It was late January of 1971. I was a senior in high school.
I and my buddies Mark and David had gone duck hunting several times that season, usually with pretty good results. We had a blind out on Lake Miccosukee, a great spot for this activity. The next day was to be the last of duck hunting season, so we made plans to go.
None of us bothered to watch the weather forecast that evening.
The next morning we arrived at the landing at about five o’clock. It was still dark, and the thermometer at the bait store read 28 degrees (Fahrenheit). We were dressed fairly warmly for a morning that we assumed would be in the thirties or forties. We piled into the boat, along with our guns and decoys, and headed out on to the lake.
We spotted our blind and headed for it. About 50 yards short of it the boat slowed down, accompanied with a crunching sound. “What the heck?” Mark asked. Looking closely at the surface, we saw it was covered with about a quarter inch of ice. “This will melt when the sun comes up,” someone confidently announced. We crunched our way to the blind, and, once there, knocked holes in the ice and placed our decoys.
While we were waiting for sunrise, David pulled out a pint of Jim Beam white label (an actual pint, mind you – remember that this was 1971). We passed it around, each taking a swallow. It burned on the way down, but gave me a nice warm feeling.
The sun came up about 20 minutes later, and we saw that the ice had closed in around the decoys. Apparently the process was uneven, and they were all positioned at various odd angles, none in exactly the same direction as any other. Looked pretty weird.
“As soon as it warms up, the ice will melt and it will be fine,” I predicted. “While we’re waiting, maybe some more JB.” The bottle made another round. I felt warm again.
A half-hour later, not much had changed, except that there were now hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ducks flying over us. None showed the slightest inclination to descend to within shotgun range.
“I swear it’s getting colder,” said Mark. “How about some more bourbon?” David pulled it out and around it went.
An hour later, we were all shivering. The ice had not melted. I took a paddle and tapped it. No effect. I gave it a good whack and it broke. It was now about 3/4 inch thick. “Um…guys, I think it really is getting colder.”
“Yeah, but it’s gotta warm up eventually,” replied David. “Here, have some more JB.”
About forty five minutes passed. David pulled out the pint. There was about an inch left. “One shot apiece, is all we got”. We passed it around.
The effects wore off within thirty minutes, and we were feeling pretty miserable. I shook my head, and said, “I don’t think this ice is going to melt until the afternoon, and I know I can’t wait that long. After all, we’re out of bourbon.” Mark and David nodded. “Lets call it a day.”
We used paddles to break our way out of the blind and work our way over to the decoys. Retrieving them all took a good half hour. Then we started breaking our way toward open water. There was now about 100 yards of ice between that and us. Took almost an hour. Once we got there we fired up the motor and headed across the lake.
When we approached the landing, we found there was about 50 yards of ice ahead. We crunched into the edge of it and killed the motor, got out the paddles and started breaking the ice. About halfway there, we noticed that the boat was taking water – the collision with the edge of the ice had opened a seam.
By the time we got to shore there was about two inches of water in the boat. Efforts at bailing, using the empty pint bottle (the only container we had), were spectacularly unsuccessful.
The thermometer at the bait store read 19 degrees.
We learned later that an arctic front had moved in, the leading edge reaching our area shortly before sunrise.
It’s probably a good thing that we didn’t have a bigger bottle of JB, ‘cause it never got above freezing that day.