There was a time during Maine’s November deer hunt when it was not uncommon for Maine game wardens to have three or four missing hunters in one day! In his new book, “Gary Dumond Remembers – Warden Pilots,” retired Maine warden pilot Gary Dumond recalls, “One day, Jack McPhee and I were the only two pilots working, and between him and me we had 13 lost hunters!”
He adds, “I have found as many as four different ones (lost hunters) in a day.”
Those days have changed somewhat thanks to cell phones, GPSs and today’s vast network of logging roads throughout Maine’s North Woods.
Still, hunters do get lost every fall, and wardens conduct what has come to be known in search and rescue parlance as “lost person scenarios.”
Dumond’s account of one of his aerial scourings for a lost hunter north of Allagash Lake should be a teachable moment for any hunter who likes to hunt big woods.
Says Dumond, “I’m up north and west of Allagash quite a ways, and I look toward Baker Lake …. because he has been gone a day and a half. It was late in the day and overcast — and I see this orange thing. I know that it’s at least four miles away. And there was our guy, and he was out in a meadow and on a stream that flows into Baker.”
Dumond’s efforts saved this lost hunter, though the hunter did lose some toes to frostbite. For all deer hunters, here is the takeaway: “This guy was a long ways away from where he was supposed to be,” Dumond recalls. “He would never have made it! But that’s what fluorescent orange does for you. In the days before orange, we would never have seen him. I was working when that came in (hunter orange), You can’t imagine how much easier that made the warden pilot’s job!”
In his 20- year career, Warden Pilot Dumond found more than 200 lost persons, so he knows his stuff. We have all been taught in our hunter safety courses one cardinal rule: If you know you are lost, admit it to yourself and stay put. Well, guess what? Dumond found that, as a rule, lost hunters don’t sit — they wander, sometimes for miles and miles.
The lost hunter has two critical responsibilities to himself and to the search and rescue teams trying to find you.
- Make yourself visible from the air. The best way to do this is to start a smoky fire, find an opening in the woods canopy and place some hunter orange out in the open.
- Conserve your energy. Heed these words from adventurer and survival expert Laurence Gonzales:
“A survival situation is a ticking clock: You only have so much stored energy (and water) and every time you exert yourself, you’re using it up. The trick is to become extremely stingy with your scarce resources, balancing risk and reward, investing only in efforts that offer the biggest return.”
Gonzales maintains that people who perish in the woods die from confusion, or what he calls woods shock. He contends that there is more to surviving than what you have in your survival pack, or even how much training you have had. “At the moment of truth,” he writes, “those might be good things to have but they aren’t decisive.” In fact, he claims that these things, the cell phone or what have you, can betray you.
Bottom line: stay cool, be honest with yourself and your situation and stay put. Today’s game wardens and warden pilots, like retired warden pilot Gary Dumond, are well trained and very good at their work.
They will find you.