The Montezuma County Sheriff United Search and Rescue team and mounted patrol units were called in to rescue three missing hunters in the Bear Creek area on Oct 22.
The hunters, who are from Phoenix, went in on the Gold Run Trail Oct. 21 and failed to arrive at a rendezvous point that evening, said Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin.
“They were deep in the canyon and got turned around, so they had to spend the night, and it was pretty cold,” Nowlin said.
Mounted patrol officers Donnie Brown and Yvonne McClellan rode into the canyon and found the hunters, who where unharmed.
They were able to walk out, and after criminal background checks and hunting license checks, they were sent on their way.
Having the mounted horses was useful for the search, Nowlin said, because they were able to access the canyon efficiently and are sure-footed.
Detective McClellan said her mustang Cody cued her to the hunters’ calling for help.
“We couldn’t hear them, but when I saw my horse’s ears focusing in one direction, we stopped and listened and heard them calling in the far distance,” she said.
“We found them in the canyon after another 25 minutes,” McClellan said. “They were cold, tired and hungry, and happy to see us.”
The hunters were wearing lightweight jackets and pants and did not have overnight gear. They did have matches, and they built a fire to keep warm through the night, according to United Search and Rescue.
They ran out of daylight after following a bull elk to the bottom of Bear Creek, McClellan said, but they did not have flashlights.
They did have a two-way radio to communicate with their hunting companions at base camp, but due to the mountainous terrain, the radio did not work.
United Search and Rescue set up a temporary antennae that allowed rescuers to keep in contact with each other. They also deployed a search dog, but it did not pick up on a scent.
When the hunting party did not arrive at the scheduled meeting point at the Gold Run trailhead at 8 p.m. Oct. 21, their companion fired off three shots with no response. He repeated the three-shot volley at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., also without response.
After spending the night at the trailhead, the companion drove to Transfer Campground and contacted emergency services about the missing hunters.
Members of Montezuma County United Search and Rescue and mounted patrol arrived a short time later, found the hunters within hours and escorted them to safety.
“This was our first successful rescue on the mounted patrol,” McClellan said. “We were able to test our ability and our horses’ ability, and it went well.”
Hunting season continues into November.
The third rifle season for deer and elk is Nov. 3 to Nov. 11. The fourth rifle season for deer and elk is Nov. 14 to Nov. 18.