Hunting Hazards to Avoid for a Successful Season

‘Tis the peak of hunting season.

Hunters far and wide have successfully exempt themselves from Holiday gatherings to pursue their passion. treestand-1-300x300

Given this feat, we want to ensure optimal success and the best holiday hunting experience possible by helping hunters avoid some of the most common hunting mishaps identified in scientific studies, seen in emergency centers and reported among hunters in the field.

Among the most reported hunting accidents include:

  • Hunting/Tree Stand Accidents
  • Misfire/Shooting Accidents
  • Field Dressing Dangers

According to a recent study, “hunting mishaps most frequently occurred because of overexcitement, unfamiliarity with equipment, or carelessness.” The study, which reviewed the hospital records of 100 male patients between the ages of 10 and 78 showed a wide variety of injuries resulting from hunting activities.  “Almost half of the patients were injured during a 9-day gun deer hunting season.”  The study concluded that while many of the injuries were minor, serious morbidity with potential long-term disability and costs in time and money can occur [1].

Tree Stand Accidents

Tree stands situated 20-30 feet in the air present a hazard potentially as dangerous as the weapons accompanying hunters in the trek up and down.

According to Tree Stand Safety Awareness (TSSA), tree stand accidents are the number one cause of serious injury and death to deer hunters – estimating that more than one-third of hunters who use tree stands will be involved in a fall sometime in their hunting careers [2].

While broken bones are very common following a fall from a stand (arm fractures, hip fractures, as well as injuries to the head, neck and spine), others less frequently discussed involve jewelry/accessories.

A potentially limb and life-threatening injury that is completely avoidable among hunters involves jewelry/accessories – watches and rings in particular.  During a slip or fall from a stand, these objects can catch on parts of the stand, as well as nails and tree branches causing serious damage to the affected limb.  The catch/pull/hanging of the watch or ring during a fall, traumatically impacts the soft tissue of the impacted region.  This can result in a severe wrist fracture for watch wearers and traumatic ring avulsion for ring wearers, which can strip tendons and nerves from the bones of the finger.

The severity of either injury is long lasting – surgery and rehabilitation required in both cases. Additionally, hunters are often located in remote areas, and treatment of such a severe injury is delayed – impacting outcome.

Hunters are urged to ensure tree stand safety by wearing a full body harness and leaving watches and rings at home.  A system of communication with fellow hunters is also encouraged should a mishap occur.

Misfire/Shooting Accidents

Many of the injuries seen during hunting season involve a shooting accident.  These accidents often occur when hunters are overly eager and fail to adhere to a basic safety protocol – proper attire, weapon check and communication.  Shooting accidents also occur when drowsy hunters fall from their stands with weapon in hand.  These accidents can cause self-inflicted injuries as well as injury to nearby hunters.

According to the International Hunter Education Association (IHEA), approximately 1000 people in the US and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year – just under a hundred of those accidents are fatalities.  Hunter safety courses are strongly encouraged and required in some cases before hunt participation.

Field Dressing Dangers

Another opportunity for injury occurs during the process of field dressing.  Not only is the rapid cleaning of hunted game essential to prevent bacteria from growing on the surface of the carcass (at initial wound site or while gutting) and contaminating the meat, but also to reduce risk of dangerous infection if cut during the process.

Field dressing must be done as soon as possible to ensure rapid body heat loss. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, in some cases doubling in number every 20 minutes. This range of temperature is often called the “temperature danger zone [3].” Hunters in warmer climates should be particularly vigilant.

Too often most of the hunting preparation is focused on the kill and not enough on safely field dressing the game.  Dull knives and dirty prep areas can result in lacerations prone to infection. These types of infected wounds can be difficult to treat.  Additionally, many types of popular game are infected with Brucellosis, an infectious disease caused by bacteria.  Hunters merely handling the blood and organs of an infected animal while field dressing can become infected.  The infection may remain dormant up to a month after exposure and can cause severe illness requiring antibiotics. Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain [4].

Field dressing preparation should include:

  • Clean, sharp knife
  • Resealable plastic storage bags
  • Whetstone or steel for sharpening
  • Cooler full of ice/snow
  • Rope or nylon cord
  • Disposable plastic gloves
  • Clean wipes or paper towels
  • Clean drinking water

Be safe and Happy Hunting!

References

  1. Huiras CM, Cogbill TH, Strutt PJ. Hunting-related injuries. Wis Med J. 1990 Oct;89(10):573-6.
  2. Bailey C. Here are the Five Most Common Hunting Injuries. Wide Open Spaces. 2017 March 29. http://www.wideopenspaces.com/these-are-the-5-most-common-hunting-injuries/
  3. PennState Extension. Proper Field Dressing and Handling of Wild Game and Fish. 2017. https://extension.psu.edu/proper-field-dressing-and-handling-of-wild-game-and-fish
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hunters: Protect Yourself from Brucellosis. https://www.cdc.gov/features/huntersbrucellosis/index.html

 Dr. Korsh Jafarnia is a Houston based board-certified, fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon specializing in the hand, wrist and elbow. He is recognized locally and nationally as a “top doctor” in his field and highly sought for his level of expertise in hand and upper extremity orthopedic care.

FIREARM INJURIES -When Things Get Out of Hand

While firearm injuries to the hand and upper extremity represent a small percentage of all firearm traumas, when they happen the injury is often severe.

Frequently the result of mishandling a gun, the damage that both a bullet, the chamber and even the recoil can pose to the small bones and joints of the hand and wrist can be devastating and have a longterm impact.

Scope of Hand & Upper Extremity Problems in Firearm Users Range from Trauma to Repetitive Stress Conditions

From partial limb loss to stress fractures and repetitive stress conditions historically diagnosed in those working in a daily repetitive task, firearm users should recognize the dangers that exist behind the barrel as well.

Trauma – Open Wound

A broadly distributed article on an unfortunate handgun user losing the top half of his ill placed thumb – a result of the powerful vapors escaping from the chamber upon firing – cast a spotlight on the dangers of using certain firearms and the magnitude of damage that can occur to the small bones and intricate network of nerves, tendons and ligaments of the hand.

While this type of injury is uncommon, it is important to know what to do should it happen. Collecting any remains separated from the impacted area could aide a hand surgeon with replantation.  Rinsing the wound with sterile, normal saline and wrapping it if possible is advised just before heading to an emergency center for immediate assistance.

The surgical approach depends on the severity of damage to the tissue and bone. Open wounds like this are always treated with antibiotics, as “skin” is the body’s largest organ and when its protective barrier is compromised in this way and vulnerable to bacteria, antibiotics are used to reduce risk of infection.   If there is damage to the bone, surgery would entail stabilizing the bone.  Then, the tendons are repaired and the blood flow is re-established – with repair of the artery and veins. Potential problems can result from the magnitude of the blast, confounded by the risk of infection.  The expected outcome and long term function of such an injury is often highly variable as it depends on the amount of tissue damage from the accident.  Often times patients are able to regain adequate function despite not having full mobility of the injured extremity during their recovery.

Forceful Impact – Stress Fractures

Sportsmen frequently using what are known as “big-bore” handguns (models with rifle-type cartridges) have increasingly reported problems with their shooting hand – pain, swelling, weakness when shooting – following periods of preparation/practice for an upcoming hunt. This type of pain can stem from damage to the carpal bones of the wrist, as well as the forearm and elbow as a result of the repetitious and harsh recoil impact (much like a worker regularly using a Jackhammer or other such high powered equipment).  In some cases, this can result in a stress fracture.  Stress fractures are most commonly seen in the lower extremity of frequent runners or athletes, but can occasionally occur in the hand and upper extremity when subjected repeatedly to unusual force.

Treatment of stress fractures generally entails rest from the activity and possibly bracing.  Rehabilitative exercises are also effective in strengthening the shooting arm for both overcoming fatigue and reducing risk for more serious damage.

Repetitive Stress Conditions

Conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow are considered repetitive stress conditions, most often associated with repetitive tasks in work or sports.  They are occasionally seen in the avid sportsman – practicing to perfect their shooting prior to a hunting season or holding the firearm only certain times of the year in a way to which the hand/arm is not accustomed.

These conditions are most often treated nonsurgically with rest and anti inflammatory medication.  Rehabilitation therapy is also frequently used to address these conditions – to restrengthen, stimulate healing and in some cases retrain hand and arm position during tasks identified as triggers. A new procedure known as the Graston Technique® is also an effective therapeutic way to address these types of repetitive stress conditions.  It entails uniquely designed stainless steel instruments and specially trained hand therapists to detect and treat the affected areas of soft tissue irritation.

Long-term Impact

Persistent pain and chronic inflammation can alter the natural mechanics of the affected limb, negatively impacting joints and accelerating joint degeneration – which could eventually result in osteoarthritis if unaddressed.

Reducing Risks

The best way to reduce the risk of firearm or other activity-related hand and upper extremity conditions is to space practices so that adequate time is allowed to rest the “master” hand and arm.  Strengthening exercises will also allow muscles to protect the soft tissue and bones.  Most sports also have protective gear, developed to address some of the most common conditions associated with frequent involvement.  Hunting is no exception, with brakes, grips and shooting gloves designed to reduce the impact of frequent shooting on the hand, wrist and elbow.

When pain is persistent, seeking medical attention will often reduce risk of more serious injury and permit conservative treatment to effectively address the problem and promote a healthier approach to the activities you enjoy.