Duck hunt turns into a ‘hat floater’
“It was a real hat-floater experience.” That’s the phrase I’ve often heard when someone describes wading into a deep hole, falling off a boat dock or otherwise managing to unexpectedly go in the water far enough that when they sputter to the surface, their hat is floating nearby.
I was by myself in my 13-foot canoe on a small lake. I had a shotgun, shells and decoys with me. A lot of decoys.
When by myself in the canoe, I sit in what most would consider the front seat and paddle the boat stern first. It makes for a more level load and I can pretty well reach all the way to the front (stern) to get the gear stowed there. There’s room behind me, as well.
I had three bags of dekes forward, one bag sitting behind me. By the time I paddled around deploying the first three bags of decoys, the dawn was breaking. I reached behind to wrench the last bag free but it was caught.
So I stood up so I could get an upward pull and then swing them around. I have good balance and have successfully done stupid things like that many times in my small boat. This time seemed no different.
Until the string that cinches the decoy sack closed – wedged on something as I swung the sack-o-blocks around and forward. The string caught, I tipped just a little, then quickly realized I’d tipped just a little too far.
It’s amazing when time stands still. At least for a moment. This was one of those times when things went into “slow-mo-mode.”
I realized I was about to leave the boat. I also realized I was wearing waders and I knew from hunting in this same spot many times the water was only about belly-button deep.
Now that I had the salient facts in mind, I quickly devised a plan. I surmised, as time stood still and I teetered ever closer to the cold water, my best course of action was to jump. Since I was already a few degrees off of vertical, my theory was that when I jumped, most of the jumping motion would propel me upward but a little of the energy would cause the canoe to skitter out from under me. Once that happened, gravity would take over: I’d enter the water mostly in a vertical attitude, make a very large splash but otherwise be mostly unscathed.
So I jumped. That part of the plan seemed to be working. The part about the canoe skittering away seemed right on track, as well. What I didn't plan on was heel of my wader catching on the gunnel of the canoe as it skittered. One other part of the plan worked out as well. The huge splash.
When I got my feet under me and stood up, the first thing I saw was my floating hat.