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Scott Rall: Ice is dangerous each and every day


The Globe outdoors columnist

There is a wide range of thought when it comes to what individuals think is safe ice. My thoughts on the issue have changed greatly over the past 40 years.

When I was 16, I had a full-size Dodge Monaco sedan. It was a hand-me-down from my folks, and I remember that my brother was going to buy it and I instead tossed the $300 and made it mine.

We would take the car out onto Lake Okabena and roar around like we were at the Thunder Valley Dragway in South Dakota. Speeds exceeding 50 mph were common.

Needless to say, I was a complete and total idiot in my younger years.  If the ice was 14 inches thick, I felt like I was on the Interstate. No fear, and even less common sense.

I was a high school senior when I got my first taste of immortality. As I was driving around on the lake, I saw something and when over to check it out. It was right off the point we called Cherry Point.  

Ray Ager lived in the house on the point. What I saw was a car antenna sticking out of the ice. The point was well known to be a location where the ice cracks, and openings were common.

I drove to within 10 yards of antenna. I could have easily dropped my car through it as well.

If my memory serves me right, it was a classmate of mine by the name of Ray Cousins who had worse luck than me that week. If memory also serves me, he made it out OK and lived to tell the story.  The water was not very deep in that location, but I am sure folks have drowned in less.

The only other close call I had on a lake was fishing on Loon Lake more than 40 years ago.  Me and friend were driving around in the fog and became disoriented. We stopped when we saw a hazard marker for the aeration system. We got out of my Mazda pickup and saw that we were about 50 yards from driving in to the open water created by the aeration system.

I came to a place standing there where I could hardly breathe knowing how close we had come to potential disaster.

Ice travel has changed greatly from my fish chasing days. Now I think I am about as chicken as any person you know when it comes to driving on the ice. In fact, I prefer not to do it at all with a car or truck. I drove on Upper Red Lake last year on 30 inches of ice and still drove with the truck door open.

I find it a lot easier to traverse on the hard water with my Polaris Ranger knowing I can jump off any time I want. It is really getting to be the preferred mode of travel for many ice fishing enthusiasts.

The vehicles are equipped with GPS to drivers exactly where they are. Snowmobiles are also being equipped with GPS units, and some even have flotation devices mounted on them that operators can engage if they break through.  They keep the entire unit afloat and are, in the worst-case scenario, life savers. For others, they provide a great sense of security.

You can utilize the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources guide on its website for recommended ice thickness for each particular type of vehicle, but to me, 40-plus years after my daredevil days it takes 16-18 inches from me to feel safe in a vehicle and 6-8 for the rest of the ATV’s and side by sides.

I am sure there will those who think I might be chicken to drive on the ice and they would be correct.

If you think you are on the daredevil side of things, just go to YouTube and search vehicles though the ice and maybe you might change your mind.

There are always a few folks who die each hard water season in Minnesota. This in no way should deter you from enjoying the natural resources of our great state, like world class fishing and snowmobiling, but I certainly hope you pursue these great outdoor adventures with a certain amount of caution and large doses of common sense.

Local ice conditions vary, but a friend was on a lake in Nobles County and the ice was 10 inches thick. He followed the tracks till they ended and then he drilled a hole every 25 yards or so until he reached his desired location.

It took a little time out of his fishing day, but he was far better off safe than sorry. Let’s make this year the safest ice travel year for Minnesota. Late freeze-up and lots of moving water into our area lakes scream out for extra caution. Please use it to your advantage.