Darkness Paddling

I plan on using my kayak to access some prime turkey hunting areas in the morning. I will be on the water about 45 minutes before daylight. I have never paddled in the darkness hours before, so I welcome any advice you might have for me. I of course will be wearing a PFD and my firearm will be unloaded and tethered. I have a 75 lumen head light. Do you think that will be sufficient light for paddling a river that is 10-20 yards wide and has very little current, but does have a lot of downed trees as obstacles. I will be making about a 30 minute paddle to get to the desired hunting area. I appreciate any input and please feel free to recommend good headlights that you have used successfully.

In my limited experience
its easier to navigate without a light. Usually my eyes adjust to the darkness and I can see good enough to go. I’ve had the same experience when trolling acrossed a lake at night in my boat.

Just wear a feather hat and go “gobble gobble” every so often.

What could go wrong?

But seriously, if there is a current of any appreciable strength, it’s sort of important that you be able to see those downed trees.

I do a lot of night paddling.

– Last Updated: Mar-12-10 5:45 PM EST –

But I seriously stay off the river at night. The river here is loaded with deadfalls. BUT, if I thought I wanted to try it, I would prescout it. Perhaps take the GPS to mark any cautionary spots. I have very good night vision and would usually NOT use a light. But I would revisit that thought on the river. I can actually see much farther distant without a light. Would it be possible for you to prescout and perhaps tie off reflective tape to the deadfalls? Then you could use a red headlamp that would not ruin your night vision but could give a glow off those deadfalls. Plus I think most critters don't see the red. Just some thoughts. Nothing here is really meant for recommendations. Try at your risk.

I did this last year. Paddled to the top of a lake in the dark. Locked my boat to a tree. Then remembered I wanted to lock the gun case to the tree too. That is when I discovered I had already lost the key to the lock!! IT really messed up the hunt because it was nearly 2 hour walk one way. Hunted very short time. Hiked out. Got BIG cable cutters, only ones I own, 30 pounds at least. Left gun home. Hiked back in 2 hours to boat. Cut cable. It made a snap. Gobbler started gobbling CLOSE!! Took deep breath. Launched boat. Hen followed me half way back along the shore line just a beyatching at me the whole way. And the Gobbler was worked up because she was making noise. IT was a lovely day. Oh yeah. Lock was brand new, first use. Bought out of town 100 miles, they don't have that stuff near me.

If you are moving slow
like 1 or 2 mph, even the strainers aren’t a big deal. If you still have your night vision you should be fine. Try not to use the light or get a red light if you need to see something up close.


What little night paddling I’ve done…
…tells me that headlamps don’t work as well as they do when walking. If they’re strong enough to light the way, they tend to blind you when shining on your arms, paddle, and boat.

Pre-scouting and marking the best route on GPS might work for you. Instead of reflective tape, use reflective tacks to mark deadfalls. You can find them anywhere they sell turkey hunting gear. The tacks are less noticeable in daylight and less likely to get removed.

I don’t know what your river looks like, but my most local river…I don’t think I really want to be on it for very far in the dark. Another nearby river though is wider and has few, if any, hazards - we paddle that one in the dark sometimes (duck hunting) with little difficulty.

I go often

– Last Updated: Mar-12-10 9:12 PM EST –

an hour or two before day break. I use a head lamp with a xenon bulb, a 4AA Undewater Kinetics light with a xenon bulb on the front of the boat pointed at the water 2-3' just in front of the boat. Also, I use a scotty 823 sea light just behind the seat, so other boats can see me. I typically leave the head lamp off unless needed. The bow light is needed to spot the stumps that cover the lakes I fish.
There is nothing quite like being out on a lake on a clear night with just the stars and moon for company.

You can buy a hard hat flashlight holder for the UK 4AA light that articulates. I have bolted one of these on the front of all my boats typically to the bolt for the front carry handle.

The headlamp is a Streamlight Trident with one xenon bulb and 3 LED's.



I would recommend checking with the applicable laws for night time boating in your state.

Prefer going without artificial light at
night. If paddling at night on a river, I would choose one I already knew pretty well. If I often paddled at night, I would rig a bank of high output red LEDs on the bow of the canoe.

Once we were camped near the long portage at the south end of Agnes Lake in Quetico. It was dusk, near dark, and a tandem canoe came down the lake, paddling hard, almost drunkenly in desperation, toward the portage. Must have been some emergency, but I thought of them on that long portage in the dark, and then paddling the next lake, trying to find the subsequent portage. It would take some kind of emergency to get me to try traveling in such conditions.

What could go wrong?!!
You could be mistaken for a turkey by another hunter in the dark. That would ruin your day before it got started.

All other things considered . . .
Turn your bow toward your target before firing. Never fire broadside from a paddlecraft.

i paddle at night every time i visit newfoundland but have never paddled a river at night.

we leave the lights off using them only to alert other marine traffic.

as long as you are not hunting with dick chaney what could go wrong.

i have never hunted but i have fired flares fron a sea kayak.

One thing to add. Paddling a river in
the dark, by night vision alone, can go surprisingly well. BUT if there are artificial lights on the bank, from houses or from Coleman lanterns, it will screw up your dark vision. THAT is when you need a good lantern.

I once portaged my canoe along a jeep trail for half a mile on a moonless, cloudy night, and never put a foot wrong. I could see or sense the limits of the trail with night vision. But then Coleman lantern light from across the river ruined my night vision, and I stepped off the trail and dropped the canoe. I was lucky I was not injured.

If you’re in the back country
your not concerned about this, but if not I’d be concerned. Here in Wisconsin you need to have a light visible at all times on navigatable waters. A friend of mine talked his way out of a $200 fine from the Coast Guard while paddling to one of the Apostle Islands here on Lake Superior in the dark a few seasons ago. A little head lamp will suffice.

Wisconsin Lighting Law

– Last Updated: Mar-14-10 10:13 AM EST –

No, Wisconsin law says you must have a light available that can be turned on "in time to prevent a collision" with another boat. The rule for paddle craft is not the same as the rule for motorboats, and the rule about being lighted while anchored won't apply.

No Problem
I’ve been going on rivers in small boats at night for more than 40 years (started out as a kid going with my dad in a 12-foot boat when I was about 8 years old). You describe this river as being fairly small and slow, and based on my experience at night on such rivers, I’ll go out on a limb and say that the guy who basically said “don’t even consider doing this” has probably never even done it before, or only did it once and couldn’t get past the initial spookiness of not being able to see “everything” as you can in daylight. Slow and moderate current speeds don’t create much hazard around downed trees if you are halfway competent in your boat. You will most likely need a light source to pick your way through fallen trees, and maybe to avoid logs in the water too, but depending on conditions (trees, current, ambient light from the sky) you may do just fine without turning it on. Headlamps are great for this stuff. If you get the chance, do a couple of practice runs at night first to get the hang of it.

I paddle at night on rivers with no problems at all. I don’t use a light at all times, but I carry a large mag light to spotlight potential problems. My friend wears safety glasses to keep branches out of his eyes. Have fun and good luck.

Scout the river
Remove anything you can and mark the rest with white paint or engineer ribbon.

One hunts turkeys from shore, not…

– Last Updated: Mar-14-10 11:10 PM EST –

... from boats, but where do you get the idea that you should never shoot broadside out of a paddlecraft? Only in the movies could a shotgun's recoil knock a boat over. In "real life", the recoil is instantaneous, it's over before you can even think about it, and nothing other than the shooter's shoulder is displaced from it's initial position. Even the shoulder only moves half an inch or so with most hunting loads, perhaps two inches with a load that's almost too powerful for the shooter to tolerate (I'm guessing at that one, based on my own experience with loads that are "way too much for me"). Even then, the rest of your body won't move a bit due to recoil, and neither will the boat. Hollywood movies have been very bad for many people's understanding of physics.

Lighting Tip

– Last Updated: Mar-14-10 11:35 PM EST –

Here's another thing to be ready for. There may be enough mist coming off the water that it's really hard to see when your headlamp is turned on (headlamps make glare off the fog about 100 times worse than it is when using a hand-held flashlight). In actual fact, you can still get where you are going with no great amount of trouble with a headlight but it's aggravating. You can make it a whole lot easier by mounting a headlamp (or even two of them, since the light beam won't "shoot where you look") to your boat instead of your head. That way you can illuminate your surroundings and the light reflected off the mist won't shine straight back into your eyes. Have an additional headlamp on your head that's ready to use only in tight quarters among the downed trees.