Hunters should recognize health risks

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Wilderness tip

The symptoms of altitude sickness include lightheadedness, dizziness and feeling sick to your stomach - Beth Watson, public health nurse at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association

Hunters are susceptible to health problems when they're in the backcountry.

The biggest threats to hunters' health are altitude sickness, hypothermia and water-borne illnesses, said Randy Hampton, spokesman for the Division of Wildlife.

Altitude sickness is common for people who come into Colorado from lower altitudes, Hampton said. He recommends that hunters spend a day relaxing and acclimating to the higher altitudes before heading out for the hunt.

"Don't rush immediately out and try to hike four miles on that first day you're in Colorado," he said. "Avoid excursion if at all possible on the first day at least."

Hampton said sudden snows and low temperatures can catch hunters by surprise, which can lead to hypothermia.

"The weather can change dramatically very quickly in the Colorado high country, and we see a lot of people get into situations where they really aren't prepared," he said. "If you're not ready for that, a lot of bad things can happen."

Beth Watson, public health nurse at Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, agreed.

"I think that it might be a little bit surprising if the weather turns bad or cold," she said. "Put the weather and the altitude and the activity together, that's what they notice."

Hampton also hears about hunters drinking stream water without boiling it. That can lead to illnesses, even if it's just from brushing teeth with the water, he said. He recommends boiling water for at least five minutes first.

And Hampton said that although hunting is a sport, hunters aren't necessarily in good shape.

"Just because you hunt doesn't make you an athlete," he said.

Hunters who want to be ready for the physical exertion associated with the sport should exercise, Hampton said.

"People need to begin preparing for the hunting season long before the season starts," he said. Watson also recommends that hunters do aerobic exercise to get conditioned.

She said hunters should be careful to avoid dehydration.

"Some people just don't realize that they're dehydrated," Watson said. "You just really need to increase your fluid intake."

Watson said hunters should eat balanced meals, get plenty of sleep and avoid overindulging in alcohol. Also, she said, they need to be prepared with a first aid kit and other medical supplies.

"Anybody who has a health issue, they should bring their medication and have it with them," she said.

Hampton said out of about 300,000 hunters who go into the field in Colorado each year, only a few injuries are because of firearms.

"Hunting is very safe," he said.

Most of the firearm-related accidents that do happen, he said, are when hunters are loading or unloading near a vehicle.

"That's a time that people should think and go, 'This is the most dangerous time,' and be that much more cautious," he said.

There are bumps and bruises in the field, Hampton said. He recommends rinsing a wound and keeping it covered.

He also cautions hunters about the use of knives while dressing animals.

"You may not know how close you are to the blade," he said. "A hunting knife is very, very sharp."

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