Deer hunting season is finally upon us again. After months of sunshine and fair skies, the weather has at last turned cold, leaves clutter the ground and the deer are out in full force. That can only mean it’s once again time to grab your orange and camo gear, haul out your hunting rifle and take to your tree stand.
But before you hunker down for long days (and nights) in your stand, make sure you’re prepared for all the dangers of hunting. I’m not talking about dangerous animals or other hunters, but a far closer hazard: pain. Sitting in your tree stand, dragging your trophy buck to the car or even walking over uneven terrain can spell disaster for your hunting trip if done improperly. So before embarking on your yearly pilgrimage to the woods, consider these tips for avoiding hunting pain and injuries.
Sit Up Straight
No matter your skill level or stand location, sitting and waiting is nearly always part of a successful hunting trip. But sitting for long periods on a hard surface or improper chair can be detrimental to your body. According to Advanced Pain Management (APM) physical therapist Courtney Wack, “Ideally you want to be sitting in a comfortable chair that’s high enough so that when you sit your hips are higher than your knees. This allows for better posture.”
Unfortunately, low hunting chairs or cushions don’t allow your body to maintain proper posture, causing your back to curve more than it should, which puts more pressure on your spine. This, in turn, can lead to initial or worsening back pain.
If a comfortable chair with proper lumbar support is simply not an option for your hunting space, consider placing a rolled up blanket or sweatshirt behind your lower back to provide additional support.
Keep it Movin’
When you keep your body in the same position for hours, it’s inevitable that your joints will begin to stiffen, often causing joint pain. It’s a simple concept: Joints need movement, since that’s how they get lubricated. Less movement equals less lubrication. And, depending on your position, this could lead to pain in any of your joints. According to Courtney, prolonged time in a single position can actually flare up many chronic pain conditions.
The solution is an easy one: Get up and walk around every 30 minutes. But if walking around isn’t in the cards, you can at least stand up and walk in place for a bit, or do some stretches to loosen up your body.
Stretch it Out
Just like your joints, your muscles can get tense and painful when you’re stuck in the same position for long periods. Thankfully, there are some simple stretches you can do even in the tiniest of tree stands.
- Neck stretches: Sit on your right hand and slowly lower your left ear down to your left shoulder until you feel a stretch in your right shoulder. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat two or three times on both sides.
- Mid-back stretches: Pinch your shoulder blades together for three to five seconds. Repeat five times. This stretch can be done every 10 to 15 minutes.
- Low back stretches: While in your chair, rock forward on your seat, arching your lower back forward as much as you can. Then rock back and curve your back, with your chest moving toward your knees. Repeat this five times. You can also do a seated turn, where you sit in your chair with your back straight and gently turn your head and shoulders to one side. If available, you can hold onto the chair arm or side of your tree stand to help you stabilize, and hold for 5 seconds. Repeat three times on both sides.
- Hamstring stretches: While sitting on your hunting chair, extend one leg out straight, bend forward and reach toward your toes until you feel a stretch behind your knee. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then switch sides.
- Ankle stretches: While sitting in your chair, bend your ankles up and down, pointing your toes first toward the sky, then down to the ground. This can be repeated 10 times every 15-20 minutes, helping increase blood flow and decrease cramping and leg pain.
The Dangers of Dragging
It’s happened: You’ve finally shot a good-sized buck. Now, all you have to do is get it to your car . . . half a mile away. But dragging it all that way can be damaging to your body. If at all possible, try to use a cart, ATV or some other piece of equipment to help you move the animal.
If you don’t have equipment readily available, try wrapping a rope around the deer before starting to pull it. This will add leverage so you don’t have to bend over. While pulling the deer, try to change your grip and positioning often. If you don’t, you’ll be relying on a single set of muscles, making injury more likely. And, just like every other task, make sure to take a break whenever you feel tired and hydrate well.
Build up your Strength
One of the best ways to protect your body from injury while hunting – and in other parts of your life – is to strengthen it. Specifically, says Courtney, “Strengthening your back and core can be very helpful not only when sitting for long periods of time or dragging deer, but even just walking on uneven terrain.” Your core, she explains, is what helps your back brace for impact if you step into a hole or twist to avoid injury.
Core exercises can help improve both balance and stability, and even help you maintain a proper posture. Plus, they’re easy to do in the comfort of your own home. This list of core-strengthening exercises, including planks, hip lifts and kneeling extensions, can help get your back and core up to snuff to help you avoid serious injury.
Taken together, these tips, exercises and stretches can keep you safe and help reduce hunting-related pain and soreness so you can focus on what really matters: your search for your best buck yet.