“Sunday night, Conservation Officer Amanda McCurdy coordinated a successful multiagency search and rescue for a missing hunter,” said Chief Gary Hagler, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Division. “First responders faced inclement weather conditions in already challenging terrain. McCurdy’s response, with the assistance of seven other conservation officers and assisting agencies successfully resolved this search and rescue within six hours.”
McCurdy, who has been a conservation officer since 2017, received a call from Benzie County Central Dispatch at 6:58 p.m. Sunday about a missing 75-year-old man from Candler, North Carolina, with a history of health complications. The man had been at deer camp with friends and family, hunting the same spot in Benzie County for the last 20 years.
Due to the weather, the group decided not to hunt Sunday and everyone reunited at the cabin. By Sunday afternoon, others at camp realized nobody had seen or heard from their missing friend since watching him leave the cabin that morning. Familiar with their friend’s preferred hunting spots, the group searched and located the man’s vehicle, but no sign of him.
While en route to the scene, located off of Boekeloo Road in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, McCurdy began requesting assistance from conservation officers patrolling the surrounding area.
McCurdy met two deputies from the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office and the missing man’s friends and family, who said the man likely would be at one of two hunting spots. McCurdy asked the group to lead her to the hunting spots so she could begin looking for clues to help officers locate the man.
“The terrain was very difficult, thick and damp – not even navigable,” McCurdy said.
Knowing a ground search would be near impossible, McCurdy requested helicopter assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard.
During this time, McCurdy was joined by seven conservation officers, two Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park Service rangers, Benzie County Office of Emergency Management, Frankfort Fire Department, Michigan State Police K-9 Unit, Benzie County EMS and members of the Benzie County Sheriff’s Office.
Everyone exited the woods so the helicopter search team would have a better chance isolating and identifying the missing man’s heat signal. With officers stationed around the national park, Sgt. Dan Bigger, conservation officer supervisor in Benzie County, led the search from the air in the helicopter, communicating with the team on ground.
At 8:48 p.m., the helicopter crew saw what appeared to be a light in the woods. Directed by the helicopter crew, the MSP K-9 unit located the missing man, who was stuck in the mud, shining a flashlight at the helicopter.
Officers helped the man exit the woods, until a DNR off-road vehicle was able to navigate into the woods and transport the man the rest of the way. Benzie County EMS provided on-site care.
“This search was successful due to the overwhelming number of conservation officers and other agencies who were willing to help,” McCurdy said. “It was a team effort; everyone had an important role to play to ensure this hunter didn’t spend a cold, wet and lonely night in the woods.”
The scene was cleared before midnight. The hunter was not admitted to the hospital and as of Monday afternoon is expected to make a full recovery.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and conducting lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. These officers undergo extensive search and rescue training to locate missing persons and have specialized equipment to navigate rural and difficult terrain.