HARRISBURG, Pa. — Two hunters who became lost Oct. 21 on State Game Lands 33 in Centre County were tracked down by specially skilled Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation officers and returned to safety early the next morning.
The commission was notified that evening that the hunters, 58-year-old Jeff Cherry, Altoona, and his 17-year-old granddaughter, Megan Settlemyer, did not rejoin the rest of their hunting party when expected. As darkness fell and the hours passed, concern for the hunters’ safety grew because Cherry is diabetic and did not have insulin or food with him.
At about 11 p.m., wildlife conservation officers and their deputies, state police, members of the Mountain Top Fire Company, and family and friends of the lost hunters gathered to begin a search.
Wildlife Conservation Officers Mike Steingraber and Derek Daly, both trained in human tracking, put their skills to work. Daly interviewed members of the hunting party and learned the direction the individuals had planned to go. Steingraber and Daly then looked at a map of the terrain to determine where the hunters might have become lost.
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Those officers, along with a K-9 Unit dog and Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer Jim Snook, began searching. The dog quickly picked up human scent and the officers saw signs that someone had recently passed through the area.
The trackers continued to follow the signs through the woods for about 2 miles to an area with dense vegetation where they thought the hunters might have become disoriented. At about 2 a.m., they called out to the hunters, who responded from about 100 yards away.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hunter that happy to see a game warden,” Steingraber said.
Cherry and Settlemyer said they had planned to spend the night in the area and try to find their way out of the state game lands in the morning.
Cherry said he accidentally walked a little farther than anticipated. He sought high ground to get his bearings and realized that there was not enough time to make it back out of the woods by nightfall.
“I had forgotten my flashlight and I didn’t want to risk trying to get my granddaughter back out of the woods over the rocks in the dark,” Cherry said. “So, I told her that we were just going to hunker down and either wait until someone found us, or wait until morning to walk out along the creek bed. I’m very appreciative of everyone who came out to search for us.”
The hunters made a good decision to stop moving instead of going even farther in the wrong direction, Steingraber said.
“That area is so thick with shrubs that it would be easy for anyone to get disoriented there,” Steingraber said. “We have had multiple people get lost in the same location because it is a tough environment.”
The wildlife conservation officers assessed the hunters' physical condition and offered them food and water. The healthy hunters were happy to arrive safely back with family and friends around 3:30 a.m.
“It is very important that hunters tell someone else where they plan to hunt and what time they expect to be back,” Steingraber said. “Obtaining that information from the other members in the hunting party was critical to us locating this pair of hunters.”
Steingraber also points out that hunters should carry a backpack with a few supplies such as warm clothes, a flashlight and food in case they get lost. No one ever expects to get lost, but it is good to be prepared.
The commission’s tracking team invests a lot of time in training how to find missing persons.
“When we’re able to find people who have been lost, it makes all those long hours worth it.” Steingraber said.