It may sound like a stretch, but the way Dr. Ammar Abbasi sees it, hunters aren’t that different than any other athlete. Much like a player prepares for a football, hockey or baseball game, hunters need to do the same before they head afield, Abbasi said.
On Thursday, those attending the Hunter’s Health Fair at the Hazleton Health and Wellness Center got a jump on their preparations for the upcoming seasons. Staff from the center and the Alliance Medical Group offered hunters a number of screenings, including heart-rhythm, cholesterol, vision and body mass index, and instructed them on how to prepare for the physical demands of a hunting season. According to Leigh Ann Wiedlich, community relations coordinator for the alliance, approximately 85 hunters turned out for the event, which was being held for the first time.
“It was a very robust turnout for our inaugural event,” Wiedlich said. “We hope to do it again, and we’re thinking of holding one in the spring for the fishermen and turkey hunters.”
Aside from the cardio exertion, hunting can be especially taxing on joints and muscles, said Abbasi, who is a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist. Archery hunters can experience significant shoulder pain, the recoil of a rifle can be hard on the shoulder joint and dragging a deer the wrong way can cause a back injury, he said.
“Hunters are out there from dawn to dusk and a lot of times they may not realize how physical it is,” Abbasi said. “There are a lot of similarities with what other athletes deal with and what we see from hunting fits right into the sports-related injuries.”
With the start of archery and the small game seasons a few weeks ago, along with more than two months before the Dec. 2 start of rifle deer season, Abbasi said there is still plenty of time for hunters to get their bodies in shape before heading afield.
Wearing a fluorescent orange vest, Abbasi instructed hunters on steps they can take to avoid injuries.
“When they practice for archery season, say they use a 60-pound bow and shoot 30 arrows. That’s equivalent to lifting 5,000 pounds,” he said. “That can cause significant shoulder pain, as can just releasing the bow string. It’s similar to a baseball pitcher throwing the ball.”
The shoulder also takes the brunt of the impact when a rifle recoils, Abbasi said.
“The best protection for your shoulder joint is to strengthen that muscle,” he said. “Do workouts to get it ready for that stress. Building muscle is the best way to protect that joint.”
Perhaps the biggest cause of pain results from dragging a deer. Abbasi said if done improperly it can be extremely painful on the lower back. To avoid this, he recommended against bending forward when dragging a deer.
Instead, Abbasi suggested using a rope and stick behind the back and pulling the deer that way.
“Staying upright is the key,” he said.
Dave Bieniek of Evervale took advantage of the fair as he prepares for the fall hunting and trapping seasons. Bieniek, 57, said he has hunted all his life and while his job requires a lot of heavy lifting, it’s not the same as the demands that come with hunting.
“Where I hunt you have to be like a billy goat, going up and down mountains, and climbing in and out of treestands,” he said. “The older you get, it doesn’t get any easier.”
Bieniek had a heart-rhythm screen performed at the fair and said he intends on walking more to improve his cardio system before hunting season starts.
“I’m really glad they did this event because it makes you aware of what can happen and gives you the information to prevent it,” Bieniek said.
The cardio demands of hunting are one of the biggest concerns, according to Gail Malloy, trauma program manager at the alliance. Hunting is unique, she said, because it has three factors that are demanding on the heart — steep terrain, cold temperatures and excitement.
Malloy said a recent study showed that 60 percent of hunters tested had their heart rates reach dangerous levels.
“If you shoot a deer or even if you miss, your heart races,” she said.
Even a hunter’s preparations the morning of a hunt can impact the heart. Malloy pointed out the tradition of eating a big breakfast of eggs, bacon and potatoes, before hitting the woods. That can put the heart at risk as more blood flow is directed to aid digestion, she said.
The cardio demands were the main reason why Dr. Joseph Laureti, a board-certified cardiologist at the center, was on hand to conduct free heart-rhythm screenings along with gauging each hunter’s risk for heart disease.
While a person may lead an active lifestyle, Laureti said, chances are the activity required by hunting exceeds what their body is conditioned for.
“Most people don’t perform the amount of activity that comes with hunting on a daily basis, especially in the cold weather,” he said. “The cold combined with exertion and the extra weight of dragging a deer can cause things to manifest.
“Hunting season is the time of year that they go out and do more than they do at any other time.”
During the heart-rhythm screenings, Laureti monitored hunters for either a normal or irregular heartbeat and advised them if more testing was recommended.
“It’s good to see hunters come out here and be pro-active,” he said. “This is a starting point.”
Gander Mountain and the Pennsylvania Game Commission also had informational booths at the event. Wildlife Conservation Officer Dave Allen said the biggest topic that he addressed was lyme disease.
Over the years, Allen said, he and other WCOs have assisted on calls for an injured hunter that ended up having a heart attack in the woods.
“So many aspects of hunting are about physical activity and I’ve seen what can happen firsthand,” Allen said. “A lot of the hunters I spoke to would like to see this even held again before the next season, and it definitely was a good idea. The interest is there.”