MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A man who became separated from his friends in dense forest during a squirrel-hunting trip in western Tennessee says he ate worms and drank muddy water to survive five days in the wild before he was found.
Bill Lawrence said he gathered rainwater in his hunting vest and tried to stay calm throughout his ordeal. Authorities say they conducted the longest search in decades in the 13,000-acre Meeman Shelby Forest State Park before the man was discovered Sunday.
Lawrence lost sight of his two hunting buddies on Aug. 31 while chasing a squirrel and became alarmed when his shots were the only ones he could hear, The Commercial Appeal reported.
“This is when I got turned around,” said Lawrence, a corrections officer, adding he tried in vain to find his friends or their truck.
At the time he became separated, Lawrence was clad in camouflage pants and jacket, a hat and snake boots.
His friends reporting him as missing. Searchers used trained dogs, horses, all-terrain vehicles, boats, police vehicles and helicopters as they scoured the thick woods.
Meanwhile, Lawrence kept walking, searching for food and water.
“I was drinking muddy water … eating worms. Yeah, I’d seen that on TV. I ate worms.”
Lawrence said he had a shotgun, 15 shells, two bottles of water, a flashlight, a can of bug spray, a squirrel call and a can of dipping tobacco. But he did not have a cell phone to summon help.
He shot his gun whenever he thought he heard someone, but his shotgun shells ran out on Saturday.
“Everything was against him from the very beginning,” Park Manager Steve Smith said, noting the helicopter spotters had difficulty peering into the dense forest canopy and searchers were hampered by extreme heat.
Messages left by The Associated Press at the park office for Smith were not immediately returned. A telephone listing for Lawrence couldn’t be located.
Lawrence eventually reached a road on Sunday. It was about three miles from where he started out, but Lawrence estimated that he had covered about 35 miles by then.
Lawrence said he collapsed and was found by some passers-by.
“Man I was happy,” he said. “I laid down in that road and just sat there. … By then I was just wore out.”
Authorities said Lawrence suffered from dehydration and severe insect bites. He was taking antibiotics because of the things he ate in the forest.