Every year in September and October, hunters return to fields and forests that are still green and growing for early season hunts. But, there’s one major problem they face: the old proverbial situation where the hunter becomes the hunted … by bugs. If grass and leaves are still growing, you can bet it is warm enough for mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers and gnats to be alive and ready to feed on you. Tiny insects might not seem as intimidating as being stalked by a cougar or bear, but while they may not put you in the hospital instantly, they can ruin your hunt — or give you Lyme disease or West Nile virus that could put you in the hospital later.

While there are thousands of insect repellants available, hunters face the unique problem that many game animals have a keen sense of smell. Running off game to save yourself from bug bites defeats the point of hunting, right? On the other hand, swatting mosquitoes, incessantly scratching itches, or choking on a cloud of gnats can all alert animals to your presence just as quickly. So, let’s take a look at some of the options that can protect you from insects and keep your hunting productive.

ThermaCELLCamo Therma Cell

Just about every hunter has heard about ThermaCELL repellants by now. A tiny heating element and small butane bottle work to heat up a pad soaked in insect repellant. The repellant vapor spreads out and creates a zone of protection around you to keep mosquitoes and other flying biters away. It’s harmless to you and other animals, and ThermaCELL makes a variety of the repellant with an “earth” cover scent built in specifically to keep from scaring animals away.

The product gets great reviews, especially from bowhunters who often sit in stands for a very long time and need to remain motionless since game needs to be very close for a shot. However, that brings up two issues with ThermaCELL products. First, the repellant zone won’t work while you are moving, since it will constantly trail behind you. Second, it doesn’t repel ticks and chiggers that you encounter when you’re on the ground and moving. If repelling mosquitoes, black flies or gnats is your primary concern, then you should definitely consider a ThermaCELL device to use during your early season hunts.

Permethrin

Permethrin is actually an insecticide, meaning it doesn’t just repel bugs, it kills them. It’s a chemical made in laboratories that mimics a natural insecticide produced by chrysanthemum flowers called pyrethrum. Permethrin does not have an odor, so it doesn’t alert game animals to your presence. You can find large bottles at farm and ranch supply stores that are designed to apply to livestock or around houses and barns. This can be mixed per the directions and sprayed on your clothing, or at least one manufacturer creates spray bottles and aerosols designed specifically for human clothing. Permethrin binds to fabrics and can even last through several washings of your clothes. Some clothing manufacturers are even making clothes with permethrin built in, and it will last for the life of the clothing!

Permethrin isn’t absorbed by human skin, so it is safe to spray directly on you according to the World Health Organization. In fact, it’s the main ingredient in some medicines designed to kill lice on humans. If you’re uncomfortable applying it to your skin, and you are wearing shorts or a short-sleeved shirt while hunting, you might need to apply a repellant, also. And, though they will die later, mosquitoes can bite you first even with permethrin. If you hunt in an area known for ticks that carry Lyme disease, though, permethrin should be on your hunting clothes.

DEET Repellents

Just about all testing and authorities have reached one consensus on insect repellants: DEET is the best. DEET was developed by the U.S. military and used by soldiers during missions in tropical areas. It’s not an insecticide, like permethrin, but it is a very effective repellant of all insects. It’s not odorless, though, and it’s always mixed as a percentage of an aerosol or spray insect repellant. At very high concentrations, DEET was found to cause skin irritation for some people and extremely rarely it caused some more severe reactions. So, you’ll see some “outdoor” repellants with 20 to 40 percent DEET, and those are the ones you want to use when hunting. You’ll just have to be mindful of wind directions, because it can and will spook game animals with sensitive noses.

Natural Repellents

Sulfur powder might be the oldest commonly used insect repellant/pesticide in the world. To you and me, it stinks, but to bugs, it kills. Powdered sulfur can be put into a common tube sock, which makes a great “duster” as you pat the sock on your shoes and clothing. It’s safe to put on your skin, too, but it can irritate your eyes. So it’s safe and effective, but it smells. Actually, it doesn’t smell as much as you would expect, not as much as a lit match, anyway. But, there isn’t much information available about whether it is a smell that deer and other game animals dislike. Since it’s a natural odor, found in some water and skunk scent, for instance, sulfur might be just the ticket for hunting. It’s inexpensive also.

Citronella, orange oil, peppermint, lavender and many other natural oils and scents have been used as bug repellants through the years. Any and all of them may be effective at times, but you don’t find them used in any of the commercial insect repellants that tend to feature DEET. You would think that manufacturers today would want to use anything natural that is also effective, since consumers care a lot about safety. So, that’s an indicator they may have done testing and found the natural ingredients are not very effective in comparison to DEET. However, if you have sensitive skin or allergies to any of the products mentioned above, you might try some natural repellants. All of them are going to be very aromatic, though, and that means the animals you’re hunting will smell them. Whether they will be bothered, though, is a question that you’ll have to find out yourself.

Scent vs. Movement

If you’re still concerned about scent from any of the choices above, you’re really limited to wearing head-to-toe clothing with mosquito netting. But, that can be hot when it’s still early in the season, and mosquitoes have a way of drilling right through thin cloth.

No matter what repellant you use, it won’t improve your hunting success if you’re still fidgeting out in the woods. The eyesight of elk, whitetails, turkeys — most animals except hogs, in fact — is way better than that of humans. While they have to be downwind to smell you, they can see you from anywhere. Avoiding bugs makes it a lot easier to stand or sit still, but you still have to do your part and limit your movements.

Good luck with your early season hunts, and may your pants be tick-free!

Upland bird hunters Brett Sowders and Tony Strobl hit the deck. The bullet from a distant deer hunter’s rifle whizzed overhead, too close for comfort. Five seconds pass, 10 seconds—what seems like eternity, yet they remain snug to the earth. Scared to get up, they held fast to the ground until the shots were surely over.

“We saw the deer hunter in the distance; there’s no way he didn’t see us,” said Sowders. “You ever have those slow-motion moments? Well, this was one of those. We saw him raise his rifle in our direction and thought ‘surely he’s not shooting our way.’ I tell you, being on the receiving end of gunfire is scary. The crack of the bullet speeding by was very identifiable, so we hit the dirt.”

This scenario indicates that the deer hunter failed to obey several safety rules. Most prominently, he failed to remain within his safe zone-of-fire. If he had, the bullets never would have reached Sowders and Strobl because the hunter would have had them in clear sight before he shot.

Staying within the safe zone-of-fire is a critical step for hunting safety. Here’s what to watch for: A safe zone-of-fire, which is the area or zone where a hunter can shoot safely, spans about 45-degrees directly in front of each hunter.

To visualize your safe zone-of-fire, focus on a distant object straight ahead. Now, hold your thumbs out at your sides, then slowly draw your thumbs in front of you. When each thumb is in focus, without moving your eyes, you have set the boundaries of your safe zone-of-fire. It’s important to never shoot outside of your safe zone-of-fire. This is because our peripheral vision limits what we can see clearly. If you can’t immediately see that an area is clear and safe, it’s outside of your safe zone-of-fire.

 

Determining Your Safe Zone-of-Fire

 

What happens when you add the rush and excitement of flushing birds or seeing a deer? A whole new element kicks in: target fixation. Target fixation will cause you to focus on your target to make a good shot. But it will simultaneously cause you to lose sight of your shooting zone, potentially losing track of people, buildings or roadways in the distance, and could even make you lose sight of other hunters.

Surely this happened with the deer hunter who shot toward Sowders and Strobl. The deer took off, and the hunter fixated on hitting his target, traveled outside his safe zone-of-fire, and failed to identify the pair of hunters in the background. What can we learn from the deer hunter? Don’t let target fixation override your sense of safety, and stay within your safe zone-of-fire.

The hunter safety courses at www.hunter-ed.com include videos that cover these safety concerns. In addition to offering excellent hunting education, these videos feature professional actors and fun, up-to-date scenarios that enhance learning. “Safe Zones-of-Fire” and “After the Shot” cover the importance of obeying safe zones-of-fire and how to deal with target fixation.

The state-approved hunting education courses also discuss blaze orange, gun carries, ballistics, and much more to improve your safety in the field.

Learn more about safe zones-of-fire with hunter education courses from Hunter Ed.

IMG_9286‘I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up’: Safety During a Fall

Even when following proper tree stand safety protocols, accidents can happen. If you fall from your tree stand, what should you do?

If you used a fall-arrest system and a suspension relief strap, you will have taken an important step to protect yourself from serious injury, but you still need to return to a safe position. Here’s what you should do after a fall:

  1. Gather your thoughts. Unless you have done absolutely everything correctly (like having no slack in the tree tether when seated) the odds are you are going to need help before you can get back in your stand. You should have your emergency signal device such as a cellphone, radio or personal locator beacon on your person to call for help. Even if you get back on your stand, you may need help getting back down. Call or signal for help right away.
  2. Get back into the stand if you are able to. Your adrenaline will be pumping, so don’t make any rash decisions. Find the nearest foot peg or ladder step and use it to climb back into the stand. If you can’t find a foot peg or step, try to pull yourself back into the stand.
  3. Act fast to relieve the pressure on your legs by stepping into your suspension relief strap. Being suspended for any length of time can cause suspension trauma, which can be fatal. Hanging motionless and suspended in your fall-arrest system can cause the leg straps to constrict blood flow. The pressure can make blood pool in the legs, limiting circulation and depriving organs of oxygen. Stand up in the strap to relieve the pressure caused by the leg straps on your full-body harness.
  4. If you do not have a suspension relief strap, move your legs continuously by pushing off from the tree, or raise your knees and pump your legs frequently to keep your blood flowing until help arrives.

Prevention is the best protection against accidents. Always hit the field with safety in mind. You can study up on safe hunting methods at Hunter Ed and Bowhunter Ed; these sites offer state-approved training accepted by hunter education programs.

Share the video below to spread the message on tree stand safety.

Remember, incidents are preventable. You can do your part.

Preparing to Hunt From a Tree Stand

IMG_8171Stay Connected: Your Life Depends On It

According to the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, 3 in 10 hunters who use elevated stands will suffer an accident at some point in their hunting career. Those odds aren’t good.

Face it: Even though we know a fall could be dangerous, many hunters believe “an accident will never happen to me. I’ll be OK without a harness.”

The National Bowhunter Education Foundation also reports that 82 percent of hunters who have a tree stand accident weren’t using a safety harness.

Here’s the truth: Only Superman can defy gravity, and you are not Superman. A fall from a tree stand can result in serious injury or death.

To learn more about the nasty results of falling from a tree stand, we spoke with Dr. David Argo, an avid hunter and orthopedic surgeon for Beacon Orthopaedics in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dr. Argo has not only operated on hunters who have fallen from stands, but has experienced a fall himself.

“I’m convinced that most hunters don’t grasp the severity of these types of falls until they experience them firsthand. Trust me, I’ve worked on many victims that have to live with mobility implications the rest of their lives because they didn’t wear a harness, or they tied a thin rope around their waist line,” said Argo.

What’s the take-home lesson? It can happen to you. Take the necessary precautions to stay safe in the stand. Hunter Ed recommends following a few important safety tips when hunting from tree stands.

Tree Stand Safety Tips:

  • Take your time; there’s no rush. Climbing into and out of stands is dangerous and should be done with great care. Make sure you maintain three points of contact at all times. The three-point rule should always be used in conjunction with a lifeline system, climbing belt or lineman’s-style belt.
  • Wear a fall-arrest system, which should include a full-body harness, a lineman’s-style belt and/or climbing belt, a tree strap, a tether, and a suspension relief strap. This hunter safety system will prevent you from falling to the ground if you slip out of your tree stand.
  • Use a haul line to pull up your gear. Climbing with a backpack or firearm strapped to your back is NOT SAFE! Once you are in the stand and fastened to the tree, you can pull your gear up.
  • Know your limits. Become comfortable with the stand you are in, and know the location of cables and other potential obstructions that could trip you up if you move around the stand.

Read up on tree stand safety and safe hunting methods with more tips from Bowhunter Ed.

 


Tree Stand Hunting Safety
Follow these safety tips and you’ll be able to enjoy many more hunts.