Guest Column

Waterfowl hunters: You could die out there

hunting safety by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
The recent death of a Marysville hunter and the miraculous survival of his hunting partner illustrate the inherent danger of this foul-weather sport while providing some valuable lessons in what boating hunters can do to ensure their own safety.
   Washington duck and goose hunters are enjoying the longest season they've had in many years, but along with that added hunting opportunity comes the added need for caution and common sense on the part of waterfowlers who hunt from a boat or use a boat to get to and from their hunting spots.
   The hunters involved in the most recent fatal accident had launched a 15 1/2-foot boat on Port Susan Bay and headed west for Camano Island before daylight.
   They were hunting in moderate winds (estimated at 15 to 25 knots) when the rough water apparently swamped their craft at about 9 a.m. The hunters, both in their twenties, and their two Labrador retrievers ended up in water. Both men were wearing life vests.
   The survivor was in the water several hours before reaching shore on Camano Island's Barnum Point, according to the Island County Sheriff's Department. Besides the life vest that kept him afloat, he was wearing neoprene that no doubt provided the needed insulation to protect against hypothermia during his long ordeal.
   Boating accidents involving waterfowl hunters are common in Washington. Those who end up in the water and have their day ruined by a soaking in ice-cold water, the loss of a shotgun or other equipment might not consider themselves lucky, but the consequences could be a whole lot worse.
   At least one duck or goose hunter has died in a boating accident during each of the past three hunting seasons. Last year, four members of a six-man hunting party drowned in the Columbia River when their overloaded boat was swamped on a stormy November afternoon.
   Using a boat during "good" waterfowl-hunting weather offers all the ingredients of a boating tragedy waiting to happen. The weather is cold and windy, the water rough and cold, the boat small and over-loaded, and disaster can strike in an instant.
   Hunter/boaters should always keep these basic boating-safety points in mind:    "If you hunt from a boat or use a boat to get where you hunt, you're a boater first and a duck or goose hunter second," said Mark Kenny, marine law enforcement specialist "Many hunters, in their enthusiasm, forget all about the basics of safe boating, and it costs some of them their lives."