Cellphones and the Global Positioning System have undoubtedly boosted hunter safety during Minnesota's deer seasons, but getting lost in the woods isn't a thing of the past.
Two days into this year's deer firearms season, the Department of Natural Resources scrambled an airplane into the sky about five miles southwest of Grand Rapids in search of a man in his late 60s.
Thanks in large part to the man's hunting companion, who quickly reported him missing when they failed to meet up, rescuers found him just before nightfall in a heavily wooded area he wouldn't have escaped on his own.
"He was cold and he was moving pretty slowly,'' said Conservation Officer Tom Sutherland. "I'm just glad we got him out.''
Sutherland said the missing hunter, whose name was not released, was last seen walking east on a trail into the Shingle Mill area of UPM-Blandin Paper Co., an expansive forest used by hunters under a public conservation easement.
The two hunters arrived early in the morning and split up with plans to reconvene in the parking area at 11:30 a.m. The missing hunter didn't answer his phone. Rescuers later learned he had left it in his vehicle. Shortly after 1 p.m., with about four hours of daylight remaining, his buddy called the Itasca County Sheriff's Department.
Sutherland was alerted and called his colleague Charles Scott, a DNR pilot and conservation officer who was near the Grand Rapids/Itasca County Airport.
Scott said he dashed to the DNR hangar and got behind the controls of the agency's American Champion Scout, a single-engine prop plane with a skinny cabin, only 2-feet-6-inches wide. It allowed him to look out both sides of the plane while he flew search patterns for the lost hunter as low as 700 feet above the ground.
Meanwhile, Sutherland, sheriff's deputies and volunteers from the Itasca County Search and Rescue Team awaited verbal ground directions from Scott. The pilot acclimated his search to the parking area and looked for people in the nearby woods wearing blaze orange.
Scott reported seeing a hunter he suspected was lost. He circled the location and radioed directions to Sutherland and others on the ground. They reached the hunter but discovered he was not lost.