Hunting season is upon us. Lately, I have seen many references to hunting in the media, hunting equipment and apparel are appearing in advertising and I am aware that there are hunter safety classes scheduled.
Several patients of mine have discussed their hunting plans with me. This proactive approach is excellent. Hunting can be an excellent sport and a great way to enjoy the outdoors, but it can quickly turn deadly if you do not practice good hunter safety.
First and foremost, make sure that you are physically up to hunting. It is physically taxing, because it involves a lot of walking on uneven terrain, climbing, dragging and lifting. Make sure you discuss with your doctor the fact that you plan on hunting. If you have any health issues, he will check your medications and health history and suggest any considerations or adjustments you need to make to stay healthy and safe in the field for example, if you have diabetes and conditions like Neuropathy, you must be especially careful when exposed to the cold.
You should NEVER enter the woods without a buddy for two reasons. First, if anything should happen there is help nearby, and he /she knows to look for you if you do not show up at the designated meeting place on time. Secondly, don’t you want a witness to back up your story of how big the buck was that you let get away?
If you do not have a buddy, make sure you have told family the exact location of where you are going, and when you will return. Make sure you stick to that plan. Make room in your gear bag for some extra water, some food, any emergency medicines you need to take, a first aid kit, a cell phone, a Walkie Talkie, A Personal Locator Device (PDL), and a flashlight.
A word of caution, in some areas a PLD or a cell phone may not receive a signal. You should hunt in areas you know. You should think about what you would need to survive overnight until you were found in case you got lost, injured or both.
You might need to buy some new hunting gear. Tell your family the doctor ordered it. If your gear experienced “closet shrinkage,” replace it. Just as you hoped the deer you saw last year had a good summer and packed on some weight, chances are you did also. It is important to wear properly fitting clothing that will allow you normal range of motion when hunting. Proper range of motion is essential when drawing your bow or shouldering a gun in order to have better aim. You will find it easier to concentrate on your aim if you are not thinking, “Boy this jacket is uncomfortable. Let’s just get the shot off!”
Make sure the color of your clothing meets the NYS DEC requirement for high visibility. Regardless of whether or not you are into “old school wool” or a high tech fabric, when it comes to field fashion focus on maintaining body temperature.
Dress in layers as the temperatures can vary greatly, and it is an established fact that many layers allow for better circulation thus keeping you warmer. It also allows you to shed some layers if the temperature rises. Make sure your clothing is loose and not binding. You may have heard the adage “cotton tails!” That is because cotton is a great fabric to keep you warm as long as you stay dry, but once it gets wet it loses its ability to insulate.
Cotton holds moisture from rain, snow and even perspiration. In the cold it can actually increase your chances of hypothermia.
A mask or a hood, with a piece covering the mouth and nose, is an article of clothing which can be helpful to prevent inhaling cold air. This is especially important if you have a health condition such as asthma, even when you have been cleared by the doctor to hunt.
Shoes are a very significant consideration not only in terms of your feet but in terms of your back. It is important to wear proper shoes to protect the feet and ankles. Because of the uneven terrain hunters experience, shoes need to be firm, provide good support and have stiff soles.
Check out the traction pattern on the bottom. The tongue of the shoe should be attached as this prevents things from getting down you boot and makes it more waterproof.
When you shop for boots wear the same thickness of socks that you will wear hunting. A tight shoe will not only hurt, especially walking down hill, it will not keep your feet warm and can increase your chance of frostbite. Make sure your boots are waterproof.
Now that you are ready to go, do warm up and stretching exercises before you begin hunting just as you would any sport. It is important to stretch all of the muscle groups. It increases the core temperature of your body and warms your muscles. It also sends more oxygen throughout your body. If you are exercising in the cold without warming up your ligaments and muscles, you are very prone to injury.
Some of the basic stretches are:
Reach for the sky and hold 5 seconds to stretch the back and shoulder. Next, reach across your body with one arm and hold it with the other arm to stretch the shoulders. Now do the same to the other side.
To loosen up your neck, tilt your head sideways, first to the left then the right. Hold this for 15 seconds. Repeat 1-3 times. Next gently tilt your head forward . Hold 15 seconds. Then gently tip your head back and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 1-3 times.
Interlace fingers, palms out. Extend your arms in front. Your arms should be at shoulder height. Hold this for 15 seconds. Release, relax and repeat.
Stand with your hands on your hips, knees slightly flexed. Gently turn your upper body at the waist to the right. Do not move hips. Hold 15 seconds. Then do the same turning motion to the left. Repeat.
Bend over and touch your toes. Do not bounce. Make sure you keep a slight bend in the knees to take stress off of the lower back. Hold for 15 seconds.
Perform knee bends to loosen up the knees and hips. This keeps the knees flexible. This is especially good if you have arthritis in your joints. We do not want to get caught bending over and unable to straighten up out in the woods.
In stretching remember not to extend too far, do not bounce and be gentle in your movements. You are going for a smooth, controlled, deliberate movement.
When you are hunting stretch out at least once an hour. Your body does not like to remain in one position for an extended period of time. It impairs your circulation and strains your muscles and joints. Hunters in tree stands tend to assume a position for long periods of time. If you are in a tree stand, wiggle your toes and make circles with your feet. Stretch your arms and legs and change positions regularly.
Once in the woods, don’t forget to be mindful and look down at the ground as there are numerous occasions for injury: ruts, roots, twigs and branches along with holes and other trip hazards hidden under the nice carpet of leaves.
While they may provide protection for the animals, they can provide hazards for hunters.
Trips and falls are bad for your spine. They can cut your hunt short. They can cause a gun to go off prematurely hurting or even killing you or a bystander.
Some of you hunt from tree stands. Tree stands have become very popular in hunting, and, sadly, have resulted in numerous accidents and loss of life.
The first rule of hunting should be, do not go in a tree stand if you are on medications which can cause dizziness or other health conditions which compromise your sense of balance.
Do not use a tree stand if you are on drugs or under the influence of alcohol.
Always wear a Fall Arrest Full Body System meeting TMA Standards. These protect you while in the tree should you fall out, but also use them when climbing into and out of the tree. You should be aware of the instructions and use them properly.
Inspections of your safety equipment and the tree stand itself should be on going as the weather and use can compromise them.
A very sobering statistic is that 70% of fatal fall victims die prior to reaching the hospital.
While each fall has its own factors, any fall is very serious.
One of the greatest causes of spinal injuries is attempting to carry weapons whether it be bows or guns (unloaded I hope) and supplies into the tree stand.
Do not carry anything up the ladder. Use a haul line to take things up and down. Anchor the haul line on the side opposite the ladder, and place the equipment you are going to haul there so it is not a trip hazard.
NEVER jump, even a few feet, out of a tree stand. Hunters, in the heat of the moment, all too often begin the descent from the tree stand properly, using the ladder, and then jump the last steps. With the uneven terrain and the extra weight of the clothing and gear, this can cause very serious injury.
When you are carrying guns, game belts and supplies, hold the weight as close to your body as possible. Walk as straight as possible. Do not bend forward to carry the weight. The weight should be distributed as evenly as possible on both sides of your body.
You have now bagged your deer. Many injuries chiropractors see occur as a result of dragging a deer.
If possible use a cart or other device to lighten the load.
If you must drag the deer, do not walk backwards as there are many trip hazards. Keep changing your position and rest frequently. Do not wait until you feel exhaustion.
These are only a few of the precautions you may want to consider when you are hunting.
You may want to read further and educate yourself. The NYS Department has numerous publications which are very helpful and informative.
One of the key principles of chiropractic is prevention. Chiropractors educate patients on preventions and give patients exercises to reduce the severity of their injuries.
Pre-plan and anticipate problems that can occur in the woods, and you will have a satisfying experience. Happy and safe hunting!
Dr. McCaffrey practices at McCaffrey Chiropractic, 184 W. Fourth St. phone 342-3877. www.mccaffreychiro.com