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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 Their Sport

 (SafetyAlerts) - 

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 conditions."

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 advises.

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."

Source: PRNewswire.

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