Officials warn public of duck hunting dangers
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After a recreational trip turned deadly for two hunters over the weekend, officials are urging others to be cautious. Enthusiasts and wildlife officials say some of the conditions might be great for the hunt, but bad for the hunter.
Offc. Jim Hash of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources said the first and most important thing to do before getting on the water is to put on a life jacket. Those who hunt waterfowl suit up for the freezing conditions.
"It does add more weight to the boat, but also to the person, so wearing a life jacket is essential," said Hash.
Just this weekend, two duck hunters were found dead in the cold along the Green River. The body of the first missing hunter was discovered Saturday afternoon. The coroner identified him as 77-year-old Harold D. Wethington of Liberty, Ky. The second hunter, 57-year-old Larry Stokes of Somerset, Ky., was found on Sunday. Green County Coroner Carol Ray said both men drowned. Rescue crews said only one was wearing a life jacket.
"It can definitely happen to anybody," said hunting enthusiast Marcus Withers.
Withers said he has been hunting for 15 years. He is a member of a group, Outdoor Instincts, that travels and records their hunting adventures to share via social media.
Withers said he wears pants called "waders" that are a common item among duck hunters. He said they are very heavy and help to keep them warm and dry.
"I have fallen in the river," said Withers. "These things fill up with water, it'll scare you."
Withers said hearing about the death of the two Kentucky men hit close to home.
"We have all been guilty of not wearing life jackets when we take these boat rides," said Withers. "After the incident, my crew that hunts with me, we decided Sunday morning when we went out every day, we would wear life jackets on the boat rides to and from."
Withers said he will never even turn on the motor without fastening his life jacket from now on. He said he has hunted on the Ohio River before, and the currents vary from day to day.
"This river has a mind of its own... it is one of the most dangerous bodies of water I've ever gotten on in my life," said Withers.
Hash said regardless of the body of water, wintry weather conditions mixed with rising water levels can be deadly.
"Water conditions can be very unpredictable when you put that in with the extremely cold temperatures, then you have got a potential recipe for disaster if people are not taking the proper precautions," said Hash.
Hash said he has hunted waterfowl since he was very young and accidents do happen. He and Withers said they would never choose to hunt alone.
Withers' dog "Remi" is aware of the current. The chocolate lab wears a vest with floating devices to make sure she stays above the water when she goes to retrieve the game.
"She will swim at an angle because she knows that current is pushing it down river," said Withers.
Withers said the high waters mean good things for bringing out the prey because ducks, geese and other waterfowl are attracted to the acorns and other things that wash up.
"Rising waters will bring out just about all of your duck hunters in the back water hunting in timber," said Withers.
Hash said with added water comes added danger. Withers said one of his main concerns is with the items floating throughout the river that can cause problems when hunters attempt to navigate into certain areas.
"Sometimes it can be treacherous getting out to the spot because of the debris in the rising water," Withers said.
Hash said there is safety in numbers, but calculating the amount of weight a boat can hold is key.
"That would include the size of the motor and the number of persons and gear in the boat," Hash said.
The officer said the bulky clothes, gear and locators can add weight to the small vessels used to get the hunters to the prey. He said taking a dry run and getting used to the bulkiness is a good idea.
"I would recommend actually putting all of that cold weather gear on in the summer time and getting used to that gear," said Hash.
"We see a lot of people who only put those items on one or two times during a season and when they put them on is when the conditions are at the worst."
Hash said it is important to always keep your guns and rifles unloaded until you are ready to fire. Both men said for a lifelong hobby, safety is a small price to pay.
"It's just a passion of life," said Withers. "It is what I live and breathe."
Hash and Withers said if someone has never been duck hunting, it is important to go out with people who have first. For more information on fishing and hunting laws in Kentucky, click here. For more information on hunting laws in Indiana, click here.
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