California Man Survives 19 Days in the Woods

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(Photo Credit: Jeremy Penaflor via CNN)

(CNN) — Could you survive on your own for 19 days in the woods?

How would you do it?

Those are the questions that 72-year-old Gene Penaflor faced after he was separated from his hunting partner in California’s Mendocino National Forest.

He solved the second question with squirrels, leaves and water from a nearby drainage.

To the first, his survival shouts a resounding, “Yes!”

Penaflor was at home Sunday recovering from his unexpected jaunt in the woods.

“He’s good. He’s hanging in there,” Penaflor’s son, Jeremy, told CNN. “He looks like nothing changed except he grew a beard.”

His father is taking it slow, he said. “If he decides to hunt in a couple of years, that’s fine. But we joked around, and said let’s make it a camping trip. If he goes out again, I want to be with him.”

‘No words, just hugs’

Penaflor was reported missing to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office on September 25. He separated from his hunting partner one day earlier and had not been seen since.

Authorities initiated a search.

But they found no clues and suspended it after a few days, ahead of an incoming storm.

The search resumed on Saturday.

That morning, a hunter called to report someone in his group could hear a person calling for help from the bottom of a nearby canyon, according to the sheriff’s office.

Rescue teams were sent to the area.

The hunter later called back to say that his group had found the person and determined it was Penaflor.

Using poles they cut and their coats, the hunters made a makeshift stretcher and started to carry Penaflor up a steep hill toward the rescue teams, the sheriff’s office said.

After several hours, the hunters and teams met and Penaflor was flown by helicopter to a nearby hospital.

His son recalled the moment his father was reunited with his family.

“No words, just hugs. And we were in tears when he first saw him,” Jeremy Penaflor said.

‘Survival mode’

Penaflor, who was found just about three miles from where he was last seen, survived by keeping his wits and eating what he could.

“Everything you’ve read that he ate to survive is true. Lizards, he ate a couple of frogs, algae from a stream, squirrels,” his son said.

Armed with a rifle, Penaflor told his son that he thought it was pointless to hunt a deer. He focused on small game.

“He told me it was mainly in survival mode. He was trying to save energy,” the son said.

During the time his father was missing, temperatures ranged from 25-70 degree Fahrenheit, according to the sheriff’s office. It snowed several times.

To stay dry, Penaflor crawled under a large log. To keep warm, he made a fire and packed dry leaves and grass around his body.

He drank water from a nearby drainage, the sheriff’s office said.

At one point on the first day, Penaflor fell and hit his head, knocking him unconscious. He came to, confused, with a thick fog around him.

He walked for a while, but stopped because he didn’t know where he was. He set up camp and traveled to a creek every morning and night, his son said, adding that his family never gave up hope.

He released a photograph, showing his father in a hospital bed, smiling and giving a thumbs up.

“We knew he was out there,” said Jeremy Penaflor.

–By Dana Ford, CNN

–CNN’s Dave Alsup contributed to this report.