Hunting Safety Part 3: Environmental Challenges

By: Keith Murray, M.D.

This is the third in a four-part series exploring hunting safety.

One of the main things I’m tasked with when acting as the tactical physician for Pittsburgh’s Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT) is performing a medical threat assessment (MTA).
Much like planning a hunting mission, I’m told days before a tactical mission when and where it’s going to occur. To prepare, I’ll check the weather forecast for several days leading up to and after the mission and let those conditions dictate my clothing and medical plan. I also study the topography of the area so I can plan ways in and out of the area, familiarize myself with dangerous plants or animals and know where the closest hospitals are.
Hunters should also perform their own MTA before heading out into the woods. If you are going hunting with a group of friends, have an evacuation strategy that you share with each other.

This could be as simple as having a conversation about the nearest hospital or as complex as mapping out the latitude and longitude of your location, carrying hospital phone numbers or knowing how a medical helicopter can get into and out of an area to find you.

Weather is the single most influential factor that I consider when planning a hunt.  It is a considerable environmental danger. Consider asking these questions:

  • What’s the current temperature and the predicted high and low for the day?
  • When is sunrise and sunset?
  •  Are strong winds being predicted?
  •  Is precipitation in the forecast?
  • Will you be moving during the day or largely stationary?

The answers to these questions will determine how to dress.  When planning for extreme cold, remember to dress in layers.  I like polypropolene or silk as a base layer with a winter grade fleece for my insulating layer.  Depending on how cold it is going to be I may have two fleece layers.  My outer shell, or survival shell, is variable.  If it’s raining or snowing, I’ll go with a waterproof winter shell but I may skip this layer if the forecast is clear and sunny.

Good footwear is also key.  Keeping your feet warm and dry will markedly improve your satisfaction during a hunt.  A solid boot with insulation that is just loose enough to fit two pairs of socks inside is important.  Do not lace the boots up too tight, keeping good circulation to the toes will keep them warm and help avoid cold related injuries.

Do you wear special gear to keep you protected from the weather when you hunt? If so, tell us what works for you in the comments section below. Tomorrow, we’ll finish off our four-part series on hunting safety with a look at first aid.