JERUSALEM/ITALY — Just as a well-organized search was to begin Monday night, an 81-year-old hunter who had been missing for several hours found his way to a Yates County home.
“We were concerned, given that the hunter is not from this area, his age, and it was cold and dark,” Sheriff Ron Spike said Tuesday. “To get word that he was OK was the best news for the searchers.”
Spike said the hunter — police did not release the name of the Massachusetts resident — had been with others in Italy Hill State Forest. A person in the hunting party called 911 shortly after 6 p.m. when the man did not meet with others in the group.
County deputies drove the few roads in the area, including nearby West Lightening Road in Jerusalem, but did not see the hunter. Officers tried to ping the man’s phone but could not get a signal in the wooded, rural setting.
Spike said the sheriff’s office asked about the state police supplying an airplane, but was told the temperature — it was about 30 degrees at the time — might result in icing on the wings. Instead, a search party on foot was formed, including deputies, state forest rangers, Department of Environmental Conservation officers, and hunters who volunteered.
“The forest rangers really know what they are doing,” Spike said. “They are specially trained for situations like this.”
Spike said the Steuben County sheriff’s office offered the use of a drone with heat-seeking capability, and a Yates County deputy had a K-9.
However, as the search was to about to begin, Spike said the missing hunter turned up at a home on Italy Valley Road in the town of Italy just before 9 p.m. The homeowner called 911.
A deputy responded and took the hunter back to his party. Spike said the man likely walked several miles downhill to get to the house.
“That is a heavily wooded area with a lot of gullies. He must have walked quite a ways,” Spike said. “He was OK and not injured. We were happy to get that ‘good news’ call.”
Spike thanked all the agencies that organized for the search, as well as the volunteers.