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Published on August 30, 2016

soybean harvest in autumn

Hectic Hunting and Harvest Season Can Jeopardize Safety

Autumn’s cooler evenings and changing colors make it a rewarding time of year, but for hunters and agricultural producers, it can be a less-safe season due to increases in activity, stress and a general frantic quality that comes after summer.

Hunters may not have kept fitness levels high to appreciate the additional effort needed to hike, haul and shoot when they return to the trails to bag game. A pre-season doctor’s visit is a great way to avoid unwanted drama while driving birds or stalking deer.

That’s the word from Michael Stotz, DO, a physician with Avera Medical Group McGreevy. He has seen how a rapid return to a higher level of activity can impact patients who haven’t prepared.

“It’s not just hunters – we can all be susceptible to over-exertion injuries, or worse yet, ones where we tax our heart and lungs to the point of potential risk,” said Stotz. “Good hunters prepare for the season, and an annual checkup with your doctor or clinician is a good way to make sure you’re 100 percent ready and able to have a great season bagging ducks, pheasants or anything else.”

Hunting scenarios can call for hours of sustained exercise, whether it is walking, trudging through uneven, muddy terrain or substantial standing. Each can put a body to the test, and for those who haven’t made “off-season” exercise a priority, the strain can add up, especially for the older hunter.

“Aerobic conditioning is a good idea for everyone, and it can help make a hunting trip safer and more rewarding,” said Stotz. “Big-game hunters, especially those who may need to bring deer or other larger game back to their vehicle across a longer distance, may want to consider strength training as well. It’s a great way to feel your best before you head out to bag a trophy buck.”

Stotz said that while some hunters might think it’s too late now to begin exercise, every minute of workout will help. The guideline should be about 30 minutes each day. Those half-hours will offer a boost to your physical ability. Hunters should also consider the weather conditions – extreme cold can increase risks of heart attack – and be ready to shed layers if the sun comes out and the day gets warmer than expected – which happens often in the Midwest. Big meals, especially before the hunt, and the intense emotions that often accompany hunting – and create its allure – also can trigger negative cardiac situations – the most severe being heart attack itself.

Stotz points out that farmers during this time of year also face some challenges, ones that might make a pre-harvest checkup a good idea.

“Harvest time is the busiest season for most farmers, who are trying to deal with weather and the change in Daylight Savings time to get work done as quickly as possible,” Stotz said. “Early mornings in the combine and late nights hauling grain trailers to the farm can add up and cause problems, not to mention make judgement fly out the window.”

Proper rest, hydration and planning all can help farmers and other agricultural workers to avoid potentially dangerous situations, he said.

“One of the lesser-known aspects of harvest is the mental stress that goes with the long hours,” Stotz said. “Farmers might ruminate about the costs of their harvest and the prices on grain and that might lead to stress. Stress can make us cut corners or push ourselves harder. Fatigue, especially when working with large and potentially dangerous equipment, when under stress … it goes without saying it can make for an unsafe situation.”

Stotz reminds farmers, especially those who are adding help during the busy time of harvest, to review approaches to the work and to make sure access is restricted to handling and storage locations. Accidents happen, but if people are reminded to stay out of fields or loading areas, it can help. Especially when there are children on the farm, he said.

“There will be challenges that come with harvest season that do not come any other time of year – shorter days, bigger worries and plenty of work to do, so plan ahead, stay in good physical shape and be willing to ask for help,” said Stotz. “A heart attack or serious accident isn’t worth the risk one faces if you’re pushing yourself too far or working to the point of breakdown.”

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