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Exercise Can Save Hunters' Health
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Holiday hunters following all the safety rules still need to listen to their bodies to ensure the experience will be a safe one.
Non-shooting accidents are common in the woods as hunters flock there for their favorite game. Deer stands cause the most injuries, but the physical demands of the hunt can mean out-of-shape hunters can hurt themselves if they're not careful.
Dean Stewart, wildlife specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said portable deer stands are to blame for many injuries as hunters either install them incorrectly, fall off or the stairs malfunction. A loaded gun can make a fall deadly.
"Most deer hunters in Mississippi and the Southeast hunt out of stands," Stewart said. "Portable deer stands are very popular. These can malfunction or the hunter may fail to wear the safety harness that goes around them and the tree."
Hypothermia can be a big problem in the winter, especially with duck hunters. Stewart said it doesn't have to be very cold before a wet hunter can stay out too long and get hypothermia. Dress in warm layers to prevent getting too cold.
All terrain vehicle accidents are common, but many can be avoided with proper training.
"Adults should give young people lessons on how to use these ATVs," Stewart said. "Don't turn kids loose with four-wheelers and expect them to do everything right. They can get in a bind with it very easily."
Knives and other hunting gear often lead to cuts. Hunters hurry or get clumsy with cold hands and can injure themselves with these tools. Stewart cautioned hunters to slow down and be more careful to avoid cuts.
A much less considered, but very real danger, awaits hunters who are not physically prepared for the demands of hunting. Linda Patterson, Extension health education specialist, said hunters should exercise and strengthen their muscles along with their shooting skills when preparing for the hunting season.
"Advance muscle strengthening will help increase a person's ability to do the actual physical labor involved in hunting," Patterson said. "If you're not accustomed to exercise, you can't suddenly start exercising. You need to train and build up to the level you want to reach."
Patterson recommended that hunters start walking on terrain similar to what they will experience in the woods to prepare themselves for the start of hunting season. Gradually increase the distance until reaching the amount of exercise expected in the hunt.
"The best way to determine whether you are in shape for a particular activity is to gradually increase the activity and see how your body handles it rather than completely exerting yourself during the hunt," Patterson said.
Flexibility is just as important as strength in preventing injuries. Patterson said maintaining flexibility is a life-long commitment that requires stretching to keep a full range of mobility in all joints.
"If you plan to sit for long periods of time, the muscles in the low back and thighs need to be in good shape," Patterson said. "Being still for long periods of time is never good for the body and there is nothing you can do except move and exercise the joint. Movement prevents joint strains by maintaining joint lubrication and improving circulation."
Both Stewart and Patterson recommended that hunters begin preparing for the hunt months in advance by starting a regular workout program. Build up slowly until the body can handle the demands anticipated during the hunt. Consult a doctor for advice if there is any discomfort.