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Bass fishing fans who attended the final weigh-in of the FLW tournament at the John Q. Hammons Center in Rogers in April were treated to a free concert by Backroad Anthem.

As most people probably know by now, the band's frontman and lead singer, Craig Strickland of Springdale, is missing after a tragedy while he was duck hunting on Kaw Lake in northeast Oklahoma. Strickland's hunting partner, Chase Morland, died during the trip.

Kaw Lake, an impoundment of the Arkansas River above the McClellan-Kerr Navigation System, is a well-kept secret among duck hunters in Northwest Arkansas and northeast Oklahoma. Vast moist-soil units in the upper fork of the Arkansas River and the Beaver Creek headwaters attract a lot of ducks.

Shaped like an omega, Kaw Lake is entirely open, with no islands or significant topographic breaks along the shore. Its largely north-south orientation exposes it to incessant prairie winds, which keep the water in near constant whitecap condition. It's almost always rough, but in bad weather, Kaw Lake can be dangerous for small boats.

The lake was hit hard by a winter storm when Strickland and Morland embarked on their ill-fated trip. Searchers found Morland's body near the pair's capsized boat, and police said no personal flotation devices were in use.

Kaw Lake's water temperature was about 55 degrees at the time of the accident, and the air temperature was below freezing. According to the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, a person immersed in water between 50-60 degrees will become exhausted or unconscious in 1-2 hours. Expected survival time is 1-6 hours.

Without lifejackets, the odds of survival decrease considerably. Even close-fitting neoprene waders will fill with water, and clothes will become waterlogged. The additional weight makes it hard to stay afloat without a personal-flotation device, and the additional effort one must expend to stay afloat will hasten exhaustion.

Every duck hunter has at least one harrowing boat story. You can get thrown from a boat in an instant, and even well-built, sturdy duck boats can get swamped.

In 2008, I hunted on Lake Dardanelle with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette co-worker Glen Chase. It rained torrentially, and the water level in the backwater we hunted rose noticeably when the gates opened upstream at Ozark Lock & Dam.

When we got to the main river, it was much higher and faster than when we arrived. Whole trees bobbed down the channel.

Because of all the water that accumulated in the bottom of my boat, we had only a few inches of freeboard. I had no bilge pump, and the high floor prohibited bailing water.

One wave over the gunwale would have swamped us, and the weight of the outboard motor, batteries and driver would have taken the boat down by the stern. We angled downstream with the current and crossed the river slowly. We then idled up the lee shore back to the bank.

Even with lifejackets, that was the most anxious boat ride of my life.

Hunting is extremely safe until the instant it isn't. Don't take chances. If you are in a boat, wear a personal-flotation device snug and tight, and cinch up the waist belt on your waders. Too many hearts are at stake.

Permit hunt canceled

Due to high water in the surrounding area, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission will not conduct permit hunts at Raft Creek Wildlife Management Area in White County near Georgetown today and Sunday, but the area will remain open for waterfowl hunting.

According to the AGFC, the White River at Georgetown is expected to crest at 27 feet Sunday. Arkansas 36, between West Point and Georgetown, becomes submerged when the water reaches about 25 feet at the Georgetown gauge. All vehicle access to the WMA headquarters will be flooded, so the AGFC will not issue any hunting permits.

For more information, call the AGFC's regional office in Brinkley at (877) 734-4581.

Quail banquet

The Arkansas River Valley chapter of Quail Forever will hold its second annual banquet Jan. 16 at the Boys and Girls Club in Russellville.

Quail Forever is a national organization affiliated with Pheasants Forever that advocates for the conservation of upland grassland habitat and the preservation of quail hunting.

Ticket packages range from $45 for a single to $600, which includes six dinner tickets, three Quail Forever memberships and other promotions.

For more information, call Warren Schrepfer at (501) 428-1330, email arvqfchapter@gmail.com or click https://pheasantsforeverevents.org/event/1757.

Sports on 01/03/2016

Print Headline: Safe duck hunting requires flotation devices

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