Two Post Falls duck hunters were in a boat that swamped Tuesday morning near the North Idaho College beach.
The men got wet but were not injured. And they saved an especially wonderful fowl.
“It was one of the most gorgeous mallards I have ever seen in my life,” Jeff Fries said. “It was as big as a goose, but it was a duck.”
Deputies in the Kootenai County sheriff’s boat and firefighters in the rescue boat of the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department responded to the scene around 10 a.m. after witnesses on shore watched the boat hit a wave, partially submerge and then sink as its two occupants flailed in the water while their equipment, decoys mostly, floated around them.
“They were wearing neoprene waders, so that helped them float for a while,” Will Klinkefus of the sheriff’s office said.
Deputies rescued what they could from the water, including Fries, 33, and his 25-year-old hunting partner, Dillon Szafas. They hooked a tow line to the submerged boat to pull it to the surface before beaching the craft.
Klinkefus said the men were heading back from Cougar Bay in a 12-foot Jon boat loaded with gear after a successful morning duck hunt when they got slammed by a wave that sloshed over the gunwales.
“It doesn’t take much on a small boat like that,” Klinkefus said. “Especially when it doesn’t have much freeboard.”
When authorities arrived, the men were paddling to shore. One of the men’s shotguns sank in 10 feet of water; another gun in a floating case was hauled in by deputies.
Klinkefus said divers will likely retrieve the missing gun and other gear they can find on the bottom.
Fries said he and Szafas launched before 5 a.m. at First Street and motored to Cougar Bay in the dark. They put out decoys and settled in to a fine hunt, harvesting a teal, bufflehead, another mallard, and the big kahuna — the biggest mallard they had ever harvested — before packing up and heading back across Lake Coeur d’Alene near the mouth of the Spokane River.
As they neared the city’s shore, a string of waves they saw coming from far off slammed the boat.
One wave in particular took its toll.
“It was a rogue wave,” Fries said. “We tried turning the boat.”
The men paddled to shore and yelled to witnesses that they were OK.
“Which we were,” Fries said.
They were treated for hypothermia and released.
Deaths by drowning and hypothermia, especially during North Idaho’s autumn duck hunting season, are not unheard of.
In 1997, John J. Hario of Coeur d’Alene and Earl R. Fulton of Pinehurst drowned in Cave Lake near Medimont when their 12-foot boat sank.
A year earlier, George Saunders of Pinehurst died of hypothermia in Shoshone County.
Any time his department can respond to a distress call and make a difference, Klinkefus said, is a plus.
“This is a good outcome,” Klinkefus said. “We’re happy.”