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Reducing Hunting Season's Heart Attack Risk

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Dr. Roman Hendrickson, MD

Debra McNeill

The annual fall hunting season is upon us. For the avid hunter, the traditions and rigors of the season are substantial contributors to physical, mental and emotional health. However, hunting also comes with a number of health risks. Some risks are hard to anticipate. However, you can take steps to lower the risk of the #1 cause of hunting season fatalities – heart attacks.

A study by researchers from William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan found that the stress of hunting on the heart was equivalent to or exceeded the stress of a cardio treadmill test. Overstressing your heart can bring on a heart attack which has a higher likelihood of fatality in the backcountry. Fortunately, there is still time to prepare and get in shape, even if you haven’t exercised since last hunting season.

Step 1: Get a check-up

Getting a check-up is essential, especially if you’re over 45. You know if you smoke, are overweight or have a family history of health problems. However, diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) often don’t offer early symptoms. Your healthcare provider can test for these conditions and advise you on any other health risks you may have. You’re much better off knowing where you stand with your health than getting caught by surprise in the wilderness. If needed, adjusting your plans for a less strenuous hunting season this year means you’ll be alive to hunt again next season!

Step 2A: Walk!

If you’re just starting to work out, you should be walking at least 30 minutes every day. If you’ve been a couch potato all year, start your walking program slowly and work up to a brisk pace for longer periods. After that, push yourself by hitting some of the hills around Madison County. They aren’t hard to find! Be sure to add some weight to your workout with a backpack or leg and arm weights. Don’t expect your body to go on a 2-3 hour trek through the woods and drag out a 100-200 pound kill with little or no conditioning.

Exercising your heart regularly before you head out for the hills can lower your resting heart rate by 10-15 beats per minute. Therefore, your heart rate will be lower when you’re out in the woods and your heart won’t be working quite so hard.

Step 2B: Strength Training

Lift the weights and do the push-ups a couple times a week. Strength training is important. If your muscles are stronger, dragging your kill won’t be such a strain.

Step 3: Reduce Your Risk Factors

Quit smoking, eat right and lose some weight. Swap the bread and pasta for more vegetables, fruit and protein. A little cheese is fine but it has a lot of fat. If you like your evening brews, cut back or switch to one of the “lite” varieties. Grass-fed meats are better than corn-fed meats. If you have elk or venison leftover from last season’s hunt, this is a good time to eat it up.

Step 4: Pack Your Medications

Planning a 2 day hunting trip? Pack enough medications for a week. If you’re not allergic to aspirin, pack some full strength (325mg) aspirin. If you start experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, chew an aspirin and take it easy. If you have diabetes, bring a fast acting carbohydrate.

Step 5: Learn CPR

Most of the best hunting in Madison County is located in remote areas. If someone in your hunting party isn’t breathing and has no pulse, CPR should be started immediately. All hunters who may hunt in remote areas should learn CPR.

While You’re Hunting

Be aware of heart attack signs. There are a variety of signals. You shouldn’t try to “push through” these signs because they could result in a cardiac event. Sit down, rest, and then get to the nearest hospital.

Heart attack signals

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest that lasts for more than two minutes, or fades and returns.

  • Chest pain that spreads to the shoulders, neck, jaw or arms.

  • Dizziness, exhaustion, shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

  • Sweatiness and nausea to the point of vomiting. This is more common for diabetics.

Women can have a heart attack without chest pressure and the various warning signals might be more subtle. Some women experience upper back pressure during a heart attack.

These signals indicate that the heart is starved for oxygen and should not be ignored. If you’re struggling to keep up, developing chest pains or have any other heart attack symptoms, stop immediately. Even if your symptoms improve, chew your aspirin, call 911 and get to the nearest hospital.

When dragging out your kill, start slow and stop for frequent breaks. This will make the work easier on your heart. The objective is to keep a steady heart rate that isn’t too demanding.

Always take rests when needed and stay hydrated.

Other Hunting Healthcare Tips

If you’re hunting from a tree stand, avoid cramping and blood clots by standing up and moving around regularly. Be sure to have your safety belt or harness attached to avoid being one of the 6000 hunters injured when falling from tree stands.

Turn your healthy hunting activities, such as exercise and healthy eating, into a lifestyle. It’s much easier to prepare for a healthy hunting season if you’re already walking every day and eating right.


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