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Monday, November 25, 2013 at 2:23 am

Rescuers put themselves at risk to save stranded hunter in Iroquois refuge

At 4:38 p.m., Bill Schutt, Alabama fire's assistant chief, is reminded the sun sets in three minutes.

"That's what I'm worried about," he says. "It's not just light. It gets colder."

His chief is out on an island in the midst of frigid water with a hunter who became stranded in the swamps of Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge on a day when temperatures dipped into the teens. One firefighter, who was with the chief, is at risk of frostbite after his boots filled with water while trying to reach the hunter.

It's too risky for the firefighters to walk out, even though they've located the hunter and he's in good health.

The hunter called for help at 2:30 in the afternoon. He started hunting at 12:30. He called for help, he said later, having spent an hour in the icy waters of the swamp tracking a deer he'd shot.

"At first the water wasn't too deep," said Colin Phillips, here from Vermont to hunt. "I was hopping from island to island out there and then it started getting deeper and deeper and I'm breaking through the ice. Finally, I reached an island and went about 50 yards and I couldn't go any further. I was exhausted."

His hands were freezing because he didn't have any gloves, but was otherwise appropriately dressed for the conditions. It was so cold that after his gun got wet it jammed with ice. He couldn't even fire a shot to alert rescuers to his location.

He was found with the help of a State Police helicopter and good tracking by Alabama Chief Gary Patnode.

As sunset neared, a hovercraft from Clarence Center returned from its crew's effort to reach the stranded hunter and the two firefighters. 

The sticks and logs popped nearly ever single floatation tube from around the boat. 

One of the crew members said that when they were about halfway to the location, the boat's stern took a nosedive into the water and that's when most of the damage was done.

The crew decided to be safe and make its way back to the shore.

"We realized, it's just a machine," he said. "It can be repaired."

As the sun's light wanes outside the command center, Jim Bouton, a coordinator with the Office of Emergency Management, learns that the weather had cleared enough for the State Police helicopter to return to the scene.

The helicopter isn't really equipped to hoist people from the ground, so the plan is for the chopper to hover right on top of the ice and pull one person at a time into the craft.

Bouton relays the plan to Schutt and looks skeptical.

"We need a plan C," he says.

A little later, scene commanders learn the helicopter from the Erie County Sheriff's Office will attempt the rescue. The two-man crew can deploy a hoist.

"I'm usually the type to remain calm and I was confident enough in our resources and our fire companies that I knew we were eventually going to get out," Patnode said after he returned safely to Casey Road. "We were already working on plans B, C and D."

When the rescue effort first started, Schutt noted, it seemed straightforward enough. Dispatchers were able to provide coordinates of the stranded hunter and he wasn't too difficult to find.

But getting him out safely proved to be harder than expected.

"The amount of water they had to go through, lightly frozen over, was the problem the hunter ran into in the first place," Schutt said. "Our firefighters could not have safely gotten back because they would have had to walk back through the water."

Alabama firefighters have all recently been through wilderness rescue training and Patnode had Thompson carrying a backpack equipped with what rescuers would need in a wilderness situation.

Except for a kit to start a fire.

"If I could have started a fire, I would have," Patnode said.

The idea of a nighttime rescue in the wilderness certainly carried an innate sense of risk.

"Any time you have a helicopter operating in the dark close to trees and people, it's definitely an elevated level of danger," said Andy Merkle, who worked the scene during most of the incident as operations manager.

His job was to keep an track of all the people and resources going in so they could be accounted for coming out.

"We want to make sure we don't come up with any more victims," Merkle said.

The first person rescued was Ryan Thompson, the firefighter with the cold feet. He was fine and was out walking around after a few minutes of rehab in an ambulance.

Thompson expressed nothing but confidence in his chief and his fellow firefighters. He said he never felt like it was a desperate situation.

"I knew it was our job and they would get us out some how," Thompson said.

Phillips was the next one brought back to the command post on Casey Road.

Upon his return, the demeanor of his brother and a friend who had been pacing the road for more than two hours went from fretful to joyous.

"You go from being absolutely terrified to utter rejoicing in the matter of two hours," said friend Matthew Laflair.

Laflair had some familiarity with the swamp area and knew what firefighters were up against.

"I know how tough it is to get back there, so to see the effort is good," Laflair said. "It's impressive to see a helicopter pulling some people out of here."

Patnode was the third person airlifted out of the swamp. He was also impressed by the effort of the Erie County pilot.

"I think he went above and beyond," Patnode said. "Maybe he went out of his comfort zone doing a night rescue like that, but he got the job done."

There were two other members of the Alabama team who got stranded in the woods. They were brought out by members of the Clarence Center Fire Department who were dressed in cold-water rescue suits.

In all, volunteers from fire departments in Genesee, Orleans, Erie and Niagara counties assisted in the rescue of Phillips.

"I owe them my life," Phillps said. "If they didn't come out and get me, I'd be dead tonight. I appreciate every second of it. They're great people."

Patnode, Thompson, Schutt, all said, "this is what we do."

So what can we say about that?

"I think you say 'Thank you,' " Schutt said. "I don't know what more you can say than that.

"These guys are out here, no paycheck," Schutt added. "They've been out here in the cold for hours, but it's something you do for your community. When you're part of a volunteer fire department, somebody calls for help, you go help. It's not something you complain about. None of these guys are going to complain about being out here cold and away from home for hours."

The initial post on this incident by Billie Owens contains a lot of details in chronological order of how the rescue went down. If you haven't read it, read it.

Bill Schutt, communicating with dispatchers early in the incident.

Patnode, center of the picture, after being airlifted from the swamp.

Top photo, Colin Phillips escorted to an ambulance after being rescued.

To purchase prints of photos, click here.

Saturday, November 16, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Oakfield teen's first deer bow hunting is an albino

post by Howard Owens in hunting, Oakfield, outdoors

Emily Staniszewski, a 14-year-old Oakfield resident, killed her first deer this week bow hunting, but not just any deer. It's an albino buck.

She made the kill of the three pointer in Chautauqua County.

Kimberly Staniszewski said the deer is quite the trophy for her daughter.

"Needless to say we are planning on having a full mount of this unique animal to admire for many years to come," Kimberly said.

Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Submitted Photo: Hunter takes down nine-point buck in Alexander

post by Howard Owens in alexander, hunting, outdoors, sports

Submitted by Jodi Wolfley.

Austin Wolfley with his nine-point buck he shot in Alexander.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Oakfield-Alabama student won youth category at Squirrel Slam in Holley

post by Howard Owens in holley, hunting, outdoors, Squirrel Slam

Genesee County has at least one champion squirrel hunter.

Erica Kotarski, 13, in eighth grade at Oakfield-Alabama Central School, won the youth division in the Holly Fire Department Squirrel Slam on Saturday.

To earn the $50 prize and plaque, Erica bagged five squirrels with a total weight of 7 pounds 1.8 ounces.

As near I as I can find, HFD has not announced the other winners, but Erica's parents, Dale and Molly, are proud of their daughter and sent along the phone and information.

Erica has her lifetime hunting license and has taken all required safety courses, Molly said.

Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 8:24 pm

State Police, DEC stress hunter safety as new season opens

post by Howard Owens in DEC, hunting, outdoors, State Police

Safety is every hunter's responsibility, Capt. Christopher Cummings, commander of Troop A, Batavia, told the press today, asking that the media help spread the message of hunter safety at the start of a new hunting season.

Since the 1960s, the number of hunting-related accidents in New York has decreased steadily, but that's no reason not to be as careful this year as any other year. That was the message of today's press conference.

"The important thing is that every individual hunter must realize that they have to make safety priority one when they go out into the field," Cummings said. "Every individual hunter is responsible for the integrity and reputation of hunting. They need to take the responsibility on themselves that they do carry that weight when they enter the woods with a firearm.

"It should be simple for the safety of hunters," Cummings added. "It should be simple. Every hunting incident that we investigate is preventable."

Capt. Frank Lauricella, Department of Environmental Conservation, offered several safety tips for hunters:

  • Always assume a firearm is loaded;
  • Make sure the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction;
  • Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire;
  • Wear hunter orange.

It's been proven, he said, that hunters wearing orange are seven times safer than those who do not.

He said it's also important to see your target clearly and what's beyond your target.

"It's very important to remember that once you discharge you cannot call back that projectile," Lauricella said.

Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Photo: A daughter's first deer

post by Howard Owens in elba, hunting, outdoors

Mary Hale sent in this picture of her daughter Liz Wilkosz, 26, formerly of Elba, who shot her first deer, an eight-point buck, this morning on Molasses Hill, Elba. Pictured with Liz, from left, are her brothers Tim and Ed, boyfriend Keith and friend Warren.

NOTE: There is a Molasses Hill in Elba.  It's private property. It's off Barrville Road.

Monday, October 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm

Teenage Bergen bow hunter takes down 17-point buck

post by Howard Owens in bergen, hunting, outdoors

From Jake's father, Jeff Maurer:

My 17-year-old son, Jake Hunter Maurer, took this 17 pointer on opening day of this year's archery season, Saturday October 15, 2011.

He was hunting alone on the evening of the first day of this year's bow season and though the weather was not ideal, a little windy and cool, this buck meandered through and was the only deer that he saw that afternoon. It presented a 20-yard shot and Jake was able to make it a successful one.

He found his arrow and returned home for an hour then went back out with his friend and father to track it. It had only traveled about 80 yards where they found out just how big he really was. With 17 scoreable points, it may have to be recorded as a non-typical due to the abnormal points on the antlers. But it appears to be big enough for the NYS record book, whether it is recorded as a typical or non-typical.

Jake photographed this same buck with a trail camera a few weeks before season and figured out his travel habits between his bedding area and feeding areas. He found a tree to put a stand in and went there the first day even though other hunters may have stayed out of the woods due to the high winds and cold rain. We took it to a local taxidermist to be mounted and look forward to several meals from all the meat as it weighed about 200 pounds.

The Maurers live in Bergen and Jake was hunting in Bergen when he shot the buck.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 at 7:46 pm

Elba teen bags 10-point buck

post by Gretel Kauffman in bow hunting, Deer, elba, hunting, outdoors

alexis deer.jpg

Early Saturday morning, Alexis Aratari surprised herself by killing her first buck -- and then surprised herself further when she discovered that it was a 10-point deer.

"It was really shocking," she says. "My heart was going about a mile a minute."

The feat, which is impressive for anyone of any age, was even more incredible in Alexis's case due to the fact that she has only been hunting for two years.

"It's really rare to have girl hunters, especially teenagers, get that big of a buck," the 16-year-old explains. "So it was really lucky that my first buck was a 10-pointer. It was beginner's luck."

Alexis, who goes out hunting every day during the season, says that she spotted the buck at around 8:30 Saturday morning. When she shot at it with her bow, it dropped right away. Her father, Mike Aratari, who was in a tree on the other side of the field, had seen the buck earlier and hoped that she would get it.

"We both thought it was just a six- or eight-pointer," Alexis said. "When he heard the shot, he yelled for me to stay up in the tree and he looked at it and told me it was a 10-pointer. I couldn't believe it."

"Now he says he has to try to top it," she laughs. "He's been hunting for 20 years, and he's only gotten two 10-pointers."

Hunting is clearly in Alexis's blood. Along with her father, her uncle and aunt also enjoy the pastime.

"All my family is really proud," she says. "We sent them all pictures, and my uncle in Florida has been telling everyone about it."

So what exactly will become of the massive buck?

"We're sending it to get mounted, and we're going to put it up on the wall next to my dad's 10-pointer," she says with a grin.

Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Oakfield Rod & Gun Club starts 'Open Trap Shooting' Aug. 14

The Oakfield Rod & Gun Club will commence “Open Trap Shooting," starting Saturday, Aug. 14 and continuing each Saturday thereafter.

It runs from 2 to approximately 7 p.m., weather permitting. The club is located at 3199 Maltby Road in Oakfield.

Prepare for your fall hunting. The public is welcome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

If dogs could talk, it would be funny - and instructive, says trainer

post by Victoria Gooch in batavia, City Church, hunting, pets

JimHunt.jpgOakfied resident Jim Beverly is a dog lover who has always wondered what his dogs were thinking -- or what they would say if they could talk.

And as an animal trainer who has four-legged hunting partners, he thought it would be interesting to produce a DVD that would use his talents, teach people something and be amusing, too.

So he created what he dubbed the "Fun DVD," which he is selling to help the Batavia City Church finish its kitchen project in the Generation Center. He is a member of the congregation. The rest of the money will go to Roswell Cancer Institute in Buffalo where his wife has been treated for a rare form of the disease.

"My mission in life is to help anyone I can with the talents and opportunities that God has entrusted me with," Beverly said. "The more pictures I looked at and the situations the dog was exposed to, the more I started imagining some funny remarks or thoughts that that particular animal may have had at the time.

"It's amazing at some of the things we demand and ask of our four-legged hunting partner."

Although his education is in marketing and engineering, his passion is retrievers and waterfowl hunting.

He has learned that a dog is a never-ending learning experience and it can always keep you on your toes.

"My filming project is going to be a down-to-earth retriever training DVD focusing on the everyday retriever owner and my techniques God has blessed me with. ... The education, experience and faith that I have is what has allowed me to be in the top of my profession.

There may be nothing quite like this DVD on the market. Beverly has done very little editing in order to show different personalities of dogs and how to deal with the training issues of each one.

"As I tell young people that happen to be attending any of my appearances, I did not take dog training 101, but a good education is the first step toward being able to choose what you want to do rather than being forced into something just to earn a living."

The DVD can be ordered directly from Beverly. Cost is $18, including shipping. His phone number is (716) 474-4661.

Beverly is working on another video that he plans to release next year.

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