Hunters should tune up own bodies as well as equipment

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chris Young

People who suspect they may have heart trouble often take a stress test to find out what’s wrong.

Unfortunately, some hunters wait until they’re in the woods during hunting season — and a lot of them don’t pass.

“We know farmers won’t come in until the harvest is done, and we know there is going to be a surge in heart attacks during deer season,” says Dr. Marc Shelton, an interventional cardiologist at Prairie Cardiovascular in Springfield, Ill. “In fact we’ve joked that we don’t want to be on call the week (firearm) deer season opens.”

Many of those hunters don’t know they have problems, he said. But then they get cold and wet.

They wind up carrying heavy gear while trudging up and down hills. They get excited, and the adrenaline starts pumping.

“Then they try to drag a deer out of the woods,” Shelton said. “And they flunk their stress test.”

Shelton also is a volunteer with the American Heart Association. That organization is urging hunters to pay the same amount of attention to tuning up their bodies as they do tuning up their equipment.

The association says hunters who haven’t exercised much since last hunting season and haven’t been to see their doctor recently are putting themselves at risk.

“They need to talk to their physician — and it doesn’t have to be a cardiologist,” Shelton says. “Hunters should talk to their physician about their blood pressure, heart rate, activity level and any medications they are taking.

“Then they can decide with their physicians if they need additional testing.”

Shelton says one of the most important things for outdoorsmen and women to remember is to continue to take their medications.

“A lot of time, hunters forget their meds or miss a dose,” he said. “Anytime you are on a regular med and miss a dose, it can be an issue.”

Bob Whitehead is one of the lucky ones. He wasn’t yet out of the house when he recognized the warning signs of impending heart trouble.

“I had this intense pain in my jaw, and it felt like my teeth were all hurting,” he says. “I didn’t really have chest pains. Some people have a gripping pain in their chest at their heart. I had three or four waves of pain come on in my jaw and my arms felt numb.

“And I had extreme nausea.”

Whitehead, who publishes Outdoor Guide Magazine based in St. Louis, was lucky. He was treated before suffering a heart attack and had a stent inserted to open a blocked artery.

Whitehead is a busy outdoorsman — hunting and fishing up to 30 days a year.

To get back in the game, he underwent rehabilitation.

“I have to address the things that led up to the clogged artery,” he said of trying to watch his diet and reduce stressful situations. “I try to do an hour of cardio a day on a bike or on a treadmill — that’s the goal.”

Whitehead says the common-sense rules remain the same.

“Anyone going on an outdoors excursion or adventure” should always let someone know where they are going and when they are going to be back — whether they have health problems or not.

He says it always make sense to hunt or fish with another person. He’s also considering wearing or carrying his personal medical information, so anyone can call his doctor and know where he has been treated in the past.

“Because of my job, I travel abroad,” he says. “I have the paperwork, and I’m going to sign up with Medjet Assist. Then I would have insurance so I can be flown back into the States and be treated by my own doctors.”

Whitehead said he’d hate to have anything keep him away from turkey hunting in the spring and fall and fishing for smallmouth bass.

“If the good Lord asked me to choose between the two, I’d have to say, ‘God, I just can’t pick,’” he says.

Chris Young can be reached at chris.young@sj-r.com.