How to survive Canada’s most dangerous hunt
Waterfowling is perhaps the most risky hunt of all. What to watch out for
In 2009 in California, a hunter took a load of #2 shot in the back after he laid down his shotgun and his dog stepped on it. Fortunately, the man survived, but the incident illustrates just one of waterfowling’s many dangers—and one I hadn’t previously considered at that.
As hunters, we know how safe duck and goose hunting can be when we’re prepared and careful. But potential dangers, at times life threatening, are always just one mistake away—and perhaps more so with waterfowling than with any other type of hunting. If you’re new to the game, or in need of a safety refresher, here’s how to keep danger at bay.
THE DANGER: Guns
The shotgun is at the heart of much of the peril, as there’s simply no firearm that can do as much damage at close range. There are reasons police officers and the military use shotguns for close-quarter defence, and waterfowling is all about close-quarter interaction, with sportsmen seldom hunting alone. When duck or goose hunting, shot opportunities can arise quickly, and with numerous targets flying at all angles, it’s easy to lose track of your companions when swinging on a bird. Most often, waterfowlers are seated when hunting, posing an additional risk should one hunter unexpectedly stand when another is firing from a sitting position.
Tip: It can’t be said too often—always control the muzzle of your shotgun.
THE DANGER: Blinds
Today’s well-concealed layout blinds have no equal when it comes to effectively hiding from incoming birds—there have been days I could have reached out and grabbed a goose by its feet. They’re also relatively easy to set up, adding to their current popularity. On the downside, effective communication among hunters lying in their individual blinds can be challenging, adding to the risk of accidents once the shooting begins. In days gone by, by contrast, shared pits or willow blinds were the preferred option when gunning in fields, allowing for easy communication and coordination
Another risk with layout blinds is that some hunters, particularly older ones, have trouble rising to a sitting position to shoot, which can result in poor muzzle control.
Tip: Appoint a hunt captain who is responsible for announcing which direction birds are approaching from, as well as for giving the go-ahead to rise and shoot. Also, consider alternative blinds for those who have trouble shooting from layouts.
THE DANGER: Boats
Big-water hunting introduces many additional dangers. Whenever frigid water and boats are involved, the risks of falling overboard are amplified. Waves can easily upset a hunter setting out decoys or picking up downed birds, and even flat-bottomed boats can capsize or take on water in rough conditions. Going into the drink wearing bulky clothes and waders, with pockets full of shotgun shells, makes swimming for safety an arduous task at best. No more than a few unfortunate hunters have drowned after an unexpected spill.
Tip: Wear a life jacket at all times when you’re in a duck boat, even if you believe the water is shallow.
This article was originally published on July 1, 2010