where to direct searchers if necessary. Also, pack some snacks and water, and, depending upon the time of year, bug spray," said Lt. Guy Carpenter, whose crew has rescued hunters three times this season in Osceola County.

If you find yourself lost in the woods, rescuers say there are two things you must do to help searchers locate you.

"Stay in one place and either shine a powerful light or safely build a fire so we can see you," said Lt. Ben Allen, whose areas include Putnam, Flagler and St. Johns counties. "Often we'll use a search dog, and it's much easier for the dog to track someone who is not walking all over the woods."

"Getting out in the woods can be an unforgettable experience. To make sure you come back with great memories, take a little time to plan and prepare before you go. You won't regret it," said Hudson.

FWC Facts:
Vessels 16 feet or longer must carry at least 3 daytime and 3 nighttime visual distress signals (or 3 combination daytime/nighttime signals) at all times when on coastal waters.

Learn More at AskFWC