Routt County Search and Rescue stays busy as group heads into big game hunting season

Routt County Search and Rescue members Eva Vaitkus, left, and Krista Check-Hill examine ropes during training.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County Search and Rescue has had a busy year, according to Jay Bowman.

The volunteer group’s president said that in a typical year, search and rescue embarks on about 60 missions pretty consistently. 

“We have basically been averaging the same number of missions now for about the last 10 years, give or take,” Bowman said. 

This year, it’s still early in big game hunting season, and search and rescue has performed 52 missions, including 10 in July and eight in August. 

“That’s a busy summer for us,” said Bowman. 

Like the busy summer season, hunting season can be a demanding time for the volunteers as well. On Tuesday, Sept. 13, search and rescue performed a successful mission to help an injured hunter west of Yampa.

Given the uptick in calls, Bowman is urging hunters to take precautions before and during their trips.

10 Essentials

Routt County Search and Rescue recommends that people take these items with them when venturing into the backcountry.

  • Navigation: Topography map, compass, GPS or a GPS app
  • Sun protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses or goggles and a hat
  • Insulation: Extra layers, wool hat, gloves or mittens, buff and hand warmers
  • Illumination: Flashlight, headlamp and extra batteries
  • First Aid: Bandages, antiseptic wipes and a splint
  • Fire: A lighter or waterproof matches, fire starter and a saw
  • Tools: Knife, zip ties, duct tape, whistle, multi-tool, cell phone and avalanche gear
  • Nutrition: High energy snacks (jerky, trail mix, etc.)
  • Hydration: Water, a filter or purifier, or a cup to melt snow
  • Shelter: Sleeping bag, tent or shelter, and a space blanket

    Information courtesy of Routt County Search and Rescue

He said search and rescue receives a “tremendous amount of calls” from family members of hunters who haven’t returned home, but many of those turn out to be false alarms where the missing party simply stayed out longer than they planned to or had shot an animal and were taking a long time getting it back.

Bowman’s first piece of advice for hunters is to always tell someone where they are going and when they expect to be back. Routt County Search and Rescue covers about 3,400 square miles, and any information that can help narrow down a search is beneficial. 

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Bowman also said he encourages hunters to take portable GPS devices into the field with them because a lot of those devices can send text messages to check in with friends and family. 

“In Routt County, there’s not a lot of cell coverage in the backcountry,” Bowman said, adding that many GPS devices can send messages where cell phones cannot. 

For hunters who come from out of state, Bowman recommends they prepare for the effects of elevation.

“If you’re expecting to have an easy time of it marching up and down the mountains, you might not be as prepared as you think you are,” Bowman said. 

Additionally, rapid changes in the weather are also a big risk in Colorado’s backcountry, and Bowman also recommends that people should be ready to deal with wet and snowy conditions. 

“Be prepared to be stuck,” Bowman said. “Have the proper clothing, have stuff to build a fire so that you’re prepared to stay out overnight, have extra food.”

Bowman said it’s much easier to find and retrieve someone from the backcountry if that person is doing OK and sitting by a fire.

“If they’re frozen and cold and hypothermic, then it becomes a different issue,” Bowman said.  

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