In an average year, the state of Pennsylvania sells 800,000 to 900,000 hunting licenses, which means that nearly a million people will shortly be heading out into the woods. Along with the adventure comes some risk, especially if you haven’t prepared in advance.
The most common hunting-related injuries are not caused by firearms and weapons, but by falls and hiking-related accidents, which are largely preventable.
If you’re using a tree stand, you can prevent or minimize accidents by using safety equipment and regularly checking attachments. Install a safety harness to the tree before the start of hunting season and take a few seconds to attach to it each morning. This reduces your risk of serious injury and can even save your life in the case of a fall or stand malfunction. If you’re a walk-in or climbing-stand hunter, you can attach a safety harness in a matter of minutes.
Hiking accidents like falls or sprained ankles and knees are common during all hunting seasons, especially rifle. To help build strength and balance, maintain a moderate level of fitness, including hiking, before the season starts. Physical preparation will prevent fatigue as you head up the mountain. It will also decrease the risks that come with fatigue, including injury, poor decision-making, and the inability to execute a well-placed ethical shot. Proper footwear is essential, so throw away your 20-year-old boots that no longer support your feet and ankles. Custom, high-ankle boots that fit well can prevent injuries when you’re walking on uneven ground.
Proper nutrition and hydration can improve energy and focus, so eat a balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. If you become dehydrated or your blood sugar drops, then your physical abilities and mental capacity can also decline. If you’re planning an extended hunt, make sure to pack a snack, like a protein bar, and water or sports drinks.
If your hunt is successful, the real physical work begins, and it’s important to use proper physical mechanics. When dragging or loading the carcass, assume a wide base of support with your feet, and bend from your hips, not your back. When possible use dragging ropes or harnesses to avoid the prolonged poor posture required to drag a deer by hand. Lifting a deer can be awkward, so if you don’t have access to a mechanical lift, ask a partner for help. You’ll also need to field dress and/or fully butcher your animal, which means using a knife. Along with sufficient hand dexterity, using sharpened, quality equipment reduces the risk of knife-related injuries. Using a sharp knife requires less strength and effort, and also reduces the risk of slipping and cutting the user.
Good luck, and stay safe.