Guns and cold temperatures, water and dogs, boats and darkness – they all contribute to making waterfowling rife with hazards.
The biggest safety issue for waterfowl hunters is “way too much gear, way too big of a dog and way too small of a boat,” said John Devney of Delta Waterfowl in Bismarck, N.D.
Delta is active in waterfowl conservation, with 46,000 members in 41 states and seven provinces.
“When your boat is overloaded, one easy solution is to find a partner with a second boat,” he said. “That gives you two reasonably loaded boats and someone to help out if you get into trouble.”
Other options are to take it easy and make two trips in to the duck blind with gear, or figure out space-saving ways of reorganizing your hunt.
“The scary thing about duck hunting in an overloaded boat is the boat sits too low in the water and is more prone to tipping,” he said.
“It isn’t worth risking your safety to have those extra decoys, tarps or whatever.”
Devney advises waterfowl hunters to stick to the load capacity of a boat. A boat’s load capacity is set by the Coast Guard and stamped on the inside of the transom of a boat.
While hunters are looking for ways to lighten the load, one required item they cannot jettison by law is a personal flotation device.
Devney’s advice is to get a life vest or float coat that fits right and wear it – that way it isn’t taking up any extra space.
Dogs also should have a neoprene vest with some flotation to it.
“When you are in cold moving water it is essential to keep your dog’s core warm and dry,” Devney said. Dog vests that add a little buoyancy help dogs conserve a little energy as a bonus.
Hunters who use their boats only for waterfowling should make test runs in difficult conditions well before their first duck hunt of the year.
Devney has a backup outboard motor. For smaller boats a modest electric trolling motor is enough to get a hunter out of a bad situation if the main boat motor fails.
Every hunter should tell someone where they will be hunting and when they expects to return.
Devney takes that a step further by trying to connect with another party so there is someone in the immediate area should he run into trouble.
“You don’t have to hunt the same area, just leave from the same general area so if either party has problems there is someone in the vicinity to help,” he said.