• Deer hunting safety tips not normally discussed

hunting tree stand in a forest

LA CROSSE, Wis. – Tree stand accidents, firearm injuries and heart issues are the more high-profile injuries reported during deer hunting season. But some of the most common injuries occur before or after the hunt is over. Foot and ankle sprains, fractured ankles, ruptured Achilles tendons, and sore or overused muscles in the shoulders, arms and legs might have prolonged health ramifications.

"Oftentimes when we go out hunting, due to a lack of physical fitness, we overexert ourselves more than we're normally used to," says Katie McCabe, occupational therapist and ergonomics specialist at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. "With that, we need to think about our safety as we manage our deer in the woods, whether it's a buck or a doe."

Once hunters have targeted and culminated in harvesting the deer, the task now becomes getting the deer back to the cabin or vehicle.  That’s when the fun might be over, and the hard work begins.

"I advocate the power position or tug-of-war position. We need to keep our head over our shoulders and always keep our arms close to our bodies," McCabe explains. "Anytime our arms are out away from us, it's going to be a lot more demanding, and we're going to have to use smaller muscles to do the work. That power position with a staggered stance allows the bigger, stronger muscles, such as our legs, to do the work. Just remember, with that power position, we want to keep our spine in neutral so we're maintaining  the natural curves of the spine If we lose those curves, a lot more is demanded across our whole body."

She says the best-case scenario is to get a deer out of the woods going downhill. But you can have other things with you to get that deer to where you need to take it.

"For example, have along a deer-dragging harness. Those allow you to propel in a push motion while dragging the deer. If you don’t have one, bring a rope and find a tree limb. Tie the rope to the deer and limb, and with the limb in front of you, push using the power position. Also, we can have the rope over our shoulder or in front of our waist. This allows pushing the deer as opposed to pulling the deer having an arm behind our body, which might lead to fatigue and discomfort," says McCabe.

McCabe, a deer hunter herself, says hunters often may experience some low back fatigue and discomfort and potentially even shoulder and neck injuries, depending on their posture and how they exert themselves.

"Everyone's going to know their body the best and how their body responds to some overexertion," explains McCabe. "It's not a bad idea to stretch before you head out to the woods or hike out to the tree stand. All of our work is in front of our bodies. Try incorporating some stretching in opposite positions or opposite postures. Shoulder circles backwards and hamstring stretches can be easily done. Try and make the good choices of adding Gatorade or water so muscles and your whole body remain hydrated."

Whether or not you're hunting alone or with a party, it's always good to have a plan.

"Communicate that plan with your group, or maybe family or friends at home, regarding a timeline on your goals on when you want to go out and when you expect to be back. Let them know where your starting point will be. Always have a cellphone or a walkie-talkie available even if cellphone reception might be hit or miss. At least the hunting party knows where to find you just in case," says McCabe.

In 2019, over 15 million people paid for hunting licenses across the U.S. 

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About Mayo Clinic Health System

Mayo Clinic Health System has a physical presence in 44 communities and consists of 53 clinics, 16 hospitals and other facilities that serve the healthcare needs of people in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based healthcare professionals, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality physical and virtual healthcare close to home.

About Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse

Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse is the only healthcare facility in Southwest Wisconsin in 2023 that has received the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid's 5-Star Quality Rating and Leapfrog Grade A for Safety. It was also named one of Newsweek's "Best Hospitals in the U.S." and rated high performing in three medical conditions and specialties by U.S. News & World Report.

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