Five dangers lurking in Florida’s woods
Florida can be a wild, dangerous place, and hunters have more to worry about than the aftermath of Uncle Fred’s Famous Five Alarm Chili he serves at duck camp each November. Weather and wildlife can turn on folks unexpectedly. Equipment malfunction severely injures people annually. And, complacency and lack of preparation leave others in dire straits without mechanisms in place to assist in the event of a medical emergency.
Fortunately – and despite the various risks out in the boonies – hunting remains a relatively safe activity. As they say, you’re more likely to be hurt on the way to or from a hunting trip than when actually there. Still, take caution before tangling with Mother Nature.
After thorough online research on hunting-related injuries and fatalities nationwide over the last several years, I have devised five general categories of threats Sunshine State hunters should be aware of before trekking into our landscapes.
While tales of wild boar charges and alligator attacks drive Internet traffic, the big boys aren’t to blame for the most damage. No, the majority of harm is delivered by a smaller bite.
Without fail, no non-resident hunter asks about Florida without discussing snakes. Yes, we’re populated with several varieties – increasing by the year, seemingly – of hazardous serpents, but unprovoked incidents are rare as snakes would prefer to be left alone. As such, it’s best to cut them a wide berth. If you’re struck by a venomous snake – cottonmouth, coral snake, copperhead, or one of the rattlesnake species – forget sucking out the venom. Get to the nearest hospital with antivenin available and hope insurance covers the incredible costs of treatment, which it might not.
Bees, wasps, and hornets are serious concerns to those allergic to their stings. While not a high-percentage of people are sensitive to a hymenoptera venom allergy, it can affect those who have never had a severe reaction before, and that risk increases after age 40. For those who know they’re allergic, an EpiPen is literally a lifesaver. These stings typically occur when unknowingly disturbing a nest or hiding space. Yellow jackets are aggressive, favor nesting in palmettos and other holes in the ground, and quick to arrive to harvested game. All of these species have a fondness for enclosed treestands and blinds and will crawl underneath rail padding. Always check before entering.
Frightening as they are, golden silk orb weavers, or banana spiders, possess a toxic bite but not as much as black widows that dwell in old firewood piles and will send you to the clinic. Ticks are well-known to transmit Lyme disease and other miserable ailments. Check yourself well after hunting, especially during the warmer months. And while scorpions are terrifying, severe reactions to their stings from Florida’s species are rare.
And then there are ever-present mosquitoes. Deer hunters won’t use repellent because of the smell, but Thermacells and deterrent clothing are necessary to ward off these disease-carrying bloodsuckers.
I’m still thankful I wasn’t in my treestand when lightning struck it. Parts of that stand were blown fifty yards away and a small fire smoldered underneath the base. The scene left a lasting impression.
Luckily, there’s a simple way to avoid lightning strikes – hit shelter at the first sign of danger. Other weather-related occurrences sneak up on hunters.
Hypothermia, for instance, might not seem like a danger for Floridians, but it doesn’t take sub-zero temps to be dangerous. Being on the water during winter, duck hunters are especially at risk, but prolonged exposure to cold fronts will chill to the bone. This condition leads to shivering – which stops as it worsens – confusion, drowsiness, and general body shut-down. Change into warm, dry clothing ASAP but don’t remove wet ones until you do. Find a source of warmth and call the paramedics. Sadly, many folks afflicted become confused and fail to do these things. A hunting companion saves lives in this instance.
Dehydration is a more-believable Florida threat and strenuous activity in the sun isn’t the only cause. Believe it or not, some hunters enjoy cocktails around the campfire at night. Alcohol consumption dehydrates the body, and a hair-of-the-dog in the next morning’s heat is not the answer. Libations aside, anyone who is overheating should take small sips of water or Gatorade to rehydrate. Move into a cooler environment and remove excess clothing. If a persistent fever develops or confusion, weakness, or vomiting occurs, get to the doctor.
Your Significant Other might believe hunting trips are synonymous with responsibility-free vacations, but the truth is it strains the body – abnormal sleeping hours, non-routine exercising, the aforementioned inclement weather conditions. Even the thrill of spotting game elevates your heart-rate beyond daily normal functioning. Yes, Buck Fever can be a killer.
Cardiac arrests AKA heart attacks are among the most prolific ailments of hunters, especially middle-aged to older men. Prevention is fairly straight-forward but requires a dose of humility from the once-invincible.
Routine doctor visits diagnose and treat heart issues. Without sounding too much like the Surgeon General, giving up smoking and learning proper nutrition helps. An aerobic fitness program pays off for those sugar-sand hikes and treestand climbs.
If you are at-risk, reduce the stress on your body. Take breaks during long walks. Turn in for the evening before the fire burns out. Purchase a game cart to haul deer and hogs from the woods. And if you’re not feeling right, call someone and head back to camp.
As for Buck Fever – well, there’s not a sure-fire cure. While I can’t imagine arriving at those Pearly Gates under better circumstances, said Significant Other would appreciate you taking a few deep breaths and pulling those nerves together when Mr. Ten Point arrives.
Being shot is every hunter’s worst nightmare and devastating to all parties involved. Fortunately, it’s a rare tragedy, but gun safety is paramount; distancing yourself from those not in accordance with those tenets is in the interest of self-preservation.
Firearm injuries and fatalities arise primarily from two factors: uncertainty of the target and failure to clear the chamber when a loaded gun is unnecessary – crossing fences, climbing treestands, riding in a vehicle, or messing around camp, among others.
Assume all guns are loaded and check to be sure otherwise – really basic Hunter Safety principles. Never pull the trigger unless you’re positive of what you’re aiming at and what’s behind it. Something thrashing in the bushes isn’t justification. Let those low-flying ducks, dove, or quail pass.
On the other side, hunter orange garments are sold for a reason. To as much extent as possible, let others around you know where you’ll be hunting. If someone creeps up to your turkey calling, whistle or yell to identify yourself.
Again, though they make the headlines, hunting-related firearm accidents are relatively uncommon. Still, they’re among the most preventable mishaps on this list.
Throughout my research, falling from a treestand was the Number 1 cause of serious injury with hunters. Reasons for these falls ranged from falling asleep in the stand and fatigue to equipment malfunction, and, to a smaller percentage, drug or alcohol use. In one study, reported falls resulted in over 80% of victims requiring surgery.
An industry-approved, full-body harness saves hunters from crashing to the forest floor. Consider where you attach the harness tether to the rope around the tree. Position it well-above you and to the side of the nearest ladder. After all, you don’t want to fall 5 feet and on the opposite side of where you ascended. If you find yourself in a situation where you can not climb back into the stand, quick action is required to prevent suspension trauma.
Suspension trauma is not well-known but basically occurs when blood stops circulating through the legs because of hanging in the harness. Oxygen is rapidly depleted from the blood stream leading to kidney problems and serious health issues even after rescue. Symptoms typically develop in under 30 minutes and include increased heart-rate, nausea, dizziness, sweating, and losing consciousness.
When harnessed, always keep a cellphone and knife handy. If you’re caught hanging, call a friend, but a prompt response is crucial. Pumping your legs will help delay the condition but has its limits. Failing all else, cut the tether and fall. You might break some bones, but hanging there may kill you. Either way, you’re likely hospital-bound.
Florida hunters enjoy some of the wildest and prettiest woods in the country. But, be prepared and have a plan. Let others know where you’ll be and have that cellphone charged. There’s no reason to hunt scared but no reason either to be complacent, either.