Lost Father & Son
Hunting Near Pompeys Pillar
written by Roxanne LaGreca
The search callout came at 0130 on Sunday from Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office. Members of Absaroka Search Dogs arrived at the search area at 0200, just North of Pompeys Pillar. They were briefed with the information needed and shown the place the father and son hunter were last seen.
The two lost hunters had been last seen at 1600 the day before, Monday. Their car was still parked where they had left it. An uncontaminated scent article was difficult to obtain from the vehicle because it had been searched. The scent articles offered to me by the family were clean from the subject's drawer and unusable. The two lost hunters had tennis shoes and jeans on, light jackets, no matches or survival gear. The family thought that neither the father or son would go far, since they were not equipped to stay out long and the father was not an avid hiker. Both were in good physical condition and had taken a hunters safety class this season. The temperature was about upper 20 degrees (F). Very cold for someone without adequate clothing. There was 2 inches of new snow on the ground. Tracks around the vehicle thought to be that of the lost subjects looked more like other searchers or family, because the were not covered with new snow. Many people at search base were wearing tennis shoes, as well.
Yellowstone County Sheriff's Deputy, Steve accompanied Lee Dunn and his dog, Sky, into the field. They moved away from the vehicle and Lee started Sky, working 380 degrees around the vehicle. Sky did pick up a track, but later found out that the prints belonged to the missing subject's brother.
Lee determined the best search strategy, at that point, was to section of a search area and begin gridding into the wind, which was coming from the west. The area was very large, but they would be joined by unit member, Vikki Fenton-Anderberg and her search dog Pilot. Even with the two teams the search area was imense, approximately 3 square miles, and growing every hour that the hunter were missing. When Vikki and Pilot arrived they were accompanied by ASD member Janne Anderberg. They set out to cover the eastern slope of a nearby coulee to the south east of the PLS.
Each dog team had worked all night and walked about 10 miles, when daylight came. No scent clues were turning up. Fortuneately, searching was then aided by a rancher with a airplane, and about 30 other searchers from different agencies. The increased number of searchers would be able to cover the huge search area more efficiently. Among those present were Worden Fire Department, Yellowstone Sheriff's Department, Minuteman Search and Rescue, members of the family, an ambulance crew and other volunteers.
A little after dawn searchers heard three shots fired. One of the volunteer fire department personnel informed Lee over the radio that the shots came from 45 degrees south of the sun. Lee started in that direction in his vehicle. Vikki and her group started walking that way. Lee had planned drive as far as he could on a farmer's two track road to drive toward the gun shot sounds. Instead, he saw the two lost hunters, standing around the Worden Fire Department Hummer vehicle. There was no room in the Hummer, so the two tired, thirsty, cold hunters climbed in Lee's truck and he gave them a ride back to the property owner's house. There was a tearful and happy reunion.
At the house, there was television and newspaper personnel showing up to interview the found hunters. Below is an article that appeared in the Billing's Gazette on 11-10-98, after an interview with Ken Dierenfield the father, and Nathen his son.
Out of the woods
Deer hunting father, son found after night outdoors
By JENNIFER McKEE Of The Gazette Staff
If he had it to do over again, Ken Dierenfield said he would bring matches.
"We cut off some big branches to cover ourselves like a blanket," he said, sitting on his sofa, with his son at his side and his dog lying at his feet. "We started getting the shakes."
And shakes, said Dierenfield, who spent Sunday night outside, cold and lost beside his 13-year-old son Nathan, are a bad thing.
"It's an early stage of hypothermia," he said.
Sunday actually started out good enough for the Billings man and his son. Nathan just completed his hunter's education program and had already shot his first antelope. They were hoping for a deer on Sunday when they drove out of town at sunrise to scope out a farm near Pompeys Pillar, where neither had hunted.
"We mostly drove around all day," Dierenfield said.
And that was the plan. Neither was especially dressed for an all-day hike.
Nathan was in sneakers.
Dierenfield didn't have matches, a compass or flashlight.
But around 2 p.m., when the other members of the hunting party, Dierenfield's brother and a friend of his, took off, the father and son decided to nose around a little farther into the landscape.
"We had the whole day," Dierenfield said. "We were in an area we'd never hunted before."
So they drove up a ways, left the car and started walking.
Dierenfield doesn't know exactly how far they walked. But around 5 p.m., it started snowing and the two headed back to the car.
At least, that's where they thought they were going.
"Well, where the car was supposed to be, it wasn't," he said.
And that's when Dierenfield started worrying.
"It's about five-thirty, it's snowing thicker and thicker," he said. "We need to find a place to bed down. We need some trees."
Squinting in the fading light, the two walked over sagebrush prairie to a thicket of trees. They broke off the tips of the trees for a bed, Nathan pulled his head and hands into his jacket and the two cuddled together to stay warm.
"It would last about an hour," Dierenfield said. Then they'd start shaking, get up and stomp the ground to warm their feet.
Nathan actually fell asleep a few times, Dierenfield said. But between being cold and worrying, Dierenfield said he wouldn't let himself doze off.
"I kind of wanted to sleep, but I kind of didn't," Dierenfield said. "I figured if we could just make the night, we'd be okay."
Temperatures dipped to around 20 degrees. The two stomped the ground and prayed. They snuggled together and talked and, at one particularly cold point, they even pulled branches over them for a blanket.
"That worked pretty good," Dierenfield said.
Meanwhile, 10 miles west, where their car was, where they should've been hours ago, a swarm of searchers roamed the prairie looking for the two. Dogs from the Absaroka Search and Rescue Dogs picked up a scent and lost it. Sheriff's deputies yelled their names into their PA system, flashed their lights and beeped their sirens.
"We searched for them all night," said Deputy Sam Bofto.
The two started east at first light, Dierenfield said, following the sun until they spotted the farmhouse they passed on their way in. They walked 10 miles in wet socks, over rolling prairie before the search party heard Dierenfield's three distress shots.
"We started seeing tracks where they were looking for us," Dierenfield said. "We kept yelling and they told us to yell back."
Nineteen hours after Dierenfield ate his last sandwich, the two walked up to their rescuers.
"They said they were up and walking and that's all I wanted to hear," said Dierenfield's wife and Nathan's mom, Donita.
Nathan said he wasn't really scared. And Dierenfield said he was "pretty confident" they'd get out OK. But Donita Dierenfield said they won't hunt again this year.
"I'm just so thankful that they're home again," she said.
And, you know what, Dierenfield said.
They didn't see one deer.