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By Andi Bourne

Don't Let Your Guard Down – Be Prepared


Photo provided

Thirteen-year-old Jacob Prescott of Florence, Mont. was lost for eight hours on the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range during the opener for antler hunting. He was found by FWP Game Warden Bill Koppen and returned safely to his father Mike and older brother Dustin.

SEELEY LAKE – On the opening day of the Blackfoot-Clearwater Game Range May 15, law enforcement had two reports of missing people. The first, a woman who was separated from her partner, was found on Highway 200 headed back to their vehicle. The second, Jacob Prescott, a 13-year-old from Florence, Mont. and his two small dogs, were missing for nearly eight hours. While Jacob only suffered from dehydration and exhaustion, Missoula County Sheriff's Office Deputy Mike Sunderland and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Bill Koppen said the situation could have been much worse because he was not prepared.

Mike Prescott brought his two sons, 18-year-old Dustin and 13-year-old Jacob, to go antler hunting for the opener. This was Mike's sixth time antler hunting on the game range and the second time with both his sons. The Prescotts are avid outdoorsmen and Jacob is a Boy Scout.

They camped out by the West Gate on Highway 83 and headed in when it opened at 12 p.m. They went to nearly the same spot as they hunted last year. After driving for a couple miles, they parked and started hiking below the road towards Highway 200 to hit up the big open meadows. Jacob took off with the family's two small dogs. He was last seen at 12:10 p.m.

"It was open so I didn't worry too much about the boys getting out of my line of sight," said Mike. "I made a big loop and ended up down near the highway [in an hour and a half] and didn't see either one of my boys but I wasn't too worried."

When he got back to the truck he could see Dustin but no sign of Jacob. After a couple of hours of waiting at the truck, Mike drove out to the highway to see if Jacob headed there because he didn't want to walk back up the hill. When he didn't find him, he started asking people if they had seen him. Since he was wearing a bright chartreuse t-shirt he was easy to describe.

A few people had seen him but it had been a while and Mike figured he should have reached the road by then. After nearly five hours, Mike drove through the Game Range to the east side and back on Highway 200, driving the whole loop.

"The sun was getting to where it was kind of starting to set. Jacob is a wrestler and he's in good shape and he had the two dogs with him. I just couldn't understand how he had not hit a road. I knew he was physically in good shape so then I started to worry that something had happened to him."

Law enforcement was called around 5:30 p.m. to report Jacob missing.

"The bottom line is they came into an area that they didn't know well and then they didn't keep tabs on [Jacob] and allowed him to wander off," said Sunderland. "Ultimately [Jacob] should have stayed close enough so he could have stayed in contact with his father."

Jacob was carrying a backpack with a bottle of water, a flashlight and a sweatshirt, and had a pocketknife with him. Mike said Jacob left his cell phone in the truck because it was dead. They didn't have their two-way radios nor did Jacob have any fire starter, a space blanket or bear spray.

Sunderland said they talked with antler hunters that were on horseback who had seen Jacob around 2 p.m. The riders were concerned because they kept kicking up a sow grizzly and two cubs.

"He's hiking around by himself in an area that is known to have grizzlies. He had no way to defend himself against a bear and he's hiking with two little tiny dogs which that in itself can attract a bear," said Sunderland. "Even though at certain times he said he could see Clearwater Junction, at no time did he ever head towards Clearwater. He should have headed straight towards it to get somewhere where he could get in contact with someone."

Mike asked Jacob why he didn't head down to the highway and Jacob said that it looked like it was too far.

"He had it in his mind that he had to go up hill. From what I can gather he kept trying to go uphill but would get turned around and kept going in circles," said Mike.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Game Warden Bill Koppen joined the search along with Seeley-Swan Search and Rescue Chief Gerry Connell. Sunderland said they did a limited search because there were several shed hunters looking for him and they had a pretty good idea where they thought he was. Koppen was also able to go look on a four-wheeler so they were optimistic they would find him.

Koppen spoke with the woman, who was reported missing, as she was headed back on Highway 200 to her vehicle parked at Russell's Gate. She said she saw the boy around 5:30 p.m. He started walking towards her and then turned and headed west.

Koppen found Jacob and the two dogs around 8 p.m. The boy told him that he had run out of water a long time ago and had eaten his food. He didn't know which way was west and he wasn't certain which directions the two main roads ran.

"He was scared," said Koppen. "He was a little stand offish and was real quiet. I told him it was okay, I'm a game warden and we were looking for you. He was headed the right direction at that time so I think he would have made it out by dark."

"He acted like he wasn't totally lost. Even though Bill said he was heading in the right direction, he would have had to come through the heavy timber and not gotten lost and he hadn't demonstrated that all day long so I don't know if he would have or not," said Mike. "When it got dark he would have panicked."

Jacob and the two dogs were reunited with his family before dark.

"It was an emotional roller coaster," said Mike. "I was so relieved I wanted to give Bill and Sunderland a hug. They kept me calm and were methodical and when you start to panic you are not."

Jacob told his father that he only stopped twice, each time for less than a minute. While Mike is still not sure how Jacob hiked for eight hours without hitting a road, he thinks that because the area had drainages that come together, he kept going in circles. Mike said more than anything he was dehydrated and disoriented.

"I let my guard down. We had been in there before and it was fairly open, I just didn't think we were going to have a problem," said Mike. "We just weren't expecting it and were ill prepared."

Mike said they have all the gear, just didn't have it with them. They reviewed orientation skills and said next time they would use a check list and include essentials in their packs, have some form of communication and stay in sight of each other.

"I hope this is a lesson learned and thankful he didn't have any serious injury or anything else," said Mike "There have been things said that are negative towards law enforcement and game wardens but they both were excellent. Their response time was great. They kept me updated, they had a strategy and they started talking to people. They were so helpful and went out of their way. They were a blessing. I don't know whom else you turn to in those situations. It's them or nothing."

Be Prepared

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

Some of the things that are wise, if not essential, to carry in a survival pack.

Koppen reminds recreationists to check the weather before they head out, know the area and have a plan as a group if someone gets separated. Also telling someone who is not with the group the travel plan and expected check-in times so if something is wrong, they can call for help. Sunderland added to be prepared for bears and if lost, head towards people or a landmark to get help.

Koppen said, "I've been lost and spent the night out but if you have the [right] stuff you will be fine. If you think it can't happen to you, well it can. It can happen to anyone."

Recommend items for a survival pack (pictured above): Water and/or have a way to purify it; Map, compass, or GPS; cell phone; fire starter; space blanket; whistle for communication; hat/gloves/lightweight jacket/rain gear; headlamp or flashlight with a strobe; bear spray; knife or multi-tool; food; bug spray; sunscreen and extra batteries if needed.


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