Three Minnesota waterfowlers found themselves in dire straits when their boat began sinking in the freezing waters of Swartout Lake on November 3. Their story of survival might have taken a different turn if it was not for conservation officer Rick Reller, who along with a local landowner fished the duck hunters out of the water.
According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), officer Reller was on patrol in the area when he encountered the hunters.
“I observed with my binoculars three duck hunters picking up their decoys getting ready to leave the small island on Swartout Lake they were hunting,” Reller told KARE11. “I decided to wait on shore to do a license and game check when they came ashore.”
It did not take long for Reller to notice that something was wrong. He looked through his binoculars again and saw that the hunters’ boat had taken on water and the men were holding onto decoy bags as makeshift flotation devices. Due to their buoyancy, decoys can make surprisingly good floats, and were used in a similar case also in Minnesota when another party of duck hunters capsized and found themselves swimming in Lake Ann last month.
“The wind was blowing at over 20 miles per hour and with the cold water temps I knew they were in life threatening situation,” Reller said.
The conservation officer quickly went to the home of nearby landowner Barry Farber, who lent him the use of his boat. Together, the two men managed to reach the hunters and bring them on board. Reller described the hunters as in bad shape; they were very cold and their waders were filled with water.
Firefighters arrived at Farber’s house and treated the men in an ambulance.
“They were uncontrollably shaking and shivering 15-20 minutes, for 20 minutes they were in hypothermia mode,” firefighter Bill Fobbe told KSTP.
The hunters have since recovered but the DNR says that all waterfowlers should take extra caution when on their boats.
“Waterfowl hunters need to be careful in not overloading your watercraft with decoys and equipment and to wear your lifejackets. Calm waters in the morning can change quickly to dangerous winds as you attempt to return from your hunt,” the agency wrote in a statement.
An interview with Reller can be viewed below: