By land or by sea, waterfowlers urged to keep safety in mind
Harrisburg — Whether hunting from shore or from a boat, waterfowlers are urged to keep safety first and foremost in mind, said Keith Snyder, Pennsylvania Game Commission Hunter-Trapper Education Division chief.
"Basic firearm and hunting safety are critical," Snyder said. "Treat every firearm as if it is loaded and make sure that the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction. Never place your finger on the trigger until you are ready to fire. Be aware of any companions' locations at all times and maintain a safe zone-of-fire. Waterfowl action can be exciting, but never swing your barrel toward another hunter.
"Make sure firearms are unloaded prior to reaching your hunting location and immediately after you are done hunting. Also, if you are using a boat, remember that state law requires that all firearms be unloaded in any boat propelled by motor or sail, and should be cased with actions open."
Snyder also noted that, in Pennsylvania, all those using a boat are required to have a properly-fitted personal flotation device (PFD) readily accessible. For more information on boating laws and regulations, as well as safety tips, please visit the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's website (www.fish.state.pa.us). Better yet, take an approved boater's safety course.
Additionally, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, every year several hunters die from drowning and hypothermia.
"When you have a crew of hunters, with decoys and equipment, and dogs, a boat can easily become unbalanced, especially if the wind comes up," Snyder said, "Not only is it unsafe to overload a boat, exceeding the limits posted on the capacity plate is also illegal.
"Sudden immersion into cold water is one of the leading causes of boating fatalities in the Commonwealth. It places a severe strain on bodily systems that can lead to hypothermia or, worse, cardiac arrest. Survivors of cold-water accidents have reported their breath driven from them on contact with the water."
Anyone falling into cold water should immediately ensure that their and any companions' PFDs are intact, and work to find a way to exit the water or right the watercraft. Cover your mouth and nose – if possible – to prevent inhaling water.
If you can't get out of the water immediately and the shore is too far, raise your knees and wrap your arms across your chest to help reduce heat loss through the body's core. Don't leave your watercraft and attempt to swim to shore. It's probably further than you think. Experts recommend you stay with your boat until help arrives. If possible, try to climb back into your boat or on top of it.
"Most important," Snyder suggests, "get into the routine of making the life jacket part of your hunting equipment, and wear it."