| December 4, 2017
Guest Column: Hunter and Coast Guard Petty
Officer 2nd Class Recalls Mistakes in the Marsh
As told by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn
was shivering in a marsh one drenched December dusk with only a bruised
ego for company. But my pride was giving way to a growing fear about my
The pelting rain and occasional taunt from a duck's beating wings were all I could hear over my chattering teeth.
My mind churned with stories of accidents where a hunter didn't make it
home. Ones where people read about it in the paper, then shake their
heads and think, "That guy was so foolish." I knew because I'd been one
of those readers.
Now I was that guy.
Excitement about a duck hunting trip that morning
had really clouded my judgment. Now I was stranded in an aluminum boat
after a rapidly-receding low tide. If I'm not lying, I was worried.
Duck hunting is an inherently dangerous, labor-intensive endeavor,
largely because of the cold conditions and the places you need to be to
succeed. There are countless reasons to always hunt with at least one
companion. One reason is to make critical decisions together.
After a friend canceled on our hunting plans that morning, my mistake
of going out alone now haunted my old boat, stuck and surrounded in
waist-deep mud. So did some other foolhardy assumptions I made.
convinced myself there was no real need to tell anyone where I was
going or when I'd be back since I was planning to hunt less than a mile
from the boat launch. I had my cell phone, that was enough. EPIRBs and
marine radios were for people heading offshore or to the middle of
nowhere, I told myself. I chose to ignore that I had no way to recharge
my phone, as well as the brisk conditions that robbed it of power.
I assumed the depth of the water where I was
hunting would remain good for two more hours at least, based on what
the tide seemed to be doing.
Finally, completely wrapped up in the hunt, I lost track of the tide
and the time. As far as duck hunting was concerned, I was in an awesome
position: hidden from sight, with ducks approaching my decoys both on
the water and from the air.
It wasn't until there were less than four inches of water left under me
that I realized I was stranded. I tried to push out of there through
the reeds and the mud, but it was useless. Soon my boat was sitting on
the bottom. An icy rain began to pelt my back as I dug into my pockets
for my cell phone.
I made a call to my buddy and explained my
situation. He rightfully mocked me for being a fool, but told me to
check in with him later. I'd simply have wait for the tide to return.
At least now I had someone back on shore who understood my situation
As the day's light began to dim, I realized I was shivering. I'd
dressed for a day hunt. I had on a relatively waterproof pair of pants
and jacket. But it was now pouring rain, with an air temperature of
about 39 degrees. Water was penetrating my gear.
I was in the early stages of hypothermia when the cold killed my phone's battery.
My shivering grew steadily more violent. I began to experience mild
confusion. While silhouettes of mice climbed reeds to peek at the
quivering intruder, larger shapes of the marsh played tricks on my
mind. I began to wonder what sort of dangerous, hungry creatures lurked
Still there was nothing to do but wait. Those were some long hours. I
ate some crackers I'd brought along, sipped a sports drink and passed
time by making up haikus. I recall one in particular:
Stuck in marsh nine hours
Cold and wet but stay with boat
Patience, tide rolls in
The tide did eventually turn. By around 10
p.m., I could feel my boat begin to float. With weak and trembling
arms, I used an oar to push the boat through the suction of the
surrounding muck. I pulled the start on the '76 Johnson 2-stroke. It
didn't start at first. That engine never did. But lucky 17 was the
An hour later I arrived at my house, boat in tow behind my truck.
The buddy I'd called just happened to be walking past, returning from a late dinner out.
"Dude, are you okay?" he asked. "I've been calling. You're an idiot, you know that right?"
"Yeah, I know." I said. "I'll be fine after a hot shower."
I'd made it home without help, but was lucky to be home at all. I'd soon have been too weak to get myself out of there.
Nobody plans to break down or get stuck out there in the dark. We all
strive to avoid that. But going out alone, with no flares and no
reliable means of communication, is a bad way to show our families we
I no longer go out alone. I always go prepared for the worst. And I'll
never forget how lucky I am to have suffered those mistakes unscathed.