If you ask 10 people about waterfowl safety, you will get 10 different answers. The safety equipment and items needed when waterfowl hunting vary depending on the type of hunting that is being done, the location, the time of year, and the weather. These are some ideas to keep you safe & sound and able to return to your loved ones.
While preparing for the hunt, don’t forget, if you plan to use a motor boat, check to be sure the boat is in good working condition, with enough fuel for the trip to prevent you from being stranded or breaking down.
Take the proactive steps to reduce your chances of drowning.
Make sure everyone on board a boat has a properly fitted, Coast Guard approved life jacket or float coat.
Be aware of dogs and other partners while in a boat - be extra careful with your gun. Like a blind, a boat is a close quarters situation.
Put your unloaded shotgun in a secured case. This keeps the shotgun cleaner and will remind you to unload before moving. Floating gun cases earn their keep if the boat is upside down.
Safety must be the first concern for hunters in boats near, in or floating on bodies of water while dressed in heavy clothing that restricts their swimming and floating abilities. Use a tight fitting belt on your waders. This will limit how much water will get into your waders in the event that you go underwater.
The following includes hunting from a motor boat, sneakbox, canoe, pondbox, floating blind etc.
Though a life jacket may feel bulky and cumbersome, it will still keep you afloat if it’s the appropriate size.
Consider wearing a life jacket designed for waterfowl hunters called a "float coat". They come in different camo patterns, provide excellent protection from cold, wind and rain and prolong survival time if the waterfowl hunter falls overboard. A float coat can replace your regular hunting coat while also serving as your PFD. They provide lots of warmth, reducing the chances of hypothermia onset in cold weather, and they look and feel like jackets, not safety gear, so they are more likely to be worn.
Be sure that it is approved by the U.S.C.G. By law a PFD is required for each person in the boat. The important thing is to wear them while under way or to and from your hunting spot. There seems to be people out there that only wear them some of the time. I personally know of guys that tuck them under their seat. Their comment is that they are too cumbersome to wear. I tell them wear them anyway; it’ll help search and rescue find the body. That usually makes them change their mind!
There are now auto/manual inflatable PFD’s and belts. These are less bulky than the traditional foam filled vests. They incorporate a small CO2 cartridge and fill the chambers of the device quickly to keep you afloat. They can also be used while jump shooting on a marsh or creek. You will be glad you are wearing one if you were to slip and fall into a creek or get stuck in the mud!
If using a boat with an outboard motor these are some items that are important to have. A basic tool kit, extra set of spark plugs, spare propeller/extra nut and cotter pins, spare gas in a separate small tank, and a spare plug for the boat. I know of 2 cases where the plug fell out of the boat and the boat took on water very quickly!
The use of navigational lights on a boat is the law in most states. Make sure that they are in working order. Have spare bulbs and batteries if they are the removable battery powered type.
Some other important items for consideration are a flare kit, submersible handheld VHF radio with extra batteries, signal mirror, and a loud whistle (required in NJ). Some may also want a handheld GPS unit or the new Spot satellite messenger. All these items can be stowed in a drybox.
Guys and gals that run larger boats use small portable propane heaters. These can be real life savers if you or someone in your group needs to dry out. Have spare propane cylinders and make sure that the heater is nowhere near the gas for the motor.
Another important thing is to have an outboard that has a motor kill switch. Attach the cord from this switch to your life vest when motoring around. If you happen to fall down or out of the boat for any reason, this will stop the motor from running.
If hunting from a canoe, use precaution as canoes tip over easier than sneakboxes or flat bottom johnboats. Always carry a spare paddle in case one breaks.
A cell phone with a fully charged battery is very important! I personally seal it in a zip-lock bag and keep it in a top pocket close to my body. I find that the battery lasts a lot longer if kept warm. You want to make sure that you can get to it with waders on.
Think about having an extra set of clothing and shoes. A pair of pants, shirt, long underwear and socks can be rolled up tightly and stored in a drybox, or least in the truck. They will be worth their weight in gold if you get soaked! It is a most miserable experience to drive home or back to camp in soaking wet clothes. I keep two extra pairs of insulated Gore-Tex gloves, and an extra insulated facemask in my gear bag.
There are many types of flashlights on the market today. Look for one that is waterproof and preferably utilizes LED’s instead of incandescent bulbs. These LED lights are super bright and use much less of the battery power that the bulb type. Also, if you drop the light on a hard surface, there is no filament to break or burn out.
Some hunters carry more than one light. A larger one is a good idea for in a boat and a smaller sized for the gear bag. One that fits in a shirt pocket or belt holster is a good idea so that you still have light available if you are separated from the boat or bag.
A wearable headlamp for “hands-free” decoy setting or navigating in the dark also deserves consideration. Like all the other styles these also have become very lightweight and with the LED technology are very bright.
Any one of these lights can be used as a signal beacon at night to alert others as to where you are.
Be sure to have spare batteries in a zip-lock bag stowed in a safe place so that you are never left out in the dark!
If you get stranded out there for any reason, broken down motor, capsize, lost in fog, or just waiting for the tide to come in because you’re stranded in the muck, you will get hungry!
These are a few items that will keep you from chewing your arm off: 2 thermos’s, 1 with coffee or hot chocolate, 1 with hot water, oatmeal packs, tea, ramen noodles, and energy bars for quick energy/calories. Some guys also have sardines, spam, or little hot dogs, and extra bottles of water on this list. Don’t forget some toilet paper in a zip-lock bag!
If you hunt with a dog, you need to remember them also! A zip-lock with some dry food, a can of dog food with a pull tab top, and a bottle of water will keep your retriever alive out there.
If you have a medical concerns don’t forget to take your medications with you in case your hunt turns into an extended stay.
Again all these items can be stored in a drybox or in a floating blind bag.
Waterfowl hunters are among the highest risk group for hypothermia because of their proximity to water, wind and poor weather conditions. If you fall in - go home! Or, take a break and change into warm, dry clothes. Wear wool clothing or clothing that stays warm when wet. Control wind and wetness by using appropriate waterproof parkas, jackets, waders and boots. Wear a hat. Most warmth escapes through your head. Keeping warm and dry in the elements is crucial to staying out in the field.
Don’t panic, try to stay calm. Remind yourself that you have gear with you to help you stay alive. Panicking only makes you sweat which can lead to getting chilled quicker.
Disposable heat packs are indispensable when waterfowl hunting! They are compact, lightweight, last up to 8-10 hours, and heat to around 115 degrees. They can be placed in pockets in pants, shirts, parkas, wader boots and provide safe warmth for hours.
Some other important items for consideration are a small first aid kit, a windproof/waterproof butane lighter, a Sterno can and a space blanket. These blankets take up little room, can be used to cocoon in to help retain body heat, and the silver side provides visibility for searchers.
Know the forecast before you set out! This can not be stressed enough! With all the technologies that we have today, radio, TV, internet, GPS, VHF radios with weather channels, cell phones etc. There is no excuse whatsoever to not know what mother nature is setting up to do!
If there are gale force warnings and small craft advisories in effect, don’t venture out on the big open water. Find a body of water sheltered from the wind and waves; that’s where the ducks will be anyway.
Use the forecast to determine when and where to hunt for the maximum results. Wind direction and speed, snow, rain, sleet; all these make the birds change their patterns and locations.
Be familiar with the sky, cloud formations, and wind changes. These can all be indicators of a change about to happen in the weather.
Know the Area
It is a good idea to know the area that you will be hunting. If possible make the first trip in the daylight hours and get familiar with the body of water and areas you are going to hunt. This will let you see where the obstacles are like sand bars, stumps, rocks, fallen trees, pilings etc.
Obtain a map of the area. Print satellite maps from the internet. These are awesome Arial views that show the entire areas that you are hunting. Laminate them or place them in a zip-lock so that water doesn’t erase the ink. Never attempt to venture out in the dark to an unfamiliar area or body of water! You are just setting yourself up for an accident.
Be familiar with the marsh. There are areas that are safe to walk on and other areas are full of slop mud that has the ability to suck you down and make it extremely difficult to extract yourself.
Only cross shallow creeks that have a firm bottom such as hard sand, rocks, shells, or mussel beds. Use a walking stick to check the bottom before venturing across.
This only pertains to those who hunt tidal bodies of water. Tides can make waterfowling very tricky depending on where you live, the phase of the moon, and winds. In some parts of the country the tides can vary more than 10 feet from high tide to low tide. Always have a tide chart for the area you are hunting. Nothing is more frustrating than being stranded in the mud for six hours until the next high tide because of a blow-out tide.
If hunting fresh water rivers, be aware of river currents and debris that may float downstream.
Let Someone Know
All hunters should let someone know when and where they are going and when they expect to return. It’s really simple; write down on an index card the details of your hunt. Make sure to include where you are going, which WMA, boat ramp, creek river, lake or bay that you will be hunting on. If there is a possibility of hunting in multiple places, list those locations as well. Write down your expected return time. I usually note that if I am not heard from by 8:00 pm that night, I am in trouble and need help. Don’t forget to mention if you are hunting with buddies, list them also.
Leave this important card on the counter or attached to the fridge. It will save authorities very valuable time and help them jump start a search and rescue. Imagine how hard their job would be if they get a call about a woman’s husband that has not returned and she has no idea at all where he hunts!
Be sure that your gun is in good working order.
Always treat every gun as if it were loaded.
Always keep the muzzle of the gun pointed in a safe direction.
This is the primary rule of gun safety. A safe direction means that the gun is pointed so that even if it were to go off it would not cause injury or damage. The key to this rule is to control where the muzzle or front end of the barrel is pointed at all times. Common sense dictates the safest direction, depending on different circumstances.
Always be sure that the barrel is free from mud, sand or any other obstructions before loading!
Never stand in an unsecured boat to shoot.
Shoot only when at a natural/comfortable angle.
Unload your shotgun when moving from place to place in a boat under motor power. (law in NJ)
These ideas here represent basic knowledge of safety tips. Remember there could be other items needed depending on the particular area of the country that you hunt. Though it may seem like a lot of items are needed to waterfowl hunt, the purpose of this is to give the waterfowler ideas that they can incorporate into their waterfowl hunting. Hunters that don’t use a boat can tailor the list to what pertains to them. Remember, there is no duck or goose that is worth risking or losing your life over! Getting home safe and sound makes every hunting trip a success!
William Winkel Jr.
Drake Waterfowl Systems Prostaff