The Mystery of the Lost Hunter

BY Warden Kevin O’Leary

Garfield Plantation, a small Aroostook County town that neighbors Ashland is the scene for one of the most puzzling and baffling unsolved lost persons case in Maine Warden Service history. Since I first heard the bizarre story behind a man who simply vanished after an extensive and exhaustive search, I have been intrigued and puzzled by this story. I feel that it is important to keep these types of cases in the forefront and not simply to fall by the wayside and out of the public’s eye. This is the story of Robert “Bob” Smith, a 70-year-old hunter who has never been located after going deer hunting near his family’s camp in Garfield Plantation, Maine nearly 30 years ago.


November 18th, 1997. A crisp, fall afternoon with plentiful sunshine as Bob Smith, a 70-year-old farmer from Caribou, set out in pursuit of whitetail deer with his wife. Bob stood 6’2 and weighed approximately 220 pounds at the time of his disappearance. He was actively undergoing cancer treatment, and by all accounts was very capable in the woods, but his failing health limited his mobility dramatically. Bob’s plan that afternoon was to sit his wife on a vantage point overlooking the township line “swath” that provided a clear shooting lane for any deer that may jump across the blazed line. This township line is the dividing line between Garfield and T10 R6 WELS and nearby to the family’s hunting camp.

Around 2 p.m. that afternoon, Bob’s wife, the last person to see him alive, watched as Bob crossed the town line blaze approximately 100 yards to the west of her location, Bob was walking in a southerly direction and crossed the swath with his head down, appearing to be in pursuit of a deer. Bob’s wife waited patiently after Bob left the swath and her field of view. About 20 minutes later, a single gunshot was heard by several members of Bob’s family, including his wife, who all were hunting in the vicinity of the family camp. Bob’s wife waited for several minutes and did not hear anything else. A short time later, family members arrived to assist Bob with dragging the deer he was presumed to have shot out of the woods. The family members headed into the woods in the direction of Bob’s last seen location and the area of the shot. Voice contact was attempted for several hours, but no response or trace of Bob.

Search Efforts

That evening, now obviously concerned and worried, the family of Bob Smith called the Warden Service to take over the search efforts. That first evening several Wardens arrived and attempted hasty searches of the area, firing shots in the night in an attempt to get a response shot back from Bob, and searching roads and the surrounding area. Nothing was found. By the 3rd and 4th day, the search had expanded into one of the largest ground searches in Maine history. Over 300 Wardens, foresters, trained search and rescue team members, National Guard members and other local volunteers had set up a massive base of operation. Many K9 teams from all around New England had converged on the small town of Garfield and mobile search teams actively scoured the woods day and night. Multiple different agencies provided aircraft support to assist in the search operation with fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, with nothing tangible ever located. After 14 days of exhaustive ground efforts, heavy snows dumped on the area covering the landscape and ceasing the search efforts for 1997.

In the spring of 1998, teams of Wardens returned to the point last scene and the surrounding area and began searching the various flowages and streams in the area. Beaver dam areas were drained to ensure that Bob had not fallen into one of these areas, but yet again, no trace of Bob was ever found. Many of the first Wardens that responded to the call on November 18th, 1997, remained committed to this search for many years after. Wardens Jim Fahey and Dave Milligan for years returned to the area and walked the surrounding woods, looking for Bob, his firearm, a trace of clothing that could be identified as his, but could never bring closure to the grieving family. Pictures of Bob were posted for years around town and in the North Maine Woods in hopes of hunters, fishermen, trappers or other outdoor users coming across some remains of Bob Smith.

Still A Mystery

This case remains an enduring mystery for many people from Aroostook County, whether they knew Bob or not. For nearly three decades people have been left without answers, but as years go by, the details seem to fade and people forget about a man who went missing without any answers. My hope is that whether you have heard of this case or not, that Robert Smith’s name and memory is brought back into the spotlight in hopes of bringing up any new leads or potential avenues that can be pursued. Please reach out via email to me with any questions, information or leads regarding this case at [email protected].

 Kale O’Leary is a Maine Game Warden who covers the Oxbow/Masardis district in central Aroostook County. He lives in Ashland and has been a Game Warden since 2016.

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