With 35 years of canoe hunting experience under my boat, I have solid list of guidelines learned from my own trial and error and the mishaps of my buddies. Among them:
•Wear a good life jacket while on the water.
It will do little good in a time of need if it’s in the bottom of the canoe.
•Bring a “dump bag” for each paddler.
Dry clothing is your insurance against hypothermia if you get wet, even in mild weather. A complete change of clothes along with a knife and fire starter should be packed in a waterproof bag that can be fastened into the canoe.
This lesson was rammed home decades ago by two waterfowling buddies who dumped during a previously sensational day of hunting on a small, winding stream in Montana. The air temperature was 10 degrees.
With no change of clothes, they began running down the shoreline to generate body heat, but even that became impossible when their wool pants froze to the hardness of cast-iron pipes.
They survived – barely!
•Shooting from the canoe is restricted to the bowman.
A canoe is a stealthy tool for getting close to waterfowl around bends on smaller, meandering streams such as the Colville River or in the lee of islands on bigger rivers. But the sternman should always be in control of the boat.
My hapless buddies mentioned above capsized because both of them shouldered shotguns and fired simultaneously broadside at a flock of low-flying geese.
•Train your dog to ride in the canoe and to exit only on command.
This is best accomplished during warm weather months before you pack along your thousand-dollar shotgun down a flowing current of 38-degree water. Dogs appreciate a rug or canvas tarp for insulation from the cold canoe hull.
•Be frank about your paddling skills and those of your partner and chose your route accordingly.
•Know your river.
Scout paddling routes in advance by roads, maps, guidebooks and talking to other paddlers. Be especially conservative on the first outing.
A small winding stream may require you to wear waders for portaging over beaver dams. Bigger rivers warrant closer scrutiny of weather, especially wind.
Canoe hunting is not advised away from shore on big, deep rivers such as the Snake, which is subject to dangerous winds, waves and huge wakes from barge traffic.