It was still dark as we went about the task of putting our duck boat in the water and loading our hunting gear. It had gotten below freezing last night, but that just added to the anticipation. We knew the big mallards would be coming down from Canada with this latest cold front.
I was hunting on a lake in northern Minnesota with my friend and hunting partner, Kirby Shofner. The lake had formed a thin layer of ice overnight, and we figured it would melt off soon after sun-up. Another boat had gone out before us, leaving a small channel through the frozen lake. We followed the trail for about a mile until the other boat veered off to our left. We continued on through the darkness toward our hunting blind.
Suddenly, we saw a light waving frantically and heard shouting. We couldn’t hear over the noise of the motor and crunching ice, so Kirby shut down the outboard and we coasted to a stop. Our hearts stopped when we finally understood that the men in the incoming boat were yelling, “HELP! WE’RE SINKING!!!” The boat was coming at us full speed! The panicked men rammed their boat into the side of our little 10\’ craft and leapt onto the side of our boat. As they grabbed the side of our boat, their boat sank beneath the black waters. Kirby and I knelt on the bottom of the boat and struggled to pull the two men to safety. We were afraid they would capsize us and send us all into the water from which there would be no escape.
The additional weight of the men made the boat very unstable and the gunwale was just inches from the waterline. We lay on the floor as Kirby started the motor and slowly and carefully turned the boat around and headed toward shore. When the terrified hunters finally caught their breath, they explained how they had gotten into such a harrowing predicament. Their boat was made of wood. As they traveled across the frozen lake, the broken ice acted like saw blades against the wooden hull. By the time they noticed water coming in; they were over a mile from shore and in 40′ of ice cold water!
If we hadn’t happened to be there they would have had no hope of reaching safety. We left the survivors at their truck and returned to the lake. Divers were hired to recover their motor, guns and gear from the bottom of the lake. As we passed the spot where the boat went down, the only marker was a few decoys floating on the surface.
Silent reminders of a hunting trip gone terribly wrong.