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Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center’s Rehab Services Staff Offers Tips on Getting Fit for Hunting

Picture this. It’s the first day of hunting season. You put on your gear, grab your rifle, and head out on your own to the woods. It’s about a half mile hike out to your tree stand. It’s cold and windy that first day, but you push through the elements to make it there. You climb up the ladder and wait. It takes a couple of hours, but then you see it. The adrenaline hits you. It’s a 6-point buck. You shoot, but it runs away. You climb down and set out to find it. You see it on the ground about 500 yards away. You squat down to field dress it; then you have to drag it back. You’re about halfway home when you get a sharp pain in your chest and left arm. It’s a heart attack.

Most people do not realize just how much stress hunting can place on the body. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says a buck can weight upwards of 300 pounds, although most average half that size. With the average hunter walking 1/2 to 1 mile or more to get to their favorite hunting spot and carrying 35-40 pounds of gear; one can see how this is a recipe for a heart attack for someone not in the proper physical condition.

A 2014 study in Comparative Exercise Physiology compared the effects of dragging a 56kg (123 pounds) deer on the max heart rate of men and women.2 The study concluded that dragging a deer over "typical hunting terrain" at only 0.4km (0.6 mi) placed max heart rate of men and women at a level considered the equivalent to a high-intensity workout. Another study in Wilderness Environ Med in 2016 looked at how heart rate and rhythm were affected by hunting activities.3 They concluded that “buck fever” – the phenomenon where spotting prey prompts an increase in adrenaline and subsequent increase in heart rate – was the only phase of hunting that appeared to provoke new-onset arrhythmia, although climbing a tree and dragging a deer prompted rapid and sustained increases in heart rate which can contribute to the development of arrhythmias.

What does this mean for you?

Hunting places individuals who are not adequately conditioned at risk for elevated heart rates which can precipitate into dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to events such as heart attack.

How can you get ready for the woods?

  • Leg strengthening – step-ups on a step or footstool, heel raises, and squats
  • Core strengthening – lie on your back, tighten your stomach muscles, and lift opposite arm and leg in an alternating pattern (aka Dead Bug exercise). Remember to breathe!
  • Improve your endurance – walk briskly 15-30 minutes per day, 3-5x per week
  • Warm up before you shoot – shoulder rolls, arm circles, and trunk rotations
  • Stretch after your warm up – chest, neck, calf muscles, quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors

Always consult your physician for specific recommendations related to your condition and before starting any exercise routine.

For more information about our services to improve your physical condition, including the Adult Fitness Program call 315-713-5660. And despite all preventative measures, accidents and injury do occur. The Physical and Occupational Therapists at the Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center Rehab Services Department are highly trained healthcare professionals with the ability to treat the back injuries, broken bones, and muscle strains or sprains that occur during hunting or any other time.