Falling into a Void
Ice can pose serious hazards to waterfowl hunters. One major worry is running a boat on a river clogged with ice floes. Another danger is falling through thin ice. Rick Windham learned firsthand that this is, indeed, a scary situation.
In late 1978, Windham was living in Peru, Nebraska. That winter was one of the coldest in modern history, and the nearby Missouri River was completely frozen over. One day, Windham was hunting along the river bank, and he spied and stalked a flock of Canada geese that was resting near the frozen shoreline.
Windham recalls, "When the geese flushed, I knocked one down, and he fell about 10 yards out from the bank. The ice seemed plenty thick to me. I was very careful about testing it. There were a few pressure ridges close to shore, but I stepped over them and started easing out to retrieve my bird."
When he was halfway there, the ice suddenly gave way, and Windham fell through. "I actually fell through a void and landed on rocks about five feet below the ice. I didn't know it, but the river had dropped after the ice had formed. I fell onto what had been the river's bottom near the bank."
When he fell, Windham hurt his knee and back, but at least he wasn't fighting current. "When I regained my senses, I looked around under the ice, and the water started around 10 yards farther out from where I'd fallen through. If the river had been up a few feet, the current would have probably swept me downstream under the ice."
Still, Windham had a dilemma. "I couldn't pull myself back out. I could stick my head up through the hole in the ice, but there was nothing to grab onto to climb out." Windham eventually rescued himself by shooting a trail through the ice back toward the bank. "I shot every shell I had, but I finally gained enough distance and height up the bank to get out."
Windham now advises hunters to never go out on ice they're unsure of, especially when they're alone. Thin or rotten ice can be a killer. He was lucky to have survived this incident.
And his goose? "I didn't go back for him," Windham remarks. "I'd guess he became some coyote's dinner that night."