Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Kayaking Wisconsin deer hunter rescued from Fond du Lac River

Fond du Lac, Wis. — A deer hunter was rescued from the Fond du Lac River on opening day of the gun deer season when his kayak overturned in the ice-filled water. Authorities did not release the name of the 27-year-old man from Waupaca.

DNR Conservation Warden William Hankee was near Ripon when he heard the call for emergency responders at around 7:40 a.m. It took Hankee about 20 minutes to reach the scene by a bridge north of the Mascoutin Valley State Park Trail in the Eldorado Marsh Wildlife Area.

Deputies from the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department and personnel from Lamartine Fire Department were on the scene when Hankee arrived.

Hankee said the hunter had scouted the area prior to the incident when conditions were more favorable than on opening morning, Saturday, Nov. 19.

“The river at this time was mostly covered with ice,” Hankee said. “There was only a thin channel of open water.”

The hunter told Hankee he launched the kayak at
6:15 a.m. and paddled upstream for about 60 minutes. At that point, he
hit some ice and the kayak overturned. The water was mid-chest deep, but
the man was not wearing waders. His knee boots filled with water and
eventually came off in the muck bottom.

The hunter was unable to get back into the kayak that was partially filled with water, so he
tried to walk a quarter-mile to a launch point while carrying the gear
he was able to salvage.

“He was suffering from cold exposure, hypothermia,” Hankee said. “He was severely shaking and could not speak very well.”

“He waited to call 911 until he was at the point of his muscles were giving out, probably
due to cold exposure” Hankee said. “Luckily his phone did not get

It was fortunate the man was in view of the bridge about 100 yards away. Had he
been farther in the marsh it would have taken more time to reach him,
and the outcome could have been tragic.

Lamartine Fire Department deployed an inflatable ice rescue craft to reach the
stranded hunter. The rescue boat has open areas in front and back that
rescue personnel can put their feet through to walk the craft through
areas where paddling is not possible. The rescuers, wearing flotation
gear, pushed and pulled the boat to reach the soaked and freezing

Hankee said the man was leaning on a clump of cattails when rescuers got to him because he didn’t have the strength to stand.

Hankee helped rescuers take the man off the boat and load him in an ambulance
staffed with paramedics from Fond du Lac for transportation to SSM St.
Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac.

“He was suffering from cold exposure, hypothermia,” Hankee said. “He was severely shaking and could not speak very well.”

The man told Hankee he had an inflatable Type V life vest with him in the
kayak, but he was not wearing it when the kayak overturned. The device
was not located. Hankee noted that type of vest is only effective if it
is worn because it does not float like a conventional vest.

The man could have been issued citation for not having the vest readily
available, but Hankee decided charges were not appropriate. Hankee
stressed the importance of wearing a flotation device, especially in
cold temperatures. Hypothermia can cause a person to collapse, and in
that case the vest would keep the person from submerging.

“I’ve been on a number of water incidents at this point and life vests are
usually the difference between life and death,” said Hankee, who also
stressed that hunters have to be aware of conditions when using small

The icy river at that time was unsuitable for a kayak, he said. The hunter also
should have considered how he could get out of the kayak at his
destination while just wearing knee boots.

Hankee said waders are not required in that situation, but they would have
been valuable to be worn when getting in and out of the kayak.

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