by Wade Bourne
It was my darkest day ever in a lifetime of waterfowl hunting.
Two partners and I were in our floating blind on Lake Barkley in western Kentucky. Action was slow, and we were passing the morning swapping tales and scanning the skies.
"Wonder what those guys are up to?" one of my buddies asked, motioning toward an island 100 yards left of our spread. Four hunters were standing in brush, surveying the scene.
"Probably freelancers looking for a place to set up," I surmised. After a few minutes, the hunters turned and disappeared back into the cover.
A couple of minutes later we heard yelling, and we saw one of the hunters running back across the island in our direction. He lunged into the water armpit-deep, waving and calling for help.
"What's wrong?" I shouted.
"Our boat sunk," he replied. "One of us has drowned!"
There is no way to describe the shock those words brought. "Go back. We'll come around in the boat," we instructed.
When we got there, we encountered a pitiful scene. Three young men were wet and shivering. All were crying. Two bags of decoys were floating at the waterline. A Labrador retriever was nosing around in the brush.
We learned that these hunters and a companion had paddled across the river in a low-sided johnboat. After surveying the scene from the island, they had reentered the boat and pushed out into the channel. As one hunter explained, "We had the load balanced just right, but then the dog shifted his weight, and the corner of the boat went under."
The hunters suddenly found themselves in the water. None was wearing a life jacket. Three swam into the shallows where they could stand up, but the fourth – a 19-year-old college student – panicked while struggling to remove his hip boots. He went under in deep water as his companions watched helplessly.
We ferried the survivors back to shore, carried them to a local grocery to warm up, and summoned the rescue squad.
Waterfowl hunting can be perilous. It is practiced in wet, wild places in the heart of winter. It exposes hunters to the risks of hypothermia, getting lost, or several other possible injuries. Duck and goose hunting involves using firearms in a time of great excitement.
This is why waterfowl hunters must temper their zeal for good shooting with safety and discretion. Take too many chances, and sooner or later you might wind up in trouble. Following are tales of hunters who had close calls. They are offered so others may learn from their experiences and conduct their own hunts in a safer, more aware manner.