Trouble in the Marsh

A waterfowl hunter's survival guide.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Duck and goose hunters commonly motor over near-freezing water before dawn, often during inclement weather. Even the most prudent waterfowler can find himself capsized, facing hypothermia, and a long way from help. Here's how to prepare for the worst-and what to do if it happens.

BEFORE THE HUNT
Put together a survival kit with the following items: midweight synthetic-fiber long underwear, both top and bottom; synthetic-and-wool socks; a synthetic-and-wool watch cap or balaclava; an easily packable fleece or synthetic-fill jacket; lightweight, nonbreathable rainwear, both jacket and pants; three high-protein, high-calorie energy bars; a small flashlight; matches and a fire starter, both waterproof; a survival candle; stick flares; and a small first-aid kit.

Place everything in a clear, waterproof boat bag, and secure it somewhere in the craft that you'll take to the blind.

**Leave a hunt/float plan **with someone at home or at the marina so they'll know when and where to start looking if you're late.

IF YOU CAPSIZE IN A N ISOLATED MARSH OR LAKE
Grab the overturned boat and swim to the nearest shoreline, using the wind for assistance if possible. Once you're on drier ground, pull the boat onto the shore, turning it over so that the hull creates a windbreak. Upside down, the boat can also serve as a makeshift shelter if you face a night in the marsh.

Quickly remove the wet outer layer from your torso, then put on the dry top, fleece or synthetic-fill jacket, and rain jacket from your survival kit. Now repeat the procedure with your pants and socks. Getting that wet layer off is vital to stopping heat loss. The synthetics will quickly begin trapping your body's heat, and the nonbreathable rainwear will help keep it from escaping into the air. (If you failed to bring extra clothing, the routine changes only slightly. As you strip, wring as much moisture as you can from each layer, and put it back on as quickly as possible. Next, stuff whatever you can find that is dry and light-marsh grass, cattails, leaves-between your skin and the first layer of clothing, as anything dry can trap heat and help you fight hypothermia.)

Place the signaling gear in a handy, dry spot, and if it's safe to do so, start a small campfire.

Now stay warm, stay awake, and stay put. Help will find you.