Hunting Man

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Whether you are conducting a search and rescue operation or working through a contested environment, there is an art and a science to hunting man that begins with building a profile of the isolated individual.

We can begin by seeking answers to a few clarifying questions – 

Who is it you’re looking for? What is their mental state – are they smart and assertive, logical, independent and prepared for the environment – or are they depressed, possess a poor self image, immature, and unequipped?

What was the status when they became isolated? Were things generally going well? Are they in generally good health? Why were they in the area to begin with? Would would have caused them to venture off? 

Finally – what do they know about you? Are they aware that someone is searching for them? Do they have confidence in your abilities? What actions might they take to aid or hinder your attempts of locating them?


Do we know the point last seen? Is it a trail, a base camp, or a cabin? What clues may have been left – including items left behind, a fire that still has warm coals, or ground sign that indicates a direction of travel? 

Once we have a decent working profile, we can begin to determine actions based on statistical data.

Hikers will generally stay on trails and are dependent on travel aids including map and compass or GPS. 40% of hikers who become isolated became disoriented and didn’t have a map of their area. They often misjudge time and distance. Over 85% of the time, they are found within 5 miles of the point last seen and generally will not travel at night.

In mountainous terrain, 75% travel less than half a mile up hill and 6 miles down hill with a max zone of 4 up and 6 down. On flat terrain they travel less than 3 miles. 

Hunters typically focus more on game and less on navigation. They tend to over tend themselves into darkness and are often unprepared for changes in weather. They are often in good condition and those who become isolated are found within 2 miles of their point last seen. 

In the mountains, they have a max zone of 3 miles up and 6 down whereas on flat ground they have a max zone of 3 miles. 

Due to the number of agencies involved ranging from local to federal, There isn’t sufficient statistical information about those evading being found to create working assumptions; however, we can still draw conclusions based on the profile we have built.

Does the individual have an assumed destination? Are they adequality prepared and trained to navigate and survive the area they are in? These individuals may likely work against conventional actions taken by traveling uphill and using vegetation and terrain to help mask their movement in an attempt to evade discovery. The escaped convict is likely to leave more sign as they work frantically to increase distance from their point last seen whereas the scout ranging through an area may be much more methodical in their routes. 

The science of hunting man provides detailed search information based on the subject you are looking for. The formula is POA X POD = POS – or the probability of Area multiplied times the probability of detection equaling the probability of a success.


Before you step out, determine the Probability of the Subject Being in the Area or POA – you can use statistical research of the area including natural barriers such as impassible terrain, the physical clues left behind by the subject your intuition and likely areas the subject may have wandered into. Once you have an area to be searched you can section off micro-areas with a higher probability density – or a  higher probability that the isolated individual is in a given area. 

For example, if looking for a hiker or hunter, it is more likely, based on historical data, that they will drift down hill rather than uphill. Use your knowledge of the area and the use of a map reconnaissance to determine areas that may have a higher probability than others. 

There are multiple search techniques you can use to help limit the search area including road or trail blocks, look outs, track traps and even string lines. Generally, it will take a 10 man team 4 hours to search 160 acres. 

This area searched is somewhat based on subject behavior statistics commonly called “lost subject behavior” or “lost person behavior” but in general is established using four inputs – the Theroretical – or max range a person could have traveled in a straight line – the Statistical, based on lost person behavior; Terrain Analysis to eliminate unlikely zones due to topogrgraphy, and finally Subjective, based on what we know about the subject.

PROBABILITY OF DETECTION is generally used to quantify a search effort – for example “we have a 50% chance of discovering the target, if the target is in the area”

There is a distinct bell curve between the Probability of Detection and the spacing between the searchers. Every location is unique, and you should determine the POD BEFORE initiating your search. What was your subject wearing? Camouflage, natural colors ranging from Green to Brown or do they have on attire that has a stark contrast with your environment like orange? 

What about the terrain – Is there thick undergrowth? Are their micro terrain features including spurs and draws that limits your field of view.

Place an article that matches what your subject is wearing on the ground and step away from it until you can’t see it. Placing it on the ground limits the probability of being detected and will provide you with the spacing needed between your searchers. 

There is much debate about searching patterns that have mostly emerged from maritime principles, But the one generally accepted to be the most labor intensive, yet effective given the amount of searchers and time allocated is the Grid Pattern – or “Hands Across America”.

While there is an art and a science when hunting man, if we’ve discovered anything it’s that there is more art and skill as opposed to science. We should dig through statistics and look for commonalities, abnormalities, and ways we can apply lessons learned; however, we can’t become dogmatic in our approach because of the nearly unlimited number of variables involved. 


The Rig, Flagging Tape, 550 Cord, Weather Meter, Silva Compass, Rite ’N Rain, Mora Knife, Signal Mirror, Flashlight, IR Beacon.


The Pack, Nalgene Water Bottle, LiteFighter Tarp, Commie Tear Container, Life Straw, Emergency Blanket, Multi-Tool, Headlamp

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