Tipton County hunter recalls five days lost in the woods

Bill Lawrence
Bill Lawrence

(WMC-TV) - Shelby Forest is 13,000 acres of some of the most dense hunting ground in the Mid-South.  And earlier this year, for Tipton County sheriff's deputy Bill Lawrence, it was an inescapable prison.

Almost two months after Lawrence disappeared during a hunting trip with friends, Lawrence returned to the woods with Action News 5 to try to make sense of what happened.

"That water there is clean compared to what I was drinking," he said.

On August 31, Lawrence and two friends went squirrel hunting after work.  Lawrence, who had never been hunting there, became separated from his friends, and went missing for days.

"Before we got there, Butler asked if I'd brought my compass, and I said, 'No, I didn't bring my compass,'' He said.

Alone, Lawrence says he simply "got turned around" in thousands of acres of thick woods.  Lawrence kept looking up at the sun, trying to find his way back to the road, but couldn't.

"If you panic in such a thick woods like that, if you run you're gonna trip and fall and sprain an ankle or something," he said.

So, Lawrence spent days walking.  In his possession were a shotgun, 15 shells, 2 bottles of water, a flashlight and a can of chewing tobacco.

"I raised my arms into the sky and I asked, 'God, what do you want me to do?'" he said.

As days passed with no food and very little water, Lawrence turned to the land to survive.

"I was sitting there looking down at the ground and I seen those worms crawling on the ground, and I reached down and popped one in my mouth, and I said, 'Hmm, that wasn't that bad,'" he said.

"I ate worms and I drank muddy water. It was so muddy you couldn't see through it. It was like drinking milk because it was that thick, but it was gray."

Dressed in camo and snake proof boots, Lawrence slept on the ground for four nights.

"I had bites - chigger bites from the waste down," he said. "They'd eaten me up. It was like I'd gotten shot in the rear with a shotgun."

By Sunday morning, Lawrence had fired off all the ammunition from HIS shotgun - hoping someone would hear him. But it did no good.

"I'd gotten to a point where I'd made my peace," he said. "I'd gotten to the point that if I make it out, I make it out and if I don't, I don't."

Park rangers say Bill Lawrence actually walked in a semi-circle, and was found around four miles from where he went missing.  But if he walked for eight hours per day on each of the five days he was missing, Lawrence would have traveled 40 miles.

On the fifth day of his ordeal, Lawrence woke up to the sound of a chainsaw. As he walked toward the sound he saw a walking trail that eventually lead him out of the woods.

"I was exhausted, but whenever I hit that trial, it was like I was walking on air," he said.

Lawrence has no plans to hunt in Shelby Forest again.

"We've got 15 acres behind the house, and my wife told me that I could go hunt back there because its all fenced in, and she said you can't get lost," he said.

Lawrence was hospitalized for dehydration and had to be treated for severe insect bites. He credits his faith with keeping him sane, and will make sure he has everything he needs to survive - if and when he goes hunting again.

Copyright 2011 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.