Prepare for the worst when hunting in Routt County’s backcountry |

Prepare for the worst when hunting in Routt County’s backcountry

Routt County Search and Rescue has seen more calls than usual this archery season

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a month more of deer and elk hunting seasons still to go, Routt County Search and Rescue has already responded to three incidents involving hunters.

Nobody plans to get injured or lost in the backcountry, but the unexpected happens to even the most experienced outdoor enthusiast.

Kristia Check-Hill, a volunteer at Search and Rescue, offered some advice to hunters headed into the field.

“Remember to be prepared for ‘Oh, heck’ moments,” she said. “It does happen. It happens to all of us.”

Search and Rescue is an all-volunteer organization. It is always free to call Search and Rescue, though once you’re out of the woods, you’ll have to pay or use insurance to receive ambulance transport and medical care after an incident. Search and Rescue can be reached by calling or texting 911.

Check-Hill recommends taking a cell phone with you, even if you don’t think you’ll have service. In the case that you do and are able to call 911, dispatchers can better direct Search and Rescue volunteers to your location using a “ping” from your phone. 

If you use other devices, such as satellite communication devices or personal radios, Check-Hill said you should take some time to know how to operate them.

“In an emergency, when that’s your lifeline, you need to know how to use that equipment,” she said.

She jokes that she doesn’t even know how to use all the features on her smart phone, but she knows enough to use it to help her get out of the backcountry.

Search and Rescue’s 10 essential items

Routt County Search and Rescue President Jay Bowman advises that adventurers always bring these 10 items on backcountry excursions:
Navigation: map, compass and GPS system
Sun protection: sunglasses, sunscreen and hat
Insulation: jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell and thermal underwear
Illumination: flashlight, lanterns and headlamp
First-aid supplies: first-aid kit
Fire: matches, lighter and fire starters
Repair kit and tools: duct tape, knife, screwdriver and scissors
Nutrition: food
Hydration: water and water-treatment supplies
Emergency shelter: tent, space blanket, tarp and bivouac

Remote areas of private and national forest land make great spots to find elk, but it could take a long time for first responders to get to those locations in an emergency. Hunters should also plan not only to dress for a day in the woods, but for a night there, too. That means taking rain gear, extra layers, extra snacks and a light source into the field, even if you don’t think you’ll need it.

“You go out at 6:30 in the morning, something happens, and you’re dressed appropriately for the day, but again, you could be there all night,” Check-Hill said.

Hunters can also stay safer by hunting with a group. If you hunt with another person or multiple other people, someone can leave the scene to go get help if need be, Check-Hill said.

Archery season will continue until Sept. 29. It’s also muzzleloader season until Sunday, Sept. 22. Routt County’s first deer and elk rifle season will begin on Oct. 12.

A busy season already

On Sunday, Search and Rescue volunteers were called to the Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area to search for a hunter who had used a personal radio to tell a hunting partner that he was hurt and needed help.

At about 6:15 p.m. dispatchers called Search and Rescue to a possible search for a 55-year-old Routt County resident in a remote area of the Sarvis Creek Wilderness between Stagecoach and Catamount reservoirs, said Check-Hill, who served as Search and Rescue’s incident commander Sunday. At the time, it was not clear the extent of the man’s injuries.

His friend had called 911 after receiving his call for help and possible coordinates of his location, Check-Hill said. The group was camping in an area that was a two-hour hike in. With that in mind, the friend told Search and Rescue he believed he knew the man’s location, and it was within a 30-minute hike from camp.

While the man’s friend hiked to his believed location, Search and Rescue ordered a Classic Air Medical helicopter to search the area with night vision goggles. He was not found at the location he was believed to be at. At about 8 p.m., the helicopter dropped off a crew member to search for the injured man on the ground.

As Check-Hill began working to coordinate a helicopter to shuttle Search and Rescue volunteers into the backcountry to locate the man, the crew member and two other hunters in the area found the injured man. The Classic Air Medical crew checked out his injuries. 

“He had hurt his knee, but it was nothing life-threatening or anything of that sort,” she said.

He was able to walk but was hurt and not totally sure of the way back to camp. One of the friends he was camping with hiked out to him, and they returned to camp.

Sunday’s incident marked the second hunting-related Search and Rescue call of the week.

“It has been a busy start to archery season,” Check-Hill said. She added that typically rifle season, which will start in October, sees more Search and Rescue calls than archery season.

On Friday, a bow hunter tripped and fell on an arrow while hunting in the Clark area. The arrow punctured his knee.

Check-Hill said Search and Rescue volunteers, North Routt Fire Protection District medics and Colorado Parks and Wildlife went into the field to rescue the man. North Routt medics transported him to UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center for care.

On Wednesday, Sept. 11, a 68-year-old Wheat Ridge man died as a result of a medical issue while hunting in California Park north of Hayden. Moffat County and Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Search and Rescue teams were called to the scene. At around 7 a.m., the man’s hunting party called 911 as he had difficulty breathing. His companions and first responders administered CPR. The man died around 10 a.m.

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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