It is a terrain so rugged that a man might hide out in it forever.

Gene Leroy Hart, is believed to have been doing it for four years, since he broke out of a nearby jail in Pryor, Okla.

The rolling limestone foothills of the Ozarks were the Cherokee, charged with raping and slaying three Girl Scouts two weeks ago, is believed hiding are laden with brush, trees and thickets nearly impossible to penetrate.

"He has hunted and trapped these hills all of his life," said J.D. Barnett, a local resident who was one of Hart's hunting companions. "Gene Hart probably knows these hills as well as anyone around here."

Six hundred armed men - lawmen, volunteers and the father of one of the victims - are rapidly becoming more familiar with the terrain as they search a 10-square-mile area in which Hart is believed to be.

The hills, picturesque from nearby Highway 33; belong to the deer, the mosquitoes, the ticks, the chiggers, the rattlesnakes and the copperheads.

You can eat the deer, but everything else will eat you, one longtime settler observed.

But Hart, with his ancestral background, knows how to survive.

Many area residents are of Indian descent, and Indian boys grow up learning every ridge and cranny.

There is a legend that one can walk 10 miles from the tiny town of Kenwood to Spavinsaw through the deep caverns - but no one has claimed to have done it.

Hart apparently took to his native hills after his September, 1973, escape from the Mayes County jail he was brought to from the state prison at McAlester for a post-conviction hearing.

The husky Indian, a star athlete in high school, was paroled in 1966 after serving a term for raping two pregnant Tulsa women. Hart was serving a sentence for burglary when he sawed his way out of his cell.

The rugged wooded region is 45 miles from Tulsa, the state's second largest city.

Oklahoma's weather, as it usually does in mid-June, hit the high 90s today, with humidity above 80 per cent. For the past two days it has rained on the Hart search party. When the sun pokes out, steam rises from the limestone.

The rattlesnakes are sometimes six feet long and they slither along at will - kings of the jungle, Oklahoma-style.

But it is the trees and the terrain that doom all but the hardiest souls.

Black oak trees are covered with poison ivy, oak and sumac. The ground sometimes runs straight up between the caverns, making it difficult to scale the walls. Geologists claim that the earth seems to be moving under one's feet, where it might be barely covering another mammoth cave.

At nearby Camp Scott, where the June 13 murders occurred, officers have fashioned a hangman's noose and strung it from the rafters of a small building among the trees.

But finding Hart, as officers have grimly discovered, is more difficult than it looks.

"We could be searching this rugged country for days and still not flush our suspect," said Capt. Don Menitzer, search coordinator for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.