SAN FRANCISCO — The 72-year-old hunter who was lost for more than two weeks in a Northern California forest survived by eating squirrels and other animals he shot with his rifle and by making small fires and packing leaves and grasses around his body to stay warm, according to his family.
Deer hunter Gene Penaflor was found Saturday in Mendocino National Forest by other hunters who carried him to safety in a makeshift stretcher, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Sunday.
Penaflor disappeared after heading out with a partner during the first week of deer hunting season in the rugged mountains of far Northern California, a trip he takes annually.
“He goes hunting every year, and he comes home every year,” his daughter-in-law Deborah Penaflor said Monday outside Gene Penaflor’s small home in San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood. “We’d gotten a little complacent that he would always come back.”
Gene Penaflor had separated from his hunting partner for a couple of hours as usual to stalk deer. While they were apart, Gene Penaflor fell, hit his head and passed out, Deborah Penaflor said.
He woke up after spending what appeared to be a full day unconscious, with his chin and lip badly gashed. He noticed fog and morning dew and realized he’d been out for a while, Deborah Penaflor said.
Gene Penaflor had a lighter, a knife and water with him when he went hunting. But Deborah Penaflor said the knife and water bottle somehow got lost in the fall. She had no further details.
Still, he had his rifle, and he was able to make use of it to kill squirrels to sustain him while he awaited rescue. He also was near a source of water in a nearby drainage.
To stay warm, Gene Penaflor made small fires and packed leaves and grasses around his body. When it rained or snowed, he crawled under a large log and managed to stay dry, authorities said.
“He knew at some point he was going to die, but he figured he’d last as long as he could,” sheriff’s Detective Andrew Porter told the Ukiah Daily Journal.
The sheriff’s office said an initial search involving several agencies was called off when a storm was on its way and there was no sign of the missing hunter.
The family returned to San Francisco dejected.
“We were depressed,” Deborah Penaflor said. “We were walking his dog and hoping the search would start up again.”
The search was reactivated Saturday, and a group of hunters found Gene Penaflor when someone in the group heard a voice calling for help from the bottom of a canyon. He was found about 3 miles from where he had disappeared.
The family returned north to aid in the search late last week. They distributed missing persons flyers around the area hoping other hunters would be on the lookout.
When they heard he’d been found alive, they rushed to the mountain to meet him.
“There were tears of joy on the top of that mountain,” Deborah Penaflor said.
The Mendocino National Forest is about 160 miles north of San Francisco.
Jason Dearen can be reached at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/JHDEAREN