Waterfowling can be risky business, so a refresher on safety is always worth reading
Soapbox alert: Lovett is going to discuss duck hunting safety again.
Yawn, right? Yet every season, we’re reminded in tragic fashion that those basic lessons don’t always sink in. And they must, because waterfowling can sometimes be risky business, even for experienced hunters. So in the hopes of sparing someone an avoidable mishap, consider some common-sense safety reminders.
If you took a hunting safety class or were schooled by an older mentor, you know the simple rules of firearms safety. Further, you were probably taught about zones of fire when hunting in a blind or pit with a group. So why do so many of us have permanent ringing in our ears or stories of being sprayed by shot in the marsh? Because in the excitement of the moment, folks easily forget that they’re wielding a weapon that can injure and kill.
The solution is ridiculously simple: When hunting with a group, limit your shots from 10 to 2 o’clock and overhead. When in doubt, hold fire. In any situation, make sure there isn’t anyone behind or in the path of where you intend to shoot. Newly instructed children follow this easily. We can, too.
I’ve walked to distant prairie potholes and then realized I’d likely be stranded there for days if I broke my leg. It’s a stark reminder that duck and goose hunting takes us to some of the most remote, inaccessible places — areas where no one would find you and rescue might be extremely difficult.
So follow another Hunting 101 rule, and always let someone know where you will be and when you should return. If you anticipate difficult situations, such as exhausting hikes or strong winds, consider hunting with partners. Just plan ahead.
Operating any craft — be it a canoe, skiff, johnboat or large motorboat — in the dark during frigid, windy or icy conditions might be the most dangerous aspect of duck hunting. And every season, we hear of horrific accidents that cost lives. It shouldn’t happen.
Before the season, make sure your boat, motor, batteries and other equipment are in tiptop shape. Always wear a personal flotation device. Moreover, realize the danger of hypothermia, which can kill you in minutes if you take a tumble into the water, even while wearing a PFD. On big water, consider wearing a flotation suit and using a marine radio.
Know the waterways you plan to travel. You do not want to find a stump or rock with your prop while under power. Scout areas well beforehand, and follow navigation charts and guides strictly. When in doubt, slow down, or even wait until it’s light.
And always check weather conditions before hunts to be aware of potentially treacherous situations such as high winds, approaching storms or building ice. If things look dicey, don’t go, or you can attempt to hunt at a safer locale. This really hits home for me because I almost bought it at age 22 when a buddy and I tried to open-water hunt during insane wind and waves. Only luck and quick thinking saved us.
A buddy who guides on the Mississippi River called off a hunt we had planned this season because of dangerous winds.
“I have real concerns for tomorrow,” he texted. “Do you mind if we reschedule?”
Of course, I didn’t.
He replied, “We are out of the same mold. I hate canceling stuff, but we’ve risked our lives too many times.”
Amen, brother. And at the risk of sounding preachy, that’s good advice for you and your blind-mates, too.
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Realtree waterfowl editor Brian Lovett has been an obsessive duck and goose hunter for more than 30 years, chasing his passion on the Dakota prairies and the marshes and open water of his home state of Wisconsin. He's been a writer and editor in the outdoors industry since 1991.