It's a story that is eerily familiar: A group of men set out for a duck hunting trip, but don't return when they're supposed to.
Sadly, that's exactly what happened to Spencer Hall, 19, Starett Burk, 25, and Christian Ruckman, 18, from Texas.
On January 6, 2017 around 4 a.m., the three young men launched their 17-foot green flat-bottom boat into Carancahua Bay, Texas, reports KHOU. The men were expected to return around 11 a.m. that same morning.
The Corpus Christi Caller Times reports that Ruckman's girlfriend contacted the Corpus Christi Coast Guard when the men still hadn't returned by Friday evening. The Coast Guard, along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, began their search for the three missing men.
Sadly, the search concluded around 1 p.m. Saturday when two of the young men's bodies were discovered in the water. A third body was found underneath their boat. A dog who had been with them to help hunt was also found deceased.
The men's boat had reportedly capsized.
KPRC 2 reports that U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Clinton Waller confirmed that there was a small craft advisory on Friday and that conditions were “choppy.” While the investigation is still ongoing, Ruckman's sister spoke to the outlet claiming that she believes the men died of hypothermia, as they were wearing life vests when their boat capsized.
“He [Ruckman] died doing what he loved,” she said.
Officials have not confirmed whether the men were in fact wearing life vests when they were found.
This terrible accident is reminiscent of the tragic death of 29-year-old country singer Craig Strickland, who died a year ago after he and a friend went duck hunting during winter storm Goliath and never returned. Their bodies were later recovered along with their capsized boat. Neither Strickland nor his friend were wearing life vests.
CBSDFW also reports that just days ago, a father and his 5-year-old son also tragically died while on their first duck hunt together when a storm with strong winds unexpectedly blew in. Five-year-old Nathan was found in the water not wearing a life vest; he is believed to have died of accidental drowning. The cause of death of his father, 26-year-old Corey Saunders, is not yet known. Authorities believe the weather, the size of the boat the two were on, and its load may have played a role in the fatal accident.
Although duck hunting is widely enjoyed by sporting enthusiasts without incident, Outdoor News writes that “according to national statistics, more hunters die every year from cold water shock, hypothermia and drowning than from firearms mishaps.” It's important to be prepared for the unexpected—if not the worst.
Ducks.org offers several safety tips especially relatable to duck hunters:
- Always wear a certified personal flotation device when running or paddling a boat.
- Never go hunting without telling somebody where you're going and when you expect to return.
- Never attempt to run an overloaded boat. If hunting on a large river or lake, use a boat that's big enough to handle rough water.
- Carry a cell phone in a waterproof plastic bag.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also lists several water safety tips specifically for duck hunters:
- Don't wear waders or hip boots in the boat or at least learn how to float with them on.
- Stay near shore and avoid crossing large expanses of open water, especially in bad weather.
- In case of capsizing or swamping, stay with the boat; even when filled with water; that will provide some flotation and is more likely to be seen by potential rescuers.
Hunters who enter the water with waders or hip boots on should immediately pull their knees up to their chest; the air inside the boot can serve to add additional buoyancy. However, the Minnesota DNR does discourage hunters from wearing hip boots or waders in the boat as these can quickly fill with water or bind the person's feet should the person wearing them go overboard.
Like any activity on the water, duck hunting has its dangers. These tragic deaths are an important reminder to take as many safety precautions as possible.