Missing hunter found in good health after multi-day search

Ryan Fitzmaurice

A 61-year-old Idaho man reported missing in the Big Horn Mountains was found safe and in good health Monday after three days of searching by emergency personnel. 

According to Big Horn County Sheriff Ken Blackburn, the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department received a call late Friday night from a female in northern Idaho whose husband had gone on a solo three-week elk hunt in the Big Horn Mountains.

Blackburn said the male, Christopher Cox, was an experienced outdoorsman who was proficient in using GPS devices and had a routine of contacting his wife when he returned to camp and letting her know his location and itinerary. The wife reported to deputies that Cox had suffered chest pains last year but had not sought treatment for them, and she was concerned about his health in the high elevation. Cox had not contacted his wife in seven days. 

Big Horn Search and Rescue began looking for Cox’s camp at the location where he told his wife he would be near Antelope Butte off the Forest Service Road 17 corridor. After 30 hours of searching, while Big Horn Search and Rescue found his camp, it appeared to have been unused for several days, and personnel found no signs of Cox. 

“Saturday morning, I requested that we put it on Facebook, so that it could get out to families and hunters to hopefully help find his camp,” Blackburn said. “Within an hour, we had 325 shares, and I don’t even remember how many hits we got. It got out there really fast.”

Within three hours, emergency personnel had received a report from a citizen who spotted a vehicle matching Cox’s vehicle in the vicinity of Woodchuck Pass just outside Sheridan County. The Big Horn County Sheriff called and alerted Sheridan and Johnson County emergency services and also welcomed the services of Big Horn County Emergency Management, who contacted the Army National Guard. Park County Search and Rescue was also contacted, while other work was done to secure search dogs if needed. 

The Army National Guard used helicopters to perform a grid search Monday morning when they spotted a subject matching the description of Cox in the Cloud Peak Wilderness area. Search and Rescue soon located the man and confirmed he was the missing subject.

Cox reported to rescuers that he was having problems with his communication devices.

“He felt bad that he hadn’t contacted anybody,” Blackburn said. “But he elected to continue his hunt.”

Blackburn said 25 local emergency personnel were active in the search over the weekend and into Monday.

“The outcome was the best possible scenario,” Blackburn said “It had been nine days at that point since he communicated with his wife. She definitely responded appropriately. We don’t think anyone was crying wolf.”

Blackburn identified citizens’ assistance on social media as being crucial in locating the subject.

“So often we see the negatives of social media, but the response here was so positive and so quick,” Blackburn said. “While the situation ended in the best possible outcome, we were concerned for his safety, and social media stepped up. It was amazing.”

Blackburn also highlighted the assistance of the Army National Guard, who deployed from Cheyenne to help search for Cox. 

“Those assets are a game changer. The ability to get those guys up and on the scene in a couple of hours is amazing,” Blackburn said. “If anyone sees an Army National Guard person, say thank you.”

Blackburn said in the final summation that the event shows the need to have a plan, communicate it to loved ones and stick to it.

“That’s a valuable lesson that comes out of this experience,” Blackburn said. “So many things would have been much simpler if we just had an accurate starting point. Once we knew his general location, we were able to make short work of the problem.”