5 Tips for Staying Safe During Hunting Season – Even When Your Boat Floats Away

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Being prepared when heading out hunting or fishing is something that should be taken seriously. I’m not talking about making sure you pack your favourite tackle or your fancy warming seat cushion. I’m talking about being prepared for when things go wrong.


Unfortunately, some lessons are going to be learned the hard way and emergency situations can happen at any time with no warning. While you can’t always be prepared for everything, with some careful planning and consideration you can certainly be prepared for most.

On an unseasonably warm November afternoon while hunting on Lake of the Woods, I was faced with just such an emergency, which thankfully ended safely but could have gone terribly wrong, very fast.

We had a hunting party of three guys and we decided that on such a warm day our best approach might be to jump in the boat and push some islands. Unfortunately this plan didn’t pay off as the only thing we pushed out was a small doe. But the day may not have been a total loss as I learned a lesson I won’t soon forget.

On our second push I was the shooter, so I dropped the other hunters on one end of the island and took the boat around the other end and pulled up on the adjacent island. There was a channel of water between the islands about 60 yards across. I pulled the boat up on shore wedged between a rock and a deadfall tree which hung out about 20 feet across the surface of the water. I walked up to a high spot on the point of the island and enjoyed some beautiful sunshine while waiting and hoping to see a nice trophy buck come strolling out of the bush to the waters edge.

Unfortunately the push yielded no deer. But what I did see was the boat floating down the channel between the islands with nobody in it. I immediately jumped up, leaving my gear and rifle right where it was and ran as fast as I could through the bush, down the hill and to the edge of the water. I paused for a minute to consider where the boat would end up if I just let it drift, hoping it might make shore on either side of the channel. Unfortunately, the rather strong wind that day was intent on sending the boat straight down the channel and potentially leaving all three of us stranded on two separate islands. I was left with one option – strip down and swim for it in water which was barely above the freezing point. The worst part of all was that neither of the other hunters had emerged yet so there was nobody around if things went wrong.

Fortunately, the boat was no more than about 30 feet from shore so I was able to swim to it rather easily, though not without several wild gasps which had become a uncontrollable reflex from the frigid water. My plan was to pull myself up into the boat once I had reached it and simply drive it back to shore. My body however had a slightly different plan. By the time I reached the boat, after only a few seconds in the water, my arms and legs had already decided that there was no way they were pulling me out of the water and into the boat. Now I was in trouble. I hung for a moment to try and catch my breath and then started swimming to shore with boat in tow.

Thankfully, for a 19 foot boat with 100 horse four stroke, it came the direction I was swimming rather willingly. Though for the last half of the swim back to shore I began to question if I was going to make it and started thinking to myself that these are the stupid, seemingly overcomable situations that end up killing people. Thankfully after a few more kicks my feet touched bottom and I was able to make it to shore.

Thanks to the warm weather which reached around 9°c, I immediately put my clothes back on and was instantly warm again and even managed to continue hunting the rest of the day. But that doesn’t mean the lesson was lost on me, and the remainder of the day was spent talking about how to be better prepared for similar situations in the future. This talk consisted of some of the steps we would take which are listed below.

Lesson 1 – Slow Down

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the activity for the day and become absent minded. It’s also common to want to rush to get to your spot and be ready and to make the most of the day. It was a combination of these things that lead me to be careless about how I beached the boat. The most important thing I can share with you is to slow down. Take your time, be methodical and pay attention to details. Having taken 2 minutes to grab a longer rope from my pack and tie the boat up would not have put my day out. In fact, in the end it would have saved me time and energy and possibly my life if things had gone any worse.

Lesson 2 – Rope

When the ropes on the boat weren’t long enough to reach anything to tie off to, I made the mistake of thinking that pulling it up onto the rocks would suffice. However, a sudden shift in wind direction proved that theory wrong. We have resolved to put a longer bow rope on the boat so we can always tie off. Just remember when tying a bow rope, make sure it is not long enough to reach the prop on the motor if it drags in the water.

A length of rope or cord can also come in handy for a million other purposes so I suggest either packing or wearing some length of paracord as well. I always wear a paracord bracelet in the bush, keep some extra in my pack, and lately have been wearing my paracord belt from Survival Straps. www.survivalstraps.com

beltLesson 3 – Ladder

When I reached the boat, my limbs had already stiffened up so much that I couldn’t pull myself up into it. Our boat is unfortunately void of a boarding ladder which would have made the difference so I recommend, if your boat doesn’t have one, get one. There are a number of rope varieties on the market that do not require permanent installation, but are easily deployable from the water. This can be a literal life saver so again, if you don’t have one, GET ONE.

Lesson 4 – WarmthBearGrylls-FireStarter(31-000699N)-std1-8

As I stated, it was fortunate that we had this unseasonably warm weather, but if you’re heading out into the wilderness (whether on the water or not) it is essential to carry something to warm yourself when needed.

A few things to consider here are a method to start a fire (waterproof matches, a weatherproof lighter or flint and steel). You should also carry some sort of tinder (dryer lint works amazingly and you are certain to have an endless supply). Make sure to keep this in a watertight package as well. I always carry my Bear Grylls Fire Starter packed with dryer lint. www.gerbergear.com

You should also consider a backup method of warming yourself if in the even you cannot start a fire. A space blanket is a good thing to carry as it is compact and they work very well at retaining body heat. I keep an SOL Escape Bivvy in my pack at all times. www.surviveoutdoorslonger.com

0140-1228 SOL Escape Bivvvy In Use

Lesson 5 – First Aid

211bb42616504f7c4b668fd809e19c52c74ca2b5After emerging from the frigid water by extremities began to ache badly as did my head. Luckily I always carry a first aid kit with a few ad ons, such as some ibuprofen which I was able to take and quell the aches quickly. This would be even more important in a survival situation where you might be stranded as pain can make surviving even more difficult. I carry the Sportsman Bighorn medical kit from adventure medical kits which contains a good supply of essential emergency medical supplies. To this I have added a small package of over the counter pain killers, and other meds such as anti-nausea pills, heartburn tablets and diarrhea/stomach upset pills. www.adventuremedicalkits.com

In short; when heading out into the wilderness, make sure you are always as prepared as possible. Make sure your vehicle, whether a boat, truck or atv, is properly equipped with all the necessary safety equipment and carry as much survival gear on you as you can. This situation was a literal cold hard reminder that being prepared can and will save your life. There are probably a hundred other lessons to be learned here (like hunting with a partner so you aren’t jumping into frigid waters alone) but I hope that by sharing this I can spare you from similar situations.

If you have been in a survival situation, tell us about it. What happened, how did you survive and what lessons did you learn?

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