Editor's note: The second in a series “Surviving the Season”
How many duck hunters don’t use a boat?
It’s not a joke, not something to quack U up.
There are lots of reasons Rachel Zechenelly sends out the warning call at this time of year. She holds the rank of major in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Enforcement Division and has, for years, embraced the job as Louisiana’s state’s boating law administrator.
“Boating in the fall and winter months during the hunting season is much different than in the spring and summer boating season,” Zechenelly said. “We want to remind all boaters during the hunting season to follow some simple safe boating practices to ensure a good hunt and a safe trip.”
First reason? Riding on water in the dark comes with its hazards and perils, and demands even more attention to boating safety. Very few hunters wait until “safe light” to get to blinds.
The second reason is because you’re wearing all that gear, heavy clothing that restricts free movement, apparel that demands the use of a life jacket.
And this goes for all you other hunters, you guys and gals getting into boats to make it to a deer stands, or to an island for some can’t-miss rabbit hunting, the same goes for you — wear a life jacket — something safe-boating folks call a “personal flotation device.”
For all hunters in a boat, the reason you’re wearing all those clothes is — usually — because it’s cold: for any reason, if you are thrown into the water, the weight of your clothing doubles, which means swimming to high ground will be difficult.
Add in colder water, and the effort swimming or treading water or trying to walk through the muck will sap strength quickly, too.
That’s why Zechenelly has a checklist for hunters traveling on the water.
- Everyone aboard needs to wear a personal flotation device and have a sober operator.
- File a “float plan” with family and/or friends to let them know where you’re going, the hunting location and a expected time for your return. It’s best to list launch location, description and license place number of vehicles and the description of the boat.
- Carry cell phones in a watertight container and make sure you’ve charged the phone before leaving the launch.
- Check to make sure the boat is equipped to run at night (bow and stern lights) and in colder temperature.
- Carry a signaling device — a waterproof flashlight is good — and make sure it has fresh batteries.
- Because your activity involves cooler weather, colder water temperatures and water, anyone getting wet faces the possibility of hypothermia, the loss of body heat. Fire starters are handy to have, and can be carried in a sealable plastic bag. Just don’t start a forest fire. Smoky Bear won’t like that.
If you don’t believe there’s a hazard, then it’s likely anyone among the 22 boating fatalities during the last three hunting seasons didn’t believe they would become a statistic.