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Disregarding the Controls

Disregarding the Controls

A Company, 1st Battalion, 130th Aviation Regiment
North Carolina Army National Guard
Morrisville, North Carolina

On a cold, breezy morning, two friends and I set out to duck hunt in the salt marshes of the North Carolina coast. I never imagined this trip could be my last.

After driving more than an hour, we arrived at the Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge. From there, we took a 30-minute boat ride, anchored and completed the 300-yard walk to our hunting spot. After a couple of hours of watching hundreds of ducks — but firing very few shots — one of my friends and I decided to walk around and hunt birds that had landed elsewhere. I left my blind bag behind, carrying enough shells to hold me over till I could fill my limit.

About , I shot my last bird, which filled our bag limit of 18 ducks. When I went to pick him up, I stepped into a deep and rather soft spot of muck and fell head-first into the water. I was a little damp, but I didn’t give it another thought. That step, however, started a chain of events that turned an awesome hunt into a life-threatening situation.

By now, we were nearly 600 yards away from our original location. About halfway back, I started to cramp and vomit. I had been punishing my body all day, walking on my knees the majority of the time to remain hidden from the ducks. Unfortunately, I neglected to keep myself hydrated — and now I was paying the price. From that point on, I had to stop frequently. The last 300 yards felt like an eternity, and darkness was fast approaching.

By the time we arrived back at our original location, my tank was on empty. The cramps were incredibly painful and I didn’t have anywhere dry I could lie down and massage them out. We were also standing in the muck, which made stretching impossible. I sat down for a few minutes, drank a soda and ate some peanut butter crackers, but then the frequency of my vomiting increased. We still had another 300 yards to go to get out of this watery labyrinth and back to the boat, so I finished a second soda and started to push through the darkness. None of our cellphones had reception and my hunting partners knew they had to get me out quickly.

By the time we got to the boat, the temperature had dropped to about 19 F and the wind was nearly 30 knots. I got on the boat and tried to warm myself to no avail. The cramps were excruciating and I was still vomiting. To make matters worse, the spray from the brackish water turned the outside of my chest waders into a sheet of ice. My gloves were also wet from one of many falls, and the fleece inside was frozen.

High winds blowing in our face slowed our return, turning a 30-minute boat ride into nearly a two-hour ordeal. When we finally arrived at the boat ramp, I was starting to show signs of hypothermia. I was cramping so badly I had to be physically lifted off the boat and into the truck. My hunting buddies helped me out of my wet gear and into fresh clothes from the dry bag we stored in the truck. Now that I was finally out of the elements and in the heated truck, I started to warm up.

This hunting trip nearly cost me my life, and the next few days showed it. The severity of my condition became apparent the following day when I had to be lifted out of bed. I couldn’t even stand on my own for three days.

Lessons learned

We made many errors in judgment and planning. Although I was in good physical shape (I had just returned from a year-long deployment where I spent the majority of my off-duty time conditioning in the gym), I had not hydrated for almost six hours while I was hunting. I had brought something to drink, but it did me no good sitting 600 yards away. We also failed to take the dry bag with us and ensure we had some means of communication in case of an emergency, even though we knew the conditions were going to be hazardous.

This experience taught me the importance of planning and the dangers associated with blatantly disregarding the controls put in place. Although our planning was thorough, we failed to implement our controls to reduce the hazards. This trip changed us from being young, daring sportsmen who thought they could handle anything into methodical and, at times, anal-retentive waterfowl hunters. Planning and properly implementing controls to mitigate risk could have eliminated the problems we faced. I’m just thankful I was able to learn from my experience and live to talk about it.

  • 5 November 2023
  • Author: USACRC Editor
  • Number of views: 164
  • Comments: 0