Off-duty OSP Trooper rescues lost hunter in harsh conditions in Union County

UNION COUNTY — An off-duty Oregon State Fish & Wildlife Trooper is being celebrated as a hero as he rescued a lost hunter during a hunting trip in the Starkey Unit.

Senior Trooper Travis Ring, who lives and works out of the OSP office in La Pine, was archery hunting recently near the Starkey Experimental Forest, about 25 miles west of La Grande, when he thought he heard desperate cries for help.

“It was raining and near freezing so my friend and I were walking back to our truck when I heard three cries for help,” said Trooper Ring. “I asked my friend if she heard it and she said yeah but it was probably coyotes.”

Ring says they went back to camp, but “something didn’t sit right.” Trooper Ring’s intuition urged him to investigate further. He decided to return to the area after a brief discussion with his hunting partner.

“I was positive I heard someone at the bottom of that canyon,” said Ring.

Once he returned with his partner, Ring descended to the bottom of the canyon in freezing, wet conditions. He said he then heard more cries for help.

“I walked out there and sure enough, I heard it again, but he was a long way away, way too far. I yelled, but he couldn’t hear me with the wind. So I said I’m going in after him. I had a flashlight with me and I was dressed for the weather,” said Ring. “I said I’m gonna go down in the canyon and see if I can’t find him or he’s gonna freeze to death tonight.”

Ring says after several miles and hours of following the cries in the dark, howling wind he finally made contact with the lost hunter, who had become disoriented and lost in the vast and treacherous canyons while tracking a herd of elk.

Upon reaching the lost hiker, Trooper Ring discovered that the individual was ill-prepared for the harsh conditions. 

“When we found him, he was wearing a pair of tennis shoes, a pair of jean pants and a hoodie camouflage sweatshirt soaked to the bone and that was it,” said Ring. “He had no backpack. He had no fire starters, emergency blankets, or a compass. His cell phone was dead. He was a long way from his camp.”

Trooper Ring and his hunting party successfully got the hiker back to safety, providing warmth and transportation back to his camp.

Ring says with the conditions, wet clothes and no emergency kit, there’s little doubt that the man wouldn’t have survived overnight. 

I woke up the next morning and the freezing fog had set in and my windshield had a thick layer of ice over my windshield on my vehicle. I was like, man, it got cold last night.” said Ring.

“It sounds like he had the best of intentions. He heard the elk from his camp in a draw below his camp and he had gone in light. He didn’t bring a backpack or anything like that because he wasn’t expecting to go as far as he did. I don’t think he realized how far he had gone before he was in trouble.

Ring says he never asked for the man’s name, that they just chatted about hunting while giving him a ride back to camp and making sure he was warming up.

This incident is a great reminder and lesson to always be prepared for any kind of conditions or emergency, especially out in the woods.

It’s like wearing a seatbelt. Most accidents happen within a few blocks of your residence if you’re not wearing it. Same thing here, you can walk just a short distance and get turned around very, very easily,” says Ring. “If you’re not prepared all the time, even if you don’t think you’re gonna need it, it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”

The OSP Fish and Wildlife reminds anyone who ventures into the woods to always go prepared. When you head out have the following on hand:

  • Weather-appropriate clothing including footwear
  • Map and compass or GPS, and a cell phone
  • Food and water
  • Safety items such as a light, whistle, and fire starters
  •  First aid kit
  • Always let someone know where you’re headed and when you expect to return

This isn’t the first time Trooper Ring has been lauded for his heroics. He was given an award in 2014 by OSP for rescuing a mother and her child from a burning vehicle while on-duty in Bend.