It’s already late summer, meaning deer season is just around the proverbial corner for hundreds of thousands of hunters across the country. Unfortunately, not all hunters will survive opening day, and the biggest threat isn’t being shot by another hunter or falling out of a treestand. Those of us taking to the woods are three times more likely to die of a heart attack.

Beaumont Hospital did a study in 2007 where they put heart monitors on 25 middle-aged hunters, 17 of whom had coronary heart disease. The results weren’t good at all.

Published in 2007 in the American Journal of Cardiology, the study involved fitting heart monitors on 25 middle-aged hunters, 17 of whom had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. During deer season, all but three exceeded the maximum rate they had achieved on a treadmill test. Dragging downed game raised heart rates to the most dangerous levels, but several men experienced jumps into the red zone simply from spotting or shooting at a deer.

According to coauthor Dr. Barry Franklin, the strain hunting puts on your heart muscle can be attributed to three factors: hunting’s strenuous nature, the epinephrine (or “excitement”) response upon seeing game, and environmental stresses including cold weather and altitude.

“It’s a perfect storm,” he says. “Each year I read about hunters having heart
attacks upstate. Most could be prevented.”

Franklin also notes that many hunters in the study group exhibited life-threatening heart-rhythm irregularities that had not been apparent on EKG readouts during laboratory
treadmill tests. This was a disturbing finding, for heart arrhythmia is the trigger for cardiac arrest, in which the heart suddenly stops beating.

They discovered that some of these hunters had their heart rates double due to the adrenaline dump of merely seeing or hearing a deer. The physical stress of hiking into a stand over rough ground, or attempting to carry out harvested game, can be more than your heart can take.

The advice Beaumont gave hunters in 2007 to prevent hunting related heart events is just as relevant today as it has ever been, and that means dragging your butt off the couch now if you plan on heading into the woods in the fall.

  • Hunters with known heart disease and those at-risk (family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) should have physician approval to hunt.
  • With physician approval, hunters should begin walking 30 minutes a day 8 to 12 weeks prior to the hunt. Hunters can increase their fitness level by walking or aerobic exercise.
  • Refrain from consuming alcohol and smoking the day before or during hunting.
  • Refrain from eating a heavy meal before hunting.
  • Hunters with heart disease should not drag a deer out of the woods.
  • Hunters need to seek immediate medical attention if they experience dizziness, chest pain or heart palpitations.

Let’s try make sure that the deer are the only carcasses schlepped out of the woods on opening day, okay?