Today I about lost my life on the river – and I am thankful to be able to tell the story.
This morning started out like any other duck hunt on the river. A hard 20 mph north wind makes for the perfect conditions on the river.
As the story goes, we pulled up, the three of us walked out to the river’s edge to drop off some decoys in the dark before putting on all of our layers. Having hunted this spot 3 days ago, we were fairly comfortable with the surrounding water and quickly had a general idea of what we wanted to do. But this changed quickly once we saw the river. As we carried our first load of decoys to the river’s edge, it was quite obvious that the ice flow had changed the river. Where sand bars were three days ago an ice shelf in the dark now appeared. Gary and I did not have our waders on but JJ did, so he cautiously ventured out onto the ice to check everything out. After about 5 minutes of debating what to do – and JJ walking all over the area – we felt we had a good safe plan. The water couldn’t be more than a few inches deep under the ice and we had an “ok” open spot right where wanted to hunt with lots of goose tracks in the snow.
We all headed back up to the car excited for the hunt since we kicked off several hundred geese, and thousands more were just down the river. Gary and I quickly put on our waders, grabbed our decoys, and headed back to our spot. We all venture out to set out decoys on the jagged ice flow, then as quick as a flash it happened. I went through the ice with a load of decoys over my shoulder. As I fell though the ice I expected to hit bottom, but I didn’t and in an instant that’s when I knew I was in trouble. When you fall, your first instincts are always to catch yourself, its just a reaction. In an instant, I spread my arms out to catch the ice and luckily the ice held as I fell.
I instinctively checked to see how much water I was taking on and started kicking out of the water as pulling myself up. The ice only broke twice at the edge as I was struggling and I was able to pull myself out of the icy current very quickly. God was watching over me today. I was able to keep my chest high enough out of the water to keep it from spilling over into my wader and dragging me down. The only part of me that got wet was my hands as I crawled out of the icy water on the edge. How could this be? And how did I get so lucky?
As the sun came up we surveyed the land, realizing our almost fatal miscalculation… the river was up over 5 ft. We had walked out on to the ice flow that had frozen into pieces and I had fallen through one of the weak spots. JJ had walked around out there by himself for 5 minutes and not fallen through. What if he had? We didn’t have waders on while he was out there… What if the current caught my feet more than they did? What if the water got into my waders and they guys couldn’t get to me. Too many question.
We took a little time and drove around the river looking things over and thinking just how lucky we got today.