Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz

Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal & Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Minn.

September 27, 1999

Waterfowl hunting opener soon

Minnesota's 1999 regular waterfowl hunting season opens at noon Saturday, Oct. 2.

Decoys will be in the water, ducks in the air, dogs in the wait, and hunters will be well-prepared with the latest in gear and gadgets.

As the tradition is relived with the start of another season, the DNR with the help of Boat and Water Safety Specialist, Tim Smalley is reminding us about safety and things that should be done to ensure a safe and successful season.

Please take his advice and good luck this season.

Preparing for the opener: duck calls, deeks and devices

From the DNR

Most duck hunters are in the latter stages of packing their gear for the Oct. 2 Minnesota opener.

The boat has been repainted, missing decoy anchors replaced and a faint bouquet of Hoppe's Number 9 wafts from the basement.

"I wonder how many hunters have forgotten to pack their life jackets," mused Tim Smalley, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boating safety specialist and life-long duck hunter. "Ever since 1988 when life jackets were first required on board duck boats, DNR conservation officers say that lack of flotation devices is one of the most common law violations they find while checking waterfowlers."

DNR records indicate that although some hunters still forget to carry life vests, the law is working. In the 11 years since life jackets were first required, two hunters have drowned in boating accidents. "That's certainly two too many, but in the bad old days before duck hunters were required to have life jackets, sometimes six or eight would drown in boating accidents in a single year," Smalley noted.

The law requires that there be a readily accessible U.S. Coast Guard approved wearable life vest for every person on board duck boats. For boats 16 feet and longer, there also has to be one U.S. Coast Guard approved throwable device (seat cushion) in the boat. Seat cushions are no longer approved as primary flotation devices so everyone on the boat needs a life vest.

And of course, having a life jacket doesn't do any good if its stuffed under the boat seat when the accident happens. "Trying to put on a life jacket during a boating accident would be like trying to buckle a seat belt during a car crash. You just don't have any warning that a boat accident is going to happen, so the smart thing to do is wear a life vest on the way to and from the blind," Smalley said.

The most common fatal duck boating accident is a capsizing or fall overboard from a small overloaded boat. The DNR advises hunters to avoid cutting across large expanses of open water and to take several trips to and from the blind, rather than overloading the boat.

"If you are closer to shore and you do capsize, you have a much better chance of being seen by potential rescuers," Smalley said. "You are much better off staying with the boat, even if you have to climb on top of it when its overturned, than trying to swim to shore.

"There is a saying in water safety that you only have a 50-50 chance of being able to swim 50 yards in 50 degree water," Smalley noted. "Just try holding your hand in a bucket of ice water for three minutes. It just about can't be done. Now imagine having your whole body immersed in water that cold."

Contrary to common belief, waders won't flip the practiced wearer upside down, Smalley said. "By bending your knees to keep the air trapped in the boots' shins, you can trap enough air to stay afloat for long enough to return to the boat. We have heard from hunters who survived by simply following these simple steps," Smalley said. He advised that hunters who have to wear waders in the boat should practice floating in them in warm shallow water.

The Minnesota DNR offers these tips to help make a duck hunting trip safe and successful:

  • wear a life jacket to and from the blind
  • don't overload the boat
  • learn how to float in waders and hip boats
  • stay near the shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water
  • let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return.

To learn more about duck hunting boat safely, the DNR has a free publication about waterfowl hunting boat safety called "Prescription for Duck hunters." It is available by calling the DNR Information Center at (651) 296-6157 or toll free 1-888-MINNDNR.

Outdoor notes

  • Minnesota's youth waterfowl hunting day was Sept. 18. Reports from young hunters in our area were mixed. Those who headed west with their non-hunting adult companions reported excellent shooting with many ducks in the air. Those who stayed close to home reported a great time, but not many ducks in the air. A definite lack of wood ducks was noted by several parties.
  • Be cautious, courteous, and not competitive when in the field hunting this season. You will have a better time and so will everyone else.
  • Do some practice shooting and review all elements of firearms safety before you take your gun in the field this season.
  • The 1999 Minnesota pheasant hunting season opens Saturday, Oct. 16. Seasons in Iowa and Nebraska open Saturday, Oct. 30.
  • The fishing on our area lakes and rivers has picked up quite a bit in the last week or two. Many anglers are heading to different portions of the North and South Forks of the Crow River and have been reeling in nice catches of small walleyes and catfish.
  • The leaves are beginning to change, the harvest has begun, the nights have cooled off, and fall has finally arrived. Get out there and enjoy it before winter is here.

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