By Jeff Berti
Last year, the Missouri Department of Conservation recorded eight firearms-related accidents during the November firearms deer season. Considering that MDC sells about half a million firearms deer tags each year, deer hunting represents a relatively small risk to hunters. Actually, there’s a much greater risk of an “outdoor injury” due to poor physical fitness. In addition, injuries related to being out of shape are probably the most under-reported.
MDC only records hunting accidents involving firearms, so we don’t keep statistics on other types of accidents. However, most conservation agents have heard stories about hunters who had heart attacks while dragging deer out of the woods. Even more common are reports of back and joint injuries that occur when “once a year” hunters push themselves a little too hard.
It stands to reason that these kinds of injuries would outnumber all the others. Hiking up steep hills with heavy backpacks, loading and unloading camping gear, hanging tree stands and other outdoor activities can be very strenuous. And “diving in” without some physical conditioning is like trying to run a marathon without any preparation.
At the very least, those who are out of shape are likely to find themselves seriously fatigued, with blistered feet and unable to fully enjoy their time in the outdoors. Many hunters have discovered that aiming a rifle at a deer is a real challenge when they’re gasping for air and trying to calm a racing heart rate! At worst, being out of shape can contribute to falls, broken bones and other serious problems.
It’s best to start getting in shape about six to eight weeks prior to your favorite outdoor pastime, but don’t neglect training just because time got away from you. Even a few weeks (or just a few days) of exercise can help prevent fatigue, blisters or other aches and pains that can ruin a trip.
Tailor your conditioning to the activities you’re planning to do. You will certainly use different muscles going up and down steep hills, when compared to walking on flat terrain. Hikers can build stamina with daily runs or treadmill workouts. If you plan to hike in rugged terrain, choose “hilly” areas for training or try step aerobics exercises.
Whenever possible, do your workouts in the footwear you plan to wear during upcoming outdoor activities. You may think you’re in terrific shape when training in featherweight running shoes, only to discover later that the same activities are much tougher in a pair of heavy boots. The added time in your hunting footwear will also give you time to “break in” the leather and soften them up for the upcoming season.
And finally, be patient. You may not realize how much you’re accomplishing until you notice how much trouble your “less-fit” companions have keeping up with you. That’s just part of the “payoff” for your pre-season preparation.
In summary, good physical fitness is essential in order to fully enjoy (and safely participate in) many outdoor activities. Fall is an excellent time to get out and enjoy Missouri’s natural resources, so shape up!
By Jeff Berti