Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tragedy In the North Country

Well, all hell broke loose here in the North Country Saturday.

October 14th was opening day of New York’s north zone muzzleloader season and four of us planned to hunt the knob just north of my property. Mark, my buddy/neighbor/caretaker, was going to go almost due north to a tree stand he had set up on the north side of the knob. I would stay on the south side along the state line. Eric and his brother-in-law Greg would head for the east end of the knob and spread out there. Now the knob itself is entirely within the confines of a loop in the 10-foot wide North Branch Creek that runs from east to west and bends around the north side of the knob. A smaller—tiny, really—creek drains the back end of my property and the south slope of the knob. We call this little drainage the Piss Creek.

We hit the woods around 6:30-7:00 AM and, as far as we knew, had the area to ourselves. Hell, we weren’t even bothered by any deer or bear all morning. Around 10:30 Mark walked south passing me as he headed back to his cabin for some coffee and a nap. (It got a little windy and his tree stand got to rockin’.) Then Greg called on the radio saying he was going back for a coffee and a potty stop. He came back shortly after. Finally, I decided I was bored and it was getting near lunch time so I started walking out. As I was leaving, Eric caught up with me and we both were out of the woods by noon.

It started clouding up and we got a little spritz of rain and snow early in the afternoon and, having just come through a bout of bronchitis/walking pneumonia, I decided to call it a day. Mark, Eric and Greg were going back out around 3 PM and planned to stay until dark.

Just after dark, Mark called to say there was a lost hunter in the woods. Some folks from the camp down the road met Mark, Eric and Greg as they were leaving the woods to say that a member of their party had entered the woods around 10 AM for a short walk and hadn’t returned. They were evasive about where he had gone but finally admitted he had probably crossed my land to follow the North Branch. The report is he was in his fifties and not in the best of shape. He had no map or compass and was way over due. As luck would have it, Mark had a woods camera set up some 75 yards or so from where his tree stand was located. He had put the camera there in the morning and had three new photos from the afternoon. All three were of the lost hunter taken around 3:30 PM just before Mark got back to the area. So, as of 3:30 PM, this guy was still on the south side of the North Branch.

Now, there are a few very steep slopes in the area around that camera. As a preliminary search, Mark, Eric, Greg and the local Ranger/Trooper took a quick walk along the banks of the creek from where it crosses a jeep trail just to the west of my property to the beaver dam inside state land to the east. As the crow flies it’s just about two miles but with the big loop the North Branch makes it’s closer to 5 miles. They did this in the dark between 8:30 and 3 PM and found nothing.

We had freezing rain and some snow showers last night and the temperature this morning at 6 AM was just under the freezing mark. Unless this guy was lucky enough to be uninjured and/or possessed some serious survival skills….

This morning a full search is on with about two dozen folks walking the woods, sirens sounding off on the road to give the poor bastard a direction in which to walk if he is able, and a helicopter slowly moving back and forth over head.

I feel like I should be out there doing something but since I’m still recuperating from my illness (and not in the best of shape myself) I’ll leave it to the younger, trained crowd.

They found his body Sunday morning around 9 AM. About 75 yards from the creek on the east end of the knob near the beaver dam, he had sat down on a log for a smoke. (Mark says they found two empty packs of unfiltered cigarettes and one half pack still in his pocket.) He was about half to three-quarters of a mile from where Mark’s camera had recorded him at 3:30 PM. Whether he sat down before dark or got himself lost and then sat down after dark, he never got up again.

Last year there was a lost property owner one town over right about the end of October. Fella owned 5-600 acres and had a habit of walking the lines just before the start of the deer season in November. He was in his early sixties. Anyway, he went out in a green and black checked wool jacket and never returned. It took over a week before they found his body but it seemed longer because there were two or three snowfalls during the search period. None was very heavy but each was enough to cover any tracks, make things wet and miserable and in general just make things difficult.

On a personal note, some years ago I went out in that area of woods without a map or compass. I figured I was between the creek (north) and the jeep trail (south) a well marked trail from the creek to the jeep trail (east) and the final jeep trail that the creek crosses (west). I couldn’t think of any way I could get lost. But it was overcast and drizzly and I lost my sense of direction without a clue as to where the sun was located. I foolishly tried to take a shortcut from the trail that ran along the creek’s bank to the one that ran on the east side of the “rectangle” I was hunting.

I went up and down into and out of several small depressions before I realized I was lost. I stopped to rest a bit ant to think. That’s when I heard the creek. I headed right to the water and then followed it down stream. I had planned to reach the east trail near the beaver dam which was upstream from where I was, but decided to head downstream for the more sure bridge that I knew was down that way. It took me a while, but I managed to find my way out of the woods safely. Since then, I never go into the woods without a compass and map. I also usually have my GPS unit and my analog watch (good for finding directions on sunny days).

1 comment:

Jess said...

It's scary whenever the reminder comes up that nature is one of the most dangerous things out there for mankind.

Be safe whenever you go out there.