Under the gun: Medical dangers faced by hunters

John Egan

If you're hunting for deer or other wildlife, you also could unknowingly be hunting for a trip to the hospital - and a big health insurance claim.

Heart attacks, injured backs and broken bones are some of the most common medical emergencies among hunters, says Dr. Eric Grube, an emergency medicine physician at the Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

"I am a hunter and always need to remind myself to lead by example when I'm in the woods," Grube says in a Mayo Clinic news release. "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."

Grube's survival tips for hunters include:

  • Watch for warning signs of a heart attack. One study of middle-aged male deer hunters found that the activities connected to hunting - such as walking over rough terrain, or shooting an animal and dragging its carcass - sent their heart rates up significantly. Many doctors caution that exercising at more than 85 percent of a person's maximum heart rate increases the risk of a heart attack.
  • Pay attention to your surroundings at all times. Falls tend to be the most common cause of injuries, and often happen when a hunter is in a tree and becomes startled by animals.
  • Always check equipment and stands, and use safety belts to prevent falls. Permanent tree stands often deteriorate and should be avoided. The average fall from a tree stand is about 15 feet. Injuries suffered from those heights can cause broken bones, paralysis or even death.
  • Avoid alcohol. Hunters are more susceptible to injuries, including frostbite and hypothermia, if they've been drinking.
  • Let family members know where you'll be hunting, and take two-way radios or loud whistles along in case help is needed.
  • Treat every firearm as if it's loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, be certain of your target and what's beyond it, and keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you're ready to shoot.