Doctor Offers Hunting Safety Tips

October 08, 2012

Heart attacks, falls bring many hunters to the emergency room

Along with misfired rifle shots, common medical emergencies involving hunters include heart attacks, back injuries and broken bones. By following certain safety precautions, however, hunters can prevent injuries and avoid a trip to the emergency room, says a physician who enjoys the hobby himself.

"I am a hunter and always need to remind myself to lead by example when I'm in the woods," said Kenneth Calamia, M.D., chief executive officer of Mayo Clinic Health System in Waycross. "Hunting can be a fun sport for all to enjoy. But we need to make sure that fun isn't spoiled by some unfortunate accident."

Hunters should be clearheaded and informed about their surroundings, Calamia advised, and they should also wear clothes that are appropriate for hunting and the temperature. And, he said, they should always alert other hunters to their presence.

Calamia recommended more precautions for hunters:

  • Use a safety harness. Fall protection is an essential part of hunting safety when using a tree stand, hang-on stand, or other climbing products. Calamia urges hunters to use a safety harness, which is lightweight, durable, and won’t interfere with your shooting.
  • Use a pulley system. Before climbing a stand, secure a rope to your firearm and then loop it over the top of your stand so that the two ends of the rope are on the ground, and one end is tied to your gun. This creates a pulley system for your gun. Climb your stand and get in place without your gun, then use the pulley system to raise your gun to you. Never climb a stand with your gun in tow.
  • Be aware of heart attack warning signs. Hunting can be physically difficult and cause a significant increase in heart rate, Calamia explained. Anyone who is not used to rigorous physical activity, such as hiking over rough terrain, should take several breaks and rest. Hunters should be trained in basic first aid so they can help anyone who may have a heart attack.
  • Pay attention. Hunting injuries are often caused by falls. The average fall from a tree stand is about 15 feet, he noted. By staying alert and aware of what is going on around them, hunters can avoid being startled and reduce their risk of falling, which can lead to broken bones, paralysis and even death.
  • Check equipment and use safety belts. He advised hunters to avoid permanent tree stands, which are more likely to deteriorate.
  • Do not drink alcohol. Hunters who have been drinking are more likely to hurt themselves or develop frostbite or hypothermia.

Hunters should also inform their families about their plans and carry two-way radios or whistles in case they need to call for help, Calamia added.

He also cautioned hunters to follow the following basic firearm safety rules: Always point the muzzle of a gun in a safe direction; be sure of the target and what's beyond it; and keep fingers outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot.


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