One minute we were five miles downstream from the nearest boat ramp, at full throttle, headed home.
And then we weren’t.
Just like that, the throttle cable on my trusty Mud Buddy snapped without warning and we were stranded on the icy river. After a half hour of panic and makeshift engineering, we rigged a piece of cut decoy line into the keyhole on the motor, giving us a hand-held throttle to get home.
Any duck hunter can tell you a story about being broken down. At some point in your season, anything that can suffer mechanical problems—guns, boats, motors, trailers—will. Usually at the most inconvenient times.
Some advice I heard from an old fisherman off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska, was, “One is none, and two is one.” That may not apply as strongly here where we aren’t in a daily battle for survival against Mother Nature, but a long hard winter can still weak havoc on our equipment.
Preparing to fail can give you a little peace of mind as you’re thinking forward to next year’s season. Since the cable tragedy, I carry a mechanical bag in my boat just for emergencies and I also make sure my duck hunting bag is packed with everything I might need should things go wrong with my gear.
A good duck bag can hold a lot of gear; in that mechanical bag I carry a socket or wrench for every sized bolt or nut on my boat motor and battery terminals. Also in the gear bag are a couple of crescent wrenches of various sizes for deeper troubles and a bottle of de-icer for keys and switches, as those can be problematic. A small cigar torch could also be a handy addition.
Besides those items, there is a small bottle of lubricant for cranky fittings or trim plates on motors, and a big red roll of duct tape for really hi-tech engineering. A small pair of snippers is also a useful tool; you never know what might get wrapped up on your boat prop and need cutting off.
The emergency bag isn’t always just for yourself either; it can be a quick way to earn a 30-pack of your favorite beer if a situation ever arises where a buddy has troubles.
In my duck bag I carry a small tool kit for stubborn guns, layout blinds, heaters, and anything else that can put a damper on your day if it fails. The best thing I’ve found is a really good Leatherman Multi-Tool. That thing can pretty much fix any gun or small mechanical problem you might run into.
Also in the bag is a small roll of electrical tape; its uses are endless. I’ve seen mojos taped to poles, gun slings taped back together, and a host of other gems. In addition, I carry a small bottle of zero-friction gun oil, and sometimes FrogLube (the green, minty-smelling stuff).
I carry this for those guys who are like, “I clean my gun once a year and it never jams.” Just as they find that they can only get one shell off because their gun won’t cycle. It usually happens on the best flocks of the day and is garnished with a generous sprinkling of excuses about falling in the water or some other muddy snipe hunting story.
Preparing to fail will make those days in the woods when the fit hits the shan a little less stressful. Being stranded sucks, and so does having a super pissed off she-bear at home on account of you being late for family dinner on a Sunday.