With deer season fast approaching, local health officials are reminding hunters to be mindful of safety and take some simple precautions as they head in the woods.
While gun safety, of course, is extremely important, there are other dangers to be aware of that cause far more injuries than accidents involving firearms, says Dave Rae, emergency department supervisor at New London Family Medical Center.
“The No. 1 piece of equipment that causes more injuries than anything else is the tree stand,” said Rae. “Firearms injuries are very small compared to those caused by tree stands.”
Most people fall while climbing up or down out of their stands, when they aren’t wearing a harness, Rae said.
Hunters should always wear a full body harness — that allows for self rescue — while climbing up and down the stand, not just when they are sitting in it, he said. Make sure the stand is sturdy and securely tightened to the tree, Rae added.
Also more common than gunshot wounds are hunting-related heart attacks. Overexertion, combined with being out of shape, can be the perfect recipe for a heart attack, says Dr. Robert Peterson, an emergency room physician with Riverside Medical Center in Waupaca.
“Every year we see someone in the emergency room who had a heart attack because they walked too far or tried to drag a deer out of the woods,” said Dr. Peterson, an avid hunter himself. “Try to get in shape before you go hunting, so you aren’t engaging in physical activity your body isn’t accustomed to.”
Another common injury seen in the ER each hunting season are knife wounds, he added.
“When you dress or butcher a deer, you are dealing with sharp knives and you have to practice good safety,” Dr. Peterson said. “We’ve seen some serious injuries where the hunter is pulling the knife toward them, it slips out of the deer and into one of their major arteries. Always push the knife away from your body. Never pull it toward you.”
Before you head out hunting, always let someone know your plans and carry an emergency signaling device, whether a cell phone, two-way radio or whistle, Dr. Peterson said.
“Someone needs to know where you are going and what tree you are going to be in, so if you don’t return, they know where to look for you,” he said.
Last but not least, always follow the four rules of firearm safety, remind both Rae and Dr. Peterson.
Treat every firearm as if it is loaded
Always point the muzzle in a safe direction
Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until ready to shoot
Be certain of your target and what is beyond it.
For hunters who use crossbows, be sure to keep the thumb of your forward hand out of the path of the string.
“If the thumb is up, and the bow is fired, it will take the thumb right off,” said Dr. Peterson. “We had one of those injuries a couple weeks ago, where the top of the hunter’s thumb was completely taken off.”