It's that time of the year. Soon, thousands of people will get up at the crack of dawn during firearm deer season and head for the woods.
And every year, media reports include stories of hunters suffering heart attacks during the season.
Too many hunters getting ready for the gun-deer season take better care of their pick-ups, guns and camps than they do of themselves.
Hunters should pay as much attention to their physical condition as they do to their gear.
Hunting can be hazardous to a hunter's health if he already had an underlying heart condition.
They move around in the cold, tramp through the woods and sometimes climb steep grades. All of this can make the heart work extra hard.
Merely spotting a buck can cause a hunter's heart rate to more than double, researchers say.
And dragging that 200-pound buck back to camp can be a real strain on the heart.
If you're not prepared, haven't had a physical and haven't exercised much in the year since the last hunt, you may be putting yourself at a risk of a heart attack.
Preparing early will not only help with physical fitness come deer season, but also with overall general health.
Studies show that being physically fit lowers heart disease risk even in people who have other risk factors like high blood pressure and high blood cholesterol.
Warning signs of a heart attack are an uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back again.
Also, the pain spreads to the shoulders, neck and arms and is often accompanied by lightheadedness, sweating, nausea and shortness of breath.
Stroke is also a concern while hunting and its warning signs include a sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, and a sudden dizziness and loss of coordination.
Both heart attack and stroke are medical emergencies and 911 needs to be accessed immediately.
The regular deer season starts on Friday, Nov. 15, in Michigan and on Saturday, Nov. 23, in Wisconsin. Some hunters will not be able to get a check-up before the hunt begins.
For these people, medical experts offer the following advice:
- Remember to tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Take a cellular phone if you have one and make sure the phone is within range of the tower, or wear a plastic whistle around your neck.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart attack and heart disease.
- Avoid a heavy breakfast before heading out into the woods.
- Dress in layers so that you can remove clothing when you start to warm up. Clothing gets damp from perspiration after exertion, and wet layers pull away body heat. Use "wicking" underclothes so the layer next to your skin is dry and you don't become hypothermic.
- Take along water so you don't become dehydrated.
- Take things at a comfortable pace - rest for a spell if you feel the slightest bit tired.
- Get help to drag a deer out of the field to your camp or vehicle.
- Stop what you're doing and get medical help if you experience any of warning signs of a heart attack.
When you make it back, schedule a check-up. Men between the ages of 40 and 50 should get a check-up every other year, and should get an annual physical after they've turned 50. Women should have a yearly physical and a mammogram after age 40.
Additionally, the Upper Peninsula Power Company (UPPCO) advises hunters not to shoot near power lines, electrical equipment or substations. A stray shot can cause damage and potentially interrupt electrical service to an entire area.
Portable electrical generators that use a gasoline engine should never run inside hunting shacks or garages, even if doors and windows are open. Most manufacturers suggest using portable generators at least 20 feet from where you reside. Follow manufacturer's suggested operations for safe use.
Some natural pruning may have occurred in heavily forested areas, meaning potentially dangerous situations involving broken tree limbs and downed power lines may have resulted. If hunters come across a potentially dangerous-looking situation, contact UPPCO's 24-hour Emergency Service at 800-562-7809 to report your location and situation.
If portable heaters are used to keep hunters warm, make sure to abide by the manufacturer's recommendations for safe operation. Those directions for safe operations are included with each unit purchased.
Prior to operation, UPPCO advises that heating systems in those cabins, campers, tents or camps be carefully inspected to ensure proper working condition and proper venting. A build-up of carbon monoxide (CO) can result if heating equipment is not operating efficiently and not vented properly.
Check chimneys and vents that can get plugged by animal or bird nests, leaves or snow and ice. Small propane heaters and stoves, kerosene, wood burning and charcoal grills also produce CO when not vented properly.
CO is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas and can be produced by improper burning and venting of fossil fuels such as natural gas, wood, propane, gasoline or kerosene. If levels of CO build up in a confined area, they can cause death for occupants.
UPPCO recommends having a CO and smoke detector in each shelter, particularly where occupants sleep. Recycle and replace old batteries with new batteries in both CO and smoke detectors and be sure to test them to make sure they produce an audible warning sound.
Initial signs of CO poisoning include headache, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, confusion and general flu-like symptoms. Fresh air is immediately required so windows and doors should be opened and occupants should go outside. If there are serious health concerns, dial 9-1-1 and request immediate assistance.