More falls than guns injure hunters

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Are you fit enough to hunt?

Hunting season (with a rifle) is fast approaching, and on the Monday after Thanksgiving, thousands of Pennsylvanians will take to the woods in pursuit of venison and a trophy.

Each year some of them shoot themselves or other hunters instead of a deer. Last year, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, two people were killed and 28 others injured in shooting incidents. The year before, there were 32 shootings, three of them fatal.

But while hunting, you are far more likely to get hurt in a fall than from an accidental shooting, and far more likely to die from a heart attack than from a gunshot wound, said Jonathan Landis of Allegheny General Hospital.

A study this year at Ohio State University concluded that "tree stands, not guns, are the Midwest hunter's most dangerous weapon."

According to the study of 130 hunters treated at trauma centers in central Ohio, half of their injuries resulted from falls, 92 percent of which were falls from tree stands.

Gunshot wounds accounted for 29 percent of injuries. Of these, 58 percent were self- inflicted, the study indicated.

Heart attacks cause roughly three times as many fatalities among hunters as do gunshot wounds, said Dr. Landis, 45, also an emergency room physician at Canonsburg General, and an avid hunter himself.

"It catches a lot of people by surprise how strenuous hunting is," he said.

Hunting is not often thought of as an athletic activity. But it involves a great deal of hiking. And if you bag a deer, getting it back to your car or truck can be taxing, especially for people who are older or who are in poor health, Dr. Landis said.

"I had an uncle who had a heart attack hunting elk in Wyoming," Dr. Landis said. "He still managed to drag the elk back to his car."

The adrenalin rush a hunter experiences when he spots his prey can both exacerbate the danger for people who are susceptible to heart disease and mask the signs of an impending heart attack, Dr. Landis said.

"The excitement of the hunt can cause hunters to ignore warning signs such as shortness of breath or chest pain, jaw pain or arm pain," he said.

If you experience the warning signs, don't follow his uncle's example. Stop hunting. Rest. Get yourself checked out.

Hunting safety "starts with preventative measures -- eating right, exercising, not smoking," Dr. Landis said.

People with such risk factors as high blood pressure or diabetes should have those under control before going hunting, he said.

The best exercise for hunting is walking. "You should do a lot more walking in the month before hunting," Dr. Landis said.

Other exercises recommended by a website on elk hunting tips are stair stepping, abdominal crunches, push ups and arm presses.

Jack Kelly: or 412-263-1476.


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