When I was 14, I went on a weekend deer hunting trip with my father, his friend and his friend’s ten year old son. Every weekend, we hiked about five miles back in on Friday night, stayed in a tent, and hunted in an area another four or five miles beyond our campsite. The terrain was very rough, with a minimal trail, strewn with fallen trees, rocks and boulders, steep hills of pines and hardwoods, interspersed with Vlys, or swampy areas, and a dense canopy. There was nothing for miles in every direction, and the temperature would drop quickly. We had to cross a narrow river after about the first half mile down the trail. Sometimes, it was so shallow; you could wade across, hip deep. It was prone to flooding though, and after a good rain, it would swell to about six or eight feet deep, with a fast current.
We went in on a Friday night, and spent the weekend in a cold downpour, with some occasional sleet mixed in. Everything was drenched, deer were bedded down, and making a fire was impossible. The weather was so miserable we spent most of Saturday in the tent, and decided to leave early Sunday morning, sans breakfast in our haste to depart, as we knew the river would be flooded. We began the hike out to the trailhead. When we came out to the river, it was even more rain swollen and faster than we anticipated. Upon seeing the condition of the river, I found my vocabulary greatly expanded as my friend’s father colorfully described the conditions. Given how we were equipped, this was a recipe for disaster.
The water was freezing cold, and falling in would have turned out really bad for any of us, as our down-filled vests and heavy wool clothing would have gotten waterlogged and dragged us under as we were swept upriver. It was sleeting and snowing. I had only a thin pair of gloves, and as we were unchaining and readying the boat, my hands quickly went so numb I couldn’t feel them. We began crossing the river in a six foot, leaky dinghy, carrying one passenger, and one poling the boat across as we had no oars. We had one life jacket between us. If the boat capsized, and one of the adults had to jump in save one of us kids, they probably would have gone under.
We all made it across OK. The little dinghy was swept up river about 100 meters from the intended crossing point on each harrowing trip across the river. I went last. I remember being told not to move, and hold perfectly still as not to upset the little boat. I held on to another long tree limb as a back-up pole. We were swept downriver by the current, and the boat had to be laboriously pushed back up river to the crossing point. We got across, and hiked the last half mile up a hill to the car, wet, cold, and exhausted. This could have turned out very bad, and it was all preventable. We made it into a crisis.
Here were the problems:
1) None of us had a high level of physical fitness.
2) We had not consumed adequate calories or nutrition for heavy physical exertion.
3) We over-relied on canned food for calories, which was heavy to pack in and out.
4) We had hiked out five miles in wool jackets and pants, and down vests which got wet and heavy from the rain and sweat, chilling ourselves.
5) Myself and the other young man were inexperienced to be in a crisis situation in the outdoors. It was only my fifth or sixth time in the backwoods, and the other boy’s second or third time.
6) We were underequipped with inadequate clothing for the weather, and a six foot dinghy without paddles or oars, and one life jacket.
On later trips in the same place, one member of the group slipped off a ledge and fell on rocks and was injured. Another time, it was a fall and fractured ankle, and a several mile piggyback ride out. My father rather dramatically commented one time “If you go in there, you’re lucky if you come out”. I would add a caveat; less dramatically, if you go into a wilderness area without adequate preparation, you are introducing unnecessary risk into what is supposed to be a fun activity. The bottom line: we were acting like a bunch of amateurs. I totally include myself in that category. The irony is my father would not take me hunting on the last weekend of the season because “there are too many hunters in the woods and you might get shot”. This is called poor risk assessment. The chance of getting shot while hunting is .004%, or four out of one thousand, according to 2013 stats. Statistically, the car ride to and from the hunting trip is over 55 times more dangerous (National Shooting Sports Foundation, 2013). We also built more danger into to the hunting trip than was necessary through sheer sloppiness.
I learned a lot from this experience, which I carried over into future trips:
Too many hunters go out in the woods every fall woefully out of shape. The objective of hunting is to actually kill the deer/moose/elk and dress it/quarter it, and drag it/pack it out. This requires a degree of physical fitness. Hunters who are older and out of shape are at increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), from the stress of physical activity combined with the excitement of the hunt (Fortin, 2008; McCafferty, 2016; Sgobba, 2014).
You also have to be physically capable in an emergency.
Ideally, you should be in the outdoors year round- after fall hunting season, snowshoeing or cross country skiing, in the spring trout fishing, turkey hunting, and hiking. In the summer, bass fishing and hiking. Ideally, you are also shooting at least monthly, and doing an exercise program year round- weightlifting, body weight exercises, running, swimming, bicycling. This will help maintain a good level of fitness, especially if you have a sedentary job. As the fall season draws near, begin a workout regime specifically designed to prep your body for hunting season, starting at least six weeks in advance.
Before beginning any exercise program, see your physician for medical clearance, especially if you are over 40, have a pre-existing medical condition, or have not trained in a while and are out of shape.
The right gear & the right team:
Bring the right gear for the job and the location. We had no business crossing a fast river in a six foot dinghy. Our clothing was inadequate and inappropriate for the weather. Plan ahead for the conditions, getting the best quality gear you can afford. Choose your hunting partners with care; people who are reliable, fit, skilled outdoorsmen. Don’t go out in a remote place with two inexperienced kids. I think kids should be introduced to hunting at a young age- continue a family tradition. But don’t take them to remote wilderness areas which they are not ready for yet. Get them introduced to hunting and gaining experience in the outdoors with less challenging places, and small game hunting (Wintersteen, 2012).
Fortin, J. (2008). Biggest danger for hunters? Heart attack, not stray bullet. CNN.com. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/conditions/10/24/hm.hunter.hazards/index.htm
McCafferty, K. (2016). Hunters And Heart Attack. Field & Stream. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from http://www.fieldandstream.com/articles/hunting/2010/12/hunters-and-heart-attack
National Shooting Sports Foundation. (2013). Firearms-Related
Injury Statistics. Industry Intelligence Reports 2013 Edition. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from
Sgobba. C. (2014). Why Hunters Are More Likely to Suffer a Heart Attack: This part of the sport puts your ticker at risk. Men’s Health. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from
Wintersteen, K. (2012). Youth Hunts: 3 Ways to Introduce Kids to Hunting. NRA American Hunter. Retrieved January 28, 2016 from