As the leaves fall and the air temperature drops, memories of years past serve as a constant reminder that winter may be only a day away. It’s a time when hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans – many of them anglers and hunters – will spend the next month or two out in the elements, chasing fish, scanning the sky for ducks or waiting for the deer that will fill their freezers with venison.

For anyone whose fall plans include time on the water, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers this reminder: Your safety is your responsibility.

This time of the year can be especially dangerous for anyone who recreates on the water, because falls into cold lakes, ponds or rivers incapacitate even strong swimmers.

While some people like the solitude that comes with being on the water in the fall, it’s a double-edged sword, because cries for help may go unheard or rescues may take longer than they would have during the warm-weather months.

Although more boating-related accidents occur during the busy summer months, a higher percentage of them are fatal during the cold-water season and survival rates drop drastically.

“Few things are as heartbreaking as telling someone their loved one isn’t coming home, especially when the reality is so many incidents could be avoided by taking a few simple safety precautions,” said Jon Paurus, DNR Enforcement Division education program coordinator.

Wearing a life jacket (foam is better than inflatable during the cold-water season) is the one action most likely to help people survive a fall into cold water. People can reduce the likelihood of a fall overboard by distributing weight evenly in the boat and abiding by the manufacturer’s weight limits. Having a means of communication is important, too, as is making sure other people are aware where you’re going and when you plan to return.

Changes in weather that result in shifting winds and storms can also lead to a treacherous situation, so it’s vital for anglers and hunters to keep an eye to the sky.

Whether they’re on water or land, hunters should always follow the four rules of firearms safety: Treat each firearm as if it is loaded; always control the muzzle of your firearm; be sure of your target and what is beyond; and keep your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot.

“Minnesota is a wonderful place to live and recreate, but our opportunity for getting out on the water to fish and hunt is relatively compressed,” Paurus said. “It’s understandable people don’t want to let cold water or cold weather get in their way of enjoying the outdoors, but it’s imperative they’re safe and smart about it.”

- Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources