TALLAHASSEE — Friends Matt Schimpf, Chase Spears and Jace Grissom frequently brave the early morning winter chill to go duck hunting.
But the Chiles High School students would rather keep the excitement to bagging their feathered prey and avoid mishaps like what happened Tuesday morning.
When the trio took off from the Bull Headley Landing in northeast Leon County, Fla., headed to their hunting spot, it was dark and cold. Temperatures read 23 degrees.
They were riding for about 40 minutes headed to Beetles Cove on the north side of Lake Iamonia, Matt said, and had reached within a quarter-mile of their spot when trouble struck.
"We were looking for our spot with a flashlight and that’s when (Jace) slipped on some ice on the boat and fell off," said the 17-year-old. "He had the keys to my truck in his pocket.
"They got hooked on the side of the boat, as he fell in. My keys were frozen on the side of the boat.”
Jace, 16, was in full gear, wearing waders, extending from his feet to his chest. Time was of the essence.
“I jumped over the decoys and slapped the handle of the trolling motor to turn it around,” Matt said. Chase started using a push pole to head toward Jace.
"We picked him up and brought him into the boat,” Matt added.
Matt estimates Jace was in the water for less than a minute or two.
Chase, 17, and Matt, fearful Jace soon would suffer from hypothermia, stripped him of the water-filled waders and started up the buddy heaters on board.
Guided by the moonlight, they headed for Buzzard Island and Matt called his mother, Nanette Schimpf, for help. They needed Matt’s more powerful boat, which is equipped with a mud-buddy motor.
Their 12-foot Jon boat was powered by a small trolling motor; that wasn't enough horsepower to make the emergency trek back to the landing.
While they waited for help, the three teens motored to the island, where they leaned Jace against a tree. They used the pilot light on the warmers to build a fire using twigs and leaves. Not only were they trying to get Jace warm, they wanted to alert Matt and Jace’s fathers, who were on their way from the Bull Headley Landing.
“Between both heaters and the fire, it warmed him up,” Matt said Tuesday afternoon. “We weren’t going to let him get hurt and we wanted to keep him as warm as possible to prevent him from going into shock.
“We were lucky there was a lot of dry wood on the island,” Matt said, adding he gave Jace his hat to stay warm.
Jace’s father, Scott Grissom, and Matt’s father, Scott Schimpf, arrived shortly afterward, loaded Jace on the boat and sped back toward Bull Headley, where they were met by the Station 15 crew of the Tallahassee Fire Department.
They assessed Jace and determined he was safe, thanks to the smart thinking and quick actions of his friends.
“He was shivering and cold but (Matt and Chase) had done all the right things,” Nanette Schimpf said. “Thankfully, they were all wearing their life jackets.”
Matt said he had no previous training for what they experienced, but keeping their friend alive guided their instincts.
“I was hell-bent on making sure he got home to his family,” he said.
Follow Byron Dobson on Twitter: @byrondobson