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.

Ring Avulsion, a Traumatic Finger Injury

Recently talk show host Jimmy Fallon explained to his audience how a seemingly minor fall nearly cost him a finger – shedding light on a rare yet serious finger trauma known as a Ring Avulsion injury.

Ring avulsion results from the mechanism of crushing, shearing and avulsion, inducing severe macroscopic and microscopic damage. This type of injury often occurs when a ring that an individual is wearing is caught on an object, usually during a fall or jump.  It can also occur when caught on fast moving equipment or just simply in a “freak” accident.

Damage from the abrupt and often harsh tug of the caught ring can range from a simple contusion to “degloving” of soft tissue – pulling the skin off circumferentially and stripping away the nerves, tendons and bone. Severe accidents may result in traumatic amputation of the finger.

Ring avulsion can be among one of the most devastating traumatic finger injuries, as often replantation following severe soft tissue damage is not possible – requiring revision amputation.

Fortunately, advances in microsurgery and interposition graft techniques have improved results with ring avulsion replantation.  Patients should see a hand specialist immediately after the injury is identified.

Symptoms of Ring Avulsion

While Fallon knew he had severely injured his finger in his fall, the extent of the damage and seriousness of the injury was not completely revealed until his examination and x-ray.  Prompt attention and surgical care from a specialized hand team fortunately saved his finger.

The severe damage that can occur in a ring avulsion case is not always evident to a patient. Immediate examination and x-ray assessment are necessary.

Symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Lack of sensation at the tip
  • Disfigurement
  • Finger discoloration or whitening

In severe cases, part of the finger is removed from the bone or completely severed (traumatic amputation).

Diagnosing and Treating Ring Avulsion

When a patient presents with this type of finger trauma, the wound is cleaned and inspected for visible avulsed vessel, nerve, and tendon.  Damaged skin edges are also assessed.  An x-ray may also be indicated before determining the type of avulsion a patient has incurred.  If a portion of the finger is separated, an x-ray is performed on both the amputated part and the remaining digit to fully asses damage and likelihood of replantation.

If there is a separated part, it is wrapped in a saline gauze and placed in a bag with ice water.  The patient is given antibiotics and tetanus prophylaxis.

The injury is then classified using one of several ring avulsion classification systems that exist.  Most commonly used is the Urbaniak Classification system.  The class of ring avulsion (Class 1, 2, or 3) will help determine treatment.

The goal of the hand surgeon is to salvage, maintain function and, if possible, provide an esthetic appearance.

Commonly used classification chart for Ring Avulsion injuries.

Commonly used classification charts for Ring Avulsion injuries.

Avoiding Risk of Ring Avulsion

It is difficult for patients to understand how otherwise inconsequential stumbles or movements can result in the damage or loss of a digit when a ring is involved.  We often forget that the bones and joints of the hand and wrist are small and capable of sustaining just so much force. Skin is the finger’s strongest part.  Once the skin tears, the remaining tissue quickly degloves. Though rare, the potential harm that a ring can pose should be considered – particularly when performing certain extracurricular or sports activities, or when working with machinery. Unfortunately many accidents resulting in a ring avulsion are not anticipated nor could be imagined.  Prompt attention is key to a successful outcome.

References

Flagg SV, Finseth FJ, Krizek TJ. Ring avulsion injury. Plast Reconstr Surg. 1977;59:241–8.

Brooks D, et al. Ring avulsion: injury pattern, treatment, and outcome. Clinics in Plastic Surgery April 2007 ;34(2):187-95, viii.

Fejjal N, Belmir R, Mazouz S El, Gharib NE, et al. Finger avulsion injuries:  A report of four cases.  Indian J Orthop. 2008 Apr-Jun; 42(2): 208–211.

Sears ED, Chung KC.  Replantation of finger avulsion injuries:  A systematic review of survival and functional outcomes.  J Hand Surg Am. 2011;36(4):686-94.