By Joanne M. Haas

Conservation Warden Ken Thomson of Fall Creek calls it the two-hour hike that turned into a two-day ordeal – and the third missing hunter the warden has helped find since last deer season.

It’s a scenario that could happen to anyone who relies upon their familiarity with a patch of woods visited for years. Still, it serves as a reminder to all hunters, hikers and anyone who enjoys the outdoors to always let someone know your plans – no matter how well you know where you’re headed.

Luckily, the tale of the missing man scouting for squirrels in Clark County has a happy ending. And, thanks to some recent training completed by Conservation Warden Adam Hanna of Neillsville and Thomson, the search for the missing man came to a quicker conclusion once the wardens were called to lend a skilled hand.

It started the morning of Friday, September 14. The wardens received a call for help from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department and the Greenwood Fire and Rescue. They were on the lookout for a man who had been missing for two days already.

“He was staying in his cabin in Clark County. He was dropped off on Wednesday, but no one checked back in on him until Thursday night. (They thought) he was out in the woods he knows well and we’ll see him Friday morning,” Thomson said.

Friday morning came and the man’s family came back to see him. And he was still gone.

“He didn’t check in with anyone. He was without a cell phone. So (the man’s family) didn’t know if he was hiking or lost. But when they realized certain belongings looked untouched, they realized he was lost.”

Apparently, the man went on a scouting hike for the upcoming small game season. He got to his destination without problem, but when it came time for his trek back to the cabin — he lost his way in the forest.

Training role-play turns real

When the wardens got the call to help, they put into action their training in wilderness first aid and search-and-rescue.

“I felt completely prepared for this real-life search and rescue event,” Hanna said. “Our training combined with the excellent equipment we’re issued make us very effective for this kind of thing.”

The wardens arrived on the scene at the command center in Rock Dam with their all-terrain vehicles, mapping equipment and GPS devices. They were ready to go except cell service in this remote research area was unreliable.

It was time for Plan B – the warden computer. Thomson hauled out his laptop and put into play the mapping software that included more details than the ones on the maps displayed in the command center. Thomson went to work, studying the maps – the trails, the location of the cabin and predicted some possible wrong turns the man could have made on his unsuccessful return trek.

It worked.

The hunter was found by rescue crews in the exact area that Warden Thomson predicted. “It was so great to hear firemen call out on the radio that they’d found him, alive and well…that’s not always the case in these situations.”

Hanna said the missing man realized he was lost and did the best thing possible – he stayed put and waited to be found.

Lucky for this man, Thomson and Hanna were familiar with the area. “We actually checked a turkey hunter on that same trail last spring,” Thomson said.

With their knowledge of the backcountry and availability of their off-road vehicles, the wardens were called in to recover both the hunter and the search party with their ATVs.

Thomson transported emergency medical staff to the hunter’s location while Hanna towed a fire rescue sled with his ATV.

Hanna said the hunter was glad to see his rescuers and managed to find some humor. “This (hike) wasn’t really worth it…I only saw one squirrel the last two days!” Hanna said the hunter told rescue personnel upon being found. The man was in good spirits and was treated for minor back pain. The hunter slept out in the woods with no food and water for two days.

Thomson and Hanna say the man’s ordeal not only demonstrates the value of leaving word with friends and families – but at the very least, the importance of packing a compass.

Logo courtesy Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

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