November 2, 2001
Pennsylvania Medical Society Takes Aim at Hunting Mishaps
Involving Out-Of-Shape Outdoorsmen
Urges Hunters to Make Sure They're up to the Physical, Mental Demands of
While stalking their quarry,
hunters often fall prey themselves -- not just to shooting accidents, but to
health problems triggered by underestimating the rigors of hunting.
To help prevent injuries and ailments this hunting season, the Pennsylvania
Medical Society is urging hunters to take stock of their physical condition
and mental acuity before they take to the woods.
To avoid situations that cause harm to themselves and others, hunters need
to be fully alert and in good physical shape," says Keith K. Burkhart, M.D.,
an emergency medicine physician at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical
Center, and a hunter. "Unfortunately for too many outdoorsmen, hunting is
their only real outdoor or physical activity, and their bodies aren't
accustomed to dealing with the added physical exertion and tough weather
Out-of-shape outdoorsmen are at risk, agrees Paul D. Williams, D.O., a
family physician in Harrisburg. "Sometimes I think the deer claim more
hunters than the other way around," he says. "People who sit at a desk all
week suddenly decide to go trekking for miles through rugged terrain with a
rifle, so it's no wonder a number of heart attacks occur." Dr. Williams, a
member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, advises sedentary hunters to see
their doctors for a checkup at least two months before hunting season
begins. If they need to go on an exercise program, that gives them enough
time to get in shape.
A number of heart attacks strike when hunters try to drag their heavy buck
or doe back to the vehicle, says Dr. Burkhart, who has treated such cases in
the emergency room. "Especially when it's cold," he says, "the body is under
more stress, and the extra effort of hauling the deer can be too much for
the heart." The Pennsylvania Medical Society cautions hunters to get help
when dragging or lifting a deer, or at least to make frequent stops to rest.
Hunters with an existing heart condition should have their medicine handy in
their jacket pocket. Members of their party should know about this
condition. If someone is incapacitated by a heart attack, friends can
administer the proper medication dosage immediately. Until medical help
arrives, they should keep the victim warm and at rest.
"In these situations a cell phone can be a lifesaver, giving hunters instant
contact with 911 emergency services," says Dr. Burkhart. It's prudent to
also bring along flares to help emergency crews locate an injured hunter,
and walkie-talkies for communication among hunting companions.
Lack of mental alertness can cause trouble, too, warns Dr. Burkhart, who
compares hunting to driving. "Just as you can't maneuver a car safely if
you've had too much alcohol or too little sleep, you can't hunt safely
either. At deer camp, hunters often will stay up late playing cards and then
rise early in the morning to head into the woods. Insufficient sleep can
impair their judgment and slow their reflexes."
Hunters can put themselves in jeopardy just getting to the camp. Dr.
Burkhart has noted a number of traffic accidents involving hunters en route
to their destination. "In their anticipation, hunters shouldn't forget road
safety," he says. Hunters should schedule enough travel time so they don't
have to rush and should take sufficient rest stops along the way, he
Poor eyesight is a frequent culprit in shooting accidents. Dr. Burkhart
reminds older hunters -- and younger ones with imperfect vision -- to have
their eyes and eyeglasses checked so they can identify their target clearly
and shoot accurately.
Hunters don't have to be doing something strenuous -- like dragging a buck
or climbing a hill -- to bag an injury. In fact, 29 percent of hunters shot
by accident last year were in a sitting position, according to the
Pennsylvania Game Commission. "When turkey hunters are stationary, they're
allowed to remove their blaze orange and often will wear camouflage clothing
to conceal themselves from the turkeys. This can lead to other hunters
shooting them by mistake," Dr. Burkhart explains.
The Game Commission reports that last year, three times as many victims
mistaken for game were wearing camouflage as opposed to blaze orange. To
avoid becoming a 2001 statistic, those hunting from a stationary position
without a fluorescent jacket should wrap a safety band -- a minimum of 100
square inches of blaze orange material, visible 360 degrees -- around a tree
within 15 feet of their position to alert other hunters. This precaution is
a Game Commission requirement for certain hunting seasons and is common
sense for safe hunters.
In getting to an elevated stationary position -- a perch in a tree stand --
hunters sometimes injure themselves. To prevent falls while ascending and
descending a tree stand, hunters always should wear a safety harness, both
while climbing and in the stand. The gun or bow and arrows should be raised
and lowered by a separate safety line, not carried along on the climb.
If a hunter breaks an arm or leg in a fall from a tree stand or other
misstep, Dr. Burkhart says he or she should be kept immobilized, with
pressure exerted on the artery above the break to slow any bleeding, until
professional help comes. The same procedure applies to a gunshot or arrow
wound to the arm or leg. "Above all, don't move the person until medical
assistance arrives," cautions Dr. Burkhart.
As a member of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, Dr. Burkhart believes that
the relationship between doctors and their patients is educational as well
as healing. To make hunting a safer pursuit, he encourages doctors and their
patients who enjoy this pastime to discuss the physical requirements and
safety rules of hunting. "Most of these things are just common sense, and
people have heard or read about them before," he says, "but sometimes it
takes a doctor's advice to make people think seriously about what they can
do to safeguard their lives."