Hunter found alive, licked all over
November 3, 2009
Bubba's at it again. This time the 9-year-old canine officer tracked down a 70-year-old hunter from Lakeland who had lost his way in the Ocala National Forest. Bubba and his human partner, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Jeff Gier, found the man safe a couple of hours after his brother reported him missing.
Cleatis Kelly had been hunting in the Ocala Wildlife Management Area on Saturday when he didn't return to his hunt camp that evening. His truck was still parked where he'd left it earlier, but there was no sign of him.
Several FWC officers immediately responded. Among them were Gier and Bubba who set out about 9 p.m. from the man's tree stand off Forest Road 10 just west of State Road 19 near the Juniper Wilderness Area. About an hour and a half later, they found him in thick woods, and he was mighty happy to see them.
"When I saw that light, I got down on my knees and said a few prayers. That's how happy I was to see them," Kelly said. "Bubba licked me all over; he was just beautiful."
He added that when the officers led him out of the thick woods, they used a navigation device to find their way back to their trucks.
"It's pretty easy to get disoriented in the woods, and that's exactly what happened when Mr. Kelly climbed out of his tree stand just before dusk," Gier said. "He wandered about one and a half miles before stopping and building a fire, and he was preparing to spend the night in the woods when Bubba found him."
Although Kelly did not have a compass or navigational equipment with him, Gier said Kelly did a lot of things right, which helped searchers find him quickly.
"He stopped when he realized that he was not going to find his way out. He built a fire so aircraft could spot him, and he had confidence that he would be reported missing and that we would respond to look for him," Gier said.
Kelly said he plans to write Gier and Bubba a thank-you note and include some goodies. "I'm not sure what yet; bones maybe?" he said.
Gier said just finding Kelly alive is gratifying and thanks enough for him. "As for Bubba, all he needs is his rolled-up towel toy and a chance to retrieve it. His pay is play!"