In Missouri and many other states, hunting seasons frequently overlap warm weather. Today is a perfect example: the bowhunting season has been open for two weeks, and it’s 85 degrees outside. Last weekend, I got to thinking (as I sweated my way through the balmy woods) about some of the hazards of hunting in warm weather. I came up with this list of my top six.
1. Mosquitoes and Bugs
Everyone has an irrational fear, something that gives them the heebie-jeebies. It might be junebugs or ants or mice or snakes (I’ll get to those later), but for me it’s mosquitoes. These little bloodsuckers are everywhere in the woods, and they’re most active in early morning and late evening, also known as the best hunting times.
They carry microbes (like West Nile virus), they make you itch, and they cause a lot of unnecessary sound/movement when I have to swat them. For these reasons I prefer hunting from ground blinds and operating my Thermacell to keep them away during early season.
Ticks can also be a nuisance, carrying lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Deep Woods Off is my go-to “cover scent” of choice for at least the first month of hunting season. I use it to douse myself all over, especially boots, legs, arms, and hat, which tend to be ticks’ favorite drop-in areas.
2. Low Visibility
Most of the foliage is still lush and green in early season, which can severely limit visibility in the woods. It’s harder to spot game, of course, but also more difficult to see dangerous animals, like bears, mountain lions, and other hunters. No one wants to surprise a porcupine or skunk, either.
Dense foliage makes navigation more difficult, because the deep woods often look the same. Ground visibility is an issue, because roots, rocks, holes, and other hazards remain hidden. Earlier this month, a Missouri hunter fell into a sinkhole that was so well-hidden by foliage, even some of the rescue workers nearly fell in.
In early season, hunters would be wise to invest in a good pair of hunting boots and walk with extra care.
3. Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
Even the foliage itself can be dangerous in early season… I’m talking about plants such as poison ivy, whose oil is the most common allergy known to man. I used to get it all the time as a kid, and man, it’s the worst. You have to be on the lookout for this stuff in early season because it’s one of the last plants to die each fall. Poison ivy can be anywhere, but it seems to prefer shady areas like fences, woodlines, and the edges of water sources.
Even if I haven’t seen a single plant, I’m still fanatic about possible skin contact during early season because the oils are invisible and super-contagious. I wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. If I have to wipe my face or something, I take off a glove and use my bare hand.
When I get back from the woods, all of my camo comes off inside-out and goes right into the wash. Because if I bring home poison ivy and spread it to the wife or kids, I’m a dead man. Once you have the rash, there’s not much you can do other than applying some Tecnu poison ivy scrub, a cream that removes the oils and relieves the itch.
4. Thornbushes and Stinging Nettle
Hunters should also be aware of stinging nettle, an innocuous-looking plant whose hairlike projections are miniature hypodermic needles. They break off when touched and inject formic acid into the unwary hunter. It stings like hell, and the sensation usually doesn’t fade until you wash the affected area.
These will definitely sting bare skin and can get you through your clothes as well if they’re not very heavy (which they usually aren’t during early season). The only positive thing is that you can’t really bring them home to spread to the family.
4. Poisonous Snakes
Reptiles are another concern for warm weather hunting, especially poisonous snakes. Only 10% of snake species in the U.S. are poisonous; the ones hunters need to worry about most depend on the region. In Missouri, it’s mainly copperheads and rattlesnakes, and the rattlers are by far the most dangerous.
Unsurprisingly, the most-bitten demographic in the U.S. happens to be males aged 18-27 years, and most bites happen in agricultural areas. So hunters should be prepared and always carry a snake bite kit. These are cheap, lightweight, and small but could save a life or limb. Last year a turkey hunter was bitten by a rattler in Missouri; he used a snake bite kit and it probably did save his life.
5. Extreme Heat and/or Exhaustion
A lot of people don’t realize just how strenuous of an activity hunting is. On a typical outing I walk several miles in full camo, carrying 30+ pounds of gear. Factor in the heat, the hills, and the need to move quietly, and it can be pretty exhausting. And a successful hunt ends with a hunter dragging 150+ pounds out behind him, often for miles.
In warm weather, heat stroke, heat exhaustion and other issues are a real concern. Here are some tips to prevent disaster:
- Get into decent cardiovascular shape before hunting season begins.
- Stay hydrated before, during, and after a hunt. I mean water or Gatorade, not soda or beer.
- Dress in layers and don’t let yourself get overheated.
- Watch for signs of heat stroke.
- Get help when dragging a deer out.
6. Non-hunting Recreationists
The mild temperatures of early season mean that hunters are far more likely to encounter other recreationists in the field — hikers, bicyclists, geocachers, mushroom hunters, dog walkers. These “tourists” of the woods are often so oblivious to the fact that hunting season has opened that they see nothing wrong with wearing a brown jacket over a white T-shirt. Or a red-and-black combo like this chuck pictured at right.
I’m all for sharing the wildlife and such, but when you have a party of bicyclists or horseback riders spooking game and leaving their scent all across the conservation area, it’s not good for hunting. There’s not much to do, except hunt on the days and during the hours when tourist traffic tends to be at a minimum. Think crappy weather and very early mornings.