Locals help search and rescue efforts for lost hunter


by Marissa Lorenz
Kremmling residents, ranchers, and outdoorsmen along with Grand County Search and Rescue (GCSAR) volunteers responded to a call about a lost hunter on Sunday, October 25, during a blizzard that saw freezing temperatures, high winds, and up to a foot of snow–enough to dampen the ongoing blazes of the two largest wildfires in Colorado history.

A hunting party of three had successfully filled two elk tags that morning on public lands in the Deer Creek/McIntosh area between Red Dirt Reservoir and Tyler Mountain. They field dressed and quartered the two animals, which lay just a couple hundred feet apart, preparing them to pack out, according to one member of the party, Kremmling local Bud Esquibel.

In the early afternoon, the party intentionally separated for what was intended to be a brief period, with Esquibel going to meet some other supports who had arrived to help carry out the meat, a second hunter working to consolidate the take by transporting some of the meat from one dressing site to another, and a final individual–a long-time hunter but first-time elk hunter–expected to stay at the first dressing site, waiting for everyone to come back together.

For an unknown reason, that third hunter shouldered his pack, picked up one of the quarters, and left the designated meeting spot. When his friends discovered his departure, they assumed that he had decided to just start heading out, following a path similar to
one they’d used the day before.

It wasn’t until Esquibel received a text from the third hunter around 3:00 in the afternoon, saying he was lost but had already contacted 911/Search and Rescue (SAR), that they knew anything was wrong.

Esquibel got the assumed coordinates from SAR and his friend’s description of having gone uphill and being on a fence line, then began walking the nearest fence line toward the given coordinates.

By 7:00 or 7:30pm, Esquibel knew that the coordinates could not be correct. He contacted his friend one last time, as the friend’s cell phone was dying, and received more landmarks, including a pointy mountain, an empty ridgeline, and a gate with a board on the top, a description which made him think his friend had actually gone downhill in the other direction and may be on private land.

Not knowing how to immediately get a hold of that property owner, Mark Davison, Esquibel reached out to two other local ranchers and outdoorsmen, Jodi Hill and Mitch Lockhart, for help. Both individuals agreed that the description sounded like the Davison Ranch.

And while Hill was in the backcountry himself, Lockhart met Davison around 9:00pm, at which time they started walking the ranch’s fence line, eventually finding tracks going in both directions, but not the missing hunter.

Lockhart pinned the geolocation of two offshoots of tracks, and he and Davison headed back to their truck around 10:30 or 11:00pm
to wait for SAR to arrive. “We didn’t want to become part of the problem,” they both recounted.

In the meantime, snow continued to fall and 20+ mph winds sent the wind chill plunging. Search and Rescue Incident Commander Greg Foley and his team of nine volunteers had set up a command center on the other side of Tyler Mountain, near Forest Road 131 and the first set of coordinates, and were working with the Civil Air Patrol Cell Phone Forensics Team to try to obtain a second set.
Upon the news from Lockhart and Davison, one member of SAR and Esquibel hopped on an SAR ATV and started the slow multi-mile trek down the mountainside to the Davison Ranch. They would meet up with Lockhart and Davison at around 1:00-1:30 on Monday morning and a second SAR team would arrive at the Davison Ranch close to 2 o’clock.

Lockhart, Esquibel, and one member of SAR went back out to explore the spots Lockhart had pinged earlier. The tracks seemed to become more confused, according to Lockhart, leaving the reliable fence line and wandering to and from trees, as if seeking shelter.
Just before 3:00am the trio would find the lost individual on the Davison side of the fence line, under a nearby tree, four miles from the 911 coordinates. He had clear signs of disorientation and panic. He had ditched his pack, including his gun, head lamp, extra clothing, water, and food. He was conscious and responsive but couldn’t sit up immediately.

SAR applied heat packs to his legs and ankles. Lockhart offered him electric gloves and hot coffee. And soon he was able to walk out, with assistance, to Davison’s warm truck, less than one-quarter mile away. Waiting EMT’s examined him. He was cold but suffered no frostbite and was able to be sent home near 4:30 Monday morning, over 13 hours having elapsed from the time at which he had been separated from his friends.

In the end, all involved in the rescue indicated being humbled and proud of the way the Kremmling community comes together in times of need.

“I had only met Davison once before this,” exclaimed Esquibel. “I know Mitch. But to drop what you’re doing, leave your family to go out into the woods to help a stranger–people here are willing to do that. That’s the community we live in.

“There are so many people who would have come out to help, including Jodi. I called these people because they were knowledgeable about the area and Mark owns the land.”

“The biggest part for me,” Lockhart nearly echoed, “was how everyone was instantly willing to go out and help. Those are the resources that we have as a community that help get these people found in such situations.”

And Davison stated, “I’m glad that we found him. It’s been such a traumatic and troubled year, with everything going on–turmoil in the nation, the sickness, locally with the wildfires practically all the way around us–we had a success. We got someone home alive. He got to go home to his wife and children. That is the important part.

“This is what friends do. And we’re this hunter’s friend. We’re on the same page–hunters and landowners. Sometimes we work together. And this is all part of respecting each other.”

“This was an awesome team effort,” summarized Incident Commander Foley. “It worked out really well, collaborating with the locals to get ‘er done and get this individual home. His friends were very helpful and knowledgeable. They know the area better than we do. We were more than happy with this result.”

All involved also cautioned about preparedness, especially with communication resources.

“When you’re lost, it’s pretty traumatic. There’s a lot of stress, panic, and anxiety that can happen,” explains Davison, who has done hunter’s education training for years. “[The lost hunter] was lost and disoriented. But he called 911; that’s the first thing we teach. And he knew someone was looking for him.”

Foley urges anyone recreating in the backcountry to “carry your cell phone, but don’t count on it to be the end-all to get you out in an emergency. This individual’s cell phone went dead right around sunset. Make sure to also carry an extra battery or a way to charge your phone.”

Other helpful tools recommended by SAR are satellite phones or personal locator beacons. For more information on Grand County Search and Rescue or to volunteer, go to Facebook or www.grandcountysar.com. To pass on the Kremmling kindness, help a neighbor with a good deed.