Editor's note: This was submitted by Joe Zyble of Marquette
MARQUETTE - The hearts of U.P. hunters may be beating a little faster in anticipation of the opening day of deer season Sunday, but now and then some hunters discover the hard way that their hearts are not up to the challenge of the hunt.
Studies have shown that hunting puts extra stress on the body, and incidents of deer hunters experiencing heart ailments in the woods are reported each year.
Dr. James Reaume, a primary care physician at the Ewen Medical Center in Ewen, describes himself as a "lousy" hunter but he enjoys the sport nonetheless. From personal experience he knows that hunting can be quite physically demanding.
"You might have to muck through swamps, cross thick or difficult terrain, and climb steep hills just to get a good spot for deer," he said. "It can be very strenuous, and the cold air adds to the burden on the body."
Citing a recent study from Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak in lower Michigan, Reaume said it was shown that deer hunting can put more strain on the heart than a standard treadmill stress test.
"The physical strain on the heart causes it to beat faster and take longer strokes as it tries to do more work in less time. A heart attack occurs when the cardiovascular system can no longer provide the oxygen needed to supply the heart; then it stops," he said.
A study also suggests that after sitting still in the woods for a lengthy period, the adrenalin rush a hunter suddenly feels upon sighting a trophy buck may cause a jolt to the heart and lead to an attack.
However, Reaume said he believes it's more likely the heart attack is caused by the hunter who, after successfully shooting a large deer, attempts to haul it from the woods without proper assistance.
"Up here we're more likely to not want to leave a deer carcass to seek help because of all of the predators. No one wants to come back and see ravens pecking on the deer they just shot a half hour earlier," he said.
He recommends taking brisk walks in the days and weeks leading up to season as good preventative medicine for those who plan to hunt deer.
There are common symptoms of heart distress that hunters should be aware of, Reaume said. These include chest pain, or more often, a feeling of heaviness in the middle of the chest area.
"A feeling of tightness in the chest, or breathing hard without physical exertion are other signs to be wary of," he said.
He recommends all hunters carry a cell phone. If they hunt in areas beyond cell phone coverage they should at least have high power walkie talkies to signal help.
"If you begin to feel these symptoms you should sit still in an open area where people can see you with your blaze orange. Firing three shots in the air is an age-old distress signal," he said. "Stay put. Don't get yourself in a worse way by trying to get out of the woods on your own."
Keeping the issue in perspective, Reaume noted that while heart ailments are a concern during hunting season, most fatalities occur when hunters fall from tree stands, often because the stands are improperly secured. Four-wheeler accidents and accidental shootings are also more likely to claim the lives of hunters in the woods than heart failure.
The Ewen Medical Center is part of a network of primary health care and dental clinics that make up the Upper Peninsula Association of Rural Health Services, Inc. Other clinics include North Menominee Health Center in Spalding; and the North Menominee Health Center South in Menominee.