Increased hunter rescues prompt Coast Guard safety reminders

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CLEVELAND — With the arrival of the winter season, the Great Lakes Coast Guard is noticing an increased number of hunting enthusiasts taking to the shores and marshes and getting into trouble.

This week, rescue crews from around Lake Erie and Lake Michigan rescued three duck hunters and one muskrat trapper from areas where most said they were familiar with, until the winter weather took them by surprise and they needed to call for help because they couldn’t find their way out.

For a safer, more enjoyable hunting or trapping excursion, Senior Chief Petty Officer Eric Lange, a Coast Guard gunner’s mate assigned to the Ninth District Response Department and an avid outdoor enthusiast and hunter, is sharing his safety tips with you.

Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Eric Lange demonstrates proper cold weather hunting attire.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Eric Lange demonstrates proper cold weather hunting attire. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lauren Laughlin

“The very first step to planning your outing should always be to check the weather,” said Lange. “Weather in the Great Lakes changes rapidly, so seek immediate shelter if you encounter stormy conditions.”

As the temperature dips during the winter months, making sure others know of your whereabouts is also extremely important. Keeping people informed of where you will be can significantly reduce valuable search time if an emergency arises.

“I always tell my family where I am going and when I should be back,” said Lange. “They know to call for help if I have not returned or called by a specific time, and they know where I plan to be. This ensures that if something were to happen to me, emergency crews would know where to start looking. I also ensure I’m familiar with the area where I’ll be hunting and always try to go with at least one other person.”

Hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts should be prepared for winter weather to worsen by wearing the right clothing, bringing food and water, and carrying equipment to make a fire. If you get lost, call for help, find a safe location, light a fire if its safe to do so, and wait for search and rescue crews to find you.

“Moving around while lost can make you weaker and make it tougher for searchers to find you,” Lange said.

“Ensure you have a way to call for help,” he added. “A personal locator beacon is an incredible lifesaving tool every outdoor enthusiast should seriously consider investing in. Cell phones are a good backup, but their signal and battery life may be unreliable.

“PLBs are small and can fit in your pocket or clip onto your belt, and with the push of a button, help is on the way. If you do plan to use a cell phone as a primary means of communication, its best to carry a portable battery extender and keep your phone in a watertight container.”

Dress for the weather.

“When I go hunting in winter inland away from lakes or marshes, I always wear a waterproof thermal suit under my camouflage and orange outerwear because it can mean the difference between hypothermia and my own safety,” said Lange. “If I was going near the water or going out onto the lake to retrieve my kill, I would wear a dry suit because you never know when you might accidently enter the water.”

Trappers should remember to make themselves visible to hunters by wearing orange clothing, especially during seasons where orange clothing is required of hunters. Wearing bright clothing makes it easier for rescuers to find you if you become lost, injured or sick.

Many hunters use semi-V hulled vessels, flat-bottom boats or even canoes and kayaks. These types of boats tend to be less stable and can easily capsize. The Coast Guard reminds boaters to be aware of their boats’ limitations and their abilities as operators when heading out to hunt, trap or spend a day outside.

“Wear your life jacket,” said Lange. “Once you are in the water, it is much more difficult to put it on. Accidents happen fast and unexpectedly.

“Hunters rarely see themselves as boaters and as a tragic result, more hunters are killed each year by drowning than by gunshot wounds.”

Safety should always be your number one priority, said Lange.

“Some tips may seem like common sense, but they still require advance planning and consideration,” he said. “Sharp senses will help your hunt and keep you alive. Never boat or hunt under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

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