© 2019 Copyright by P. K. H. Groth, Denver, Colorado, USA All rights reserved - See contact page
Backcountry, High Altitude Hunting Hazards
My Backcountry Philosophy: My upbringing and later employment instilled me with the life philosophy that a solution to a conundrum will become evident once the problem is adequately defined. The following discussions of potential backcountry health hazards is just a start to your awareness. Do not panic at a backcountry situation. Stop and think things through. Always plan ahead and tailor adventures to your own capabilities, limitations, time and equipment. Prepare for the remote hunt by asking yourself “What if this happens……?” Giardia A Devastating Drink Gift from Russia? : Susan Zwinger (Stalking the Ice Dragon, Univ. Arizona Press 1991) relates the legend that giardia is not native to North America. Purportedly, in 1960 visiting Russian backpackers released the pest in the Aspen area. The lore continues that Aspen skiers contracted and almost instantly transported giardia back to PA, NY, NH, VT, MT and CA. It was subsequently transferred to other states. Giardia is a hardy parasite. It can live in ice, and survive exposed for two months at 17 F and one month at 70 F. It can survive two minutes in boiling water, longer at higher altitudes/pressures when water “boils” at lower temperatures. Always treat drinking water, even if a spring looks clean. The spring may have serviced wild animals or sheep. I had a colleague who contracted giardia. He said it was murder to get it under control and cured, a highly offensive gut infection, and the medicine damages the liver. Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Diabetics must be in good physical condition, accustomed to exercise, and must carefully monitor their blood pressure. High Altitude Sickness can trigger ketoacidosis. Remember that some glucose meters may not properly work at high altitudes and low temperatures. Diabetics using Acetazolamide as a prophylactic may be difficult to treat for Acute Mountain Sickness. They in particular should acclimatize to altitude before going to high spike camps. Hypothermia: Physiological hypothermia occurs when conditions cause the body’s core temperature to drop from 98.6°. The person lapses into a coma at 79°. Causes are prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, wind-driven cold air, and excessive deep breathing of cold air. A majority of hypothermia cases are caused by being wet. The evaporation of water from the skin and clothing takes thermal energy. Bodily functions will begin shutting down if the energy expended is greater than the body can produce on short demand (it takes time to reduce stored fat and glycerides.) Initial (mild) hypothermia symptoms are shivering, slurred speech, apathy, poor coordination, mumbling, and slow thinking. Uncontrollable violent shivering and very poor coordination indicate moderate hypothermia. Severe hypothermia has been reached when shivering stops, muscles get rigid, the heart pulse decreases, the heart ventricles may fibrillate, and unconsciousness occurs. An incorrect sense of safety, unjustified general exhilaration and hallucinations may occur.Never give hypothermic patients caffeine or alcoholic drinks. For mild and intermediate hypothermia wrap the patient in multiple layers of sleeping bags after removing all wet clothing. Cover the head with a wool hat and the feet with loose warm wool socks. Give warm, sweet drinks and eventually high caloric foods. Severe-stage patients should be sleepingbag-wrapped with warm water bottles or heat packs on hands, feet, groin, armpits and neck. If hot water is not immediately available, strip down and lay beside the victim. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY, but carefully, since a hypothermic patient cannot feel pain very well and will not be able to rationally communicate about pain/discomfort. A Hunter Hypothermia Story: I talked to a church member who lost a rifle loaned to a neighbor. The inexperienced neighbor took his son on an elk hunt with inadequate, “make- do” equipment and clothing. The father-son team became separated in a brief snow storm. While the son found help, the father became lost and panicked at the evident loss of his son. He unreasonably overexerted and became irrational and confused. Rescuers found the easily recognizable man in the last nick of time. He had entered near-death total irrationality and abandoned his gun and clothing, and he was struggling along naked in de lirious aimless rambling around the hills. Rapid Temperature Drops : Weather fronts moving over the high elevations may result in quick and severe temperature changes. This partly because the high topography is closeer to the jet stream winds. Temperatures may plummet 40° or more in a day. Very cold air sinking into valleys on clear nights can shock you into subzero reality in the mornings. Do not presume balmy weather will continue. Bring and carry cold weather gear. Keep essential cold weather gear in day packs when you hunt. This graph shows a four-day cold snap. (Courtesy of Western Regional Climate Center, Colorado State University). Hunter Dehydration : Commonly hunters may have a tendency to not drink enough water at high altitude. The low air pressure and wind result in rapid evaporation of perspiration, and without sweat you may falsely believe you are retaining water. Since a greater portion of body liquids is eliminated through vapor loss, there is less urge to urinate. You may continue to falsely conclude that since you are neither urinating or sweating, sufficient water must be retained in the body. There is the misconception that you can get away with drinking alcohol, but alcohol dehydrates the body even more. You could be heading to Altitude Sickness Junction! If you do not arrive there, you will arrive shortly at Constipation City – not a happy place to be when hunting. Leave the caffeine-spiked energy drinks in the car. Your heart will be racing enough without extra caffeine. With caffeine- induced poor sleep, your lungs may not suck in enough air at night, leading to raised blood carbon dioxide levels, with a consequence that the pituitary gland will trigger wakefulness and you will not get a good night of energy-replenishing REM deep sleep. Drinking a lot of water at one time is NOT the way to get hydrated. The human body can process only about eight ounces of water per hour. So a large intake of water is rapidly passed through your body to be shortly urinated. The organ and muscle cells are not replenished of water. Take many small sips. This allows the body to distribute water to all cells in the body, AND to wash out cellular waste that may create cramps. Dehydration also elevates blood pressure, so maintain hydration both day and night. Hyponatremia (Sodium Crash): This condition is caused by drinking too much water. The average body can process only eight ounces of water an hour. Drinking more than that causes the blood sodium level to fall. This will cause lightheadedness, headaches, nausea (without vomiting), cramping, frequent clear urination, and abnormal sweating. Mental alertness may fade. Treatment includes preventing the patient from drinking any more liquids for a while, eating small portions of salty foods and ingesting electrolytes. If symptoms persist and become worse, evacuate the patient to medical help. Hypoglycemia (Sugar Crash): Unusual and stressful exertion combined with the effects of cold, plus nausea and appetite loss due to altitude sickness can result in blood sugar levels plummeting. You can almost instantly loose stamina and become fatigued when your readily available blood sugar becomes depleted. Marathon runners know this as “hitting the wall”. Carry some carbohydrates in your day pack to eat if you become weak or disoriented. Fructose sugar is supposed to be ingested faster than sucrose. There are simple energy tablets available for this purpose. Asphyxia : Be extremely cautious of tightly closing a tent. Snow can cover vents and door bottoms and prevent air entry. This can be especially dangerous if the tent is heated by a wood stove or if several gas lanterns or gas heaters are used. The smaller the tent, the more dangerous it is. Keep fresh air circulating! Truck campers using gas heaters should have carbon dioxide detectors. Maintain adequate ventilation, no matter how cold it becomes. Constantly check to make sure their heater vents are snow-clear, and not pointed into the wind to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Hunter Night Time Hypoxia and Sleeping Problems: (Please see the special section on Sleep Problems) The typical person has a hard time sleeping well at high altitudes, particularly the first few nights. Some disturbances are obvious: snoring tent mates, low- frequency wind sounds, eating a large meal without post-meal exercise, etc. These are controllable events: wear earplugs, take a short walk after eating, or eat less. Avoid alcohol because while it initially acts as a depressant and induces sleep, it becomes a stimulant for wakefulness about 2:00 AM. That is right when most people enter deep sleep (REM) which is needed to refresh the mind and body. Get extra rest before the hunt. Avoid carousing and partying. Cheyne Stokes Syndrome: Be prepared for some different sleep effects. Many people have vivid dreams or feelings of being gagged or suffocated. Hallucinations may occur between the sleep to wakefulness transition. You may experience Cheyne Stokes Syndrome (periodic breathing rate changes) at higher altitudes. This is a form of sleep apnea. A person takes several deep breaths followed by shallow breathing. Typically, there may be 5-15 seconds of no breathing. During the shallow/no-breathing phase, the body’s oxygen level drops. The pituitary gland and heart electrical nodes send signals to increase oxygen, resulting in a deep, fast lung breathing reaction. The low oxygen level induces sleep arousals. You therefore will not get enough long-period deep sleep (REM). Mornings will find you “groggy” and tired. Practice deep breathing when you awaken at night or during the day. It quickly lowers the blood carbon dioxide level and increases blood oxygen concentration. Warning: Never go to higher altitudes in the wilderness to sleep if you are already experiencing any kind of altitude sickness. Wait to see if you acclimate, or the condition gets worse and you must leave. Please see the webpage sections on adjusting to high altitudes and the effects of poor sleep on hunting success. High Altitude Cough: Spontaneous, hard (even rib-breaking) coughs can develop with some people. The cough is due to a narrowing of the airways (bronchi) of the lungs, much like asthma. Even people without infections like bronchitis can have this condition. Research shows that receptors in the airways are more sensitive at high altitudes. Another cause may be minor fluid weeping into the lungs’ small air sacks. Breathing cold dry air further irritates the lungs and throat. Breathing too much very cold air can shock the lungs. People have choked to death after falling into and gasping in powdered snow. Phlegm dries, becomes sticky, and is difficult to expel. Carry a supply of cough drops. Coughing really interferes with hunting. Bring standby antibiotics if you are prone to sinusitis attacks. Sinus infection pressure at high altitude’s low air pressures can bring excruciating pain. Cold, dry, low-pressure air can cause bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing) which disturbs game, is annoying and potentially debilitating. You may develop the cough, so bring some cough drops. R. A. Thompson cites hypobaric chamber research that disclosed airways receptors are more sensitive at high altitudes. This possibly may be from increased inflammation, there may be increased lung fluid buildup, or that the brain oxygen levels drop and cause receptor sensitivities. Appetite Loss: Exertion at high altitude can cause premature fatigue and the loss of appetite. A hunter may fail to ingest enough high-energy food over the day. Three meals a day may not be sufficient to maintain blood glucose levels high enough to replenish muscle cellular efficiency. The result is a decrease in energy at certain times of the day. The recommended daily 2,000 calorie per 160-pound person may have to be doubled, or even tripled with heavy exertion. Hunters should bring and eat extra high carbohydrate foods. These include oatmeal, pasta, rice, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, cookies, and peanut butter. Eat these over the day as you hunt. However, still try to maintain reasonable mealtime eating habits so that your digestive system adheres to schedule and you avoid constipation. Eating several snack meals over the day is better than gorging on late evening meals and then lying down to sleep. Medications: Bring at least an extra week’s prescription medications in case you become snowed-in. Getting to a doctor and receiving a new prescription may be time consuming and difficult. Bring headache medicine in case you experience minor mountain sickness. Medications should be in waterproof containers. (I like to seal daily doses in strips of “Seal- A-Meal” heat plastic.) Do not forget cough drops. “Beano” can reduce indigestion problems. Pepto Bismol tablets (liquid freezes) may help if you have diarrhea from unusual foods or the water. Diarrhea in the backcountry with limited clean clothes is not pleasant! Ankle Sprains: Research has disclosed that most hunters sprain their ankles late in the day, commonly when returning to camp. Hunters are fatigued and walk sloppily at that time. Another factor is the decreasing sunlight and long shadows, which hide obstacles and uneven terrain. Boot lacings may also stretch, allowing boot vamps to flex and not give adequate ankle support. Injury and Death by Knives: Your hunting knives can be very dangerous in the excitement of a kill. Never use a folding knife that does not have a blade lock. An unlocked knife can squirm around in gore and fold against your finger when field dressing and animal. Never cut or pull a knife toward yourself, nor toward others. Positively never stand astride of an animal you are field dressing. It may look macho in Field and Stream articles, but that position is extremely dangerous. A knife pulled toward you to open the carcass can hang up on bone or rib cartilage and then suddenly let go. A resulting cut to the inside thigh may cut the large femoral artery and result in rapid unconsciousness and death. Lesser cuts and stabs to our legs or groin can produce great injury, and possible massive infections. Knife injuries can also occur when field dressing a large animal on slopes, especially in wet or snowy conditions. The carcass may roll over on you or slide downhill. A stumble could cause a self-inflected wound or a snapped leg. Maintain Hunter Hygiene or Experience an Epizootic Epidemic at Elk Camp: Establish camp hygiene right off the bat and maintain it. Wash hands (even in the cold) after using the latrine, and stick to using personal water bottles. Hunter Wild Fires : In the fall many elk hunting areas are tinder boxes waiting to explode, particularly in drought years. Grasses are dry after frost, there are tangles of dead trees and ample pine needle and cone litter under trees (where you may camp). Having an open fire is dangerous and usually unnecessary for just a hunt camp “atmosphere”. Winds can kick up fast and usually there is no water to fight fire, nor time to get any. Be aware that you can be charged for timber loss and for fire fighting costs if your fire goes wild. We have never built a fire in 45 years for several reasons. Fires can get out of hand when the common evening winds fan remaining coals. Cooking on fires is tedious, slow, and gets pans sooty. Fires are also a “heads up” warning to game in the area. Walking around with smoky clothing is equally a game chasing event. Black Timber Hunter Safety: Some hunters “walk the deadfall trees” timber in black timber. They believe walking on fallen logs allows them to stalk somewhat quietly and to see a little farther ahead than walking in crunchy snow. Walking on old horizontal or inclined deadwood is dangerous. Unnoticed ice, snow, moss or a bootlace caught on a broken branch may launch you into a non-recoverable fall, with a good chance of being impaled on other branches. Even a minor fall may result in damaging your gun or gun sight, with the later consequence of missing a shot. Lastly, being precariously balance on a log is not a great shooting position. Getting Lost: Cell phones generally do not reliably work in most Colorado backcountry and wilderness areas. It is imperative that you know your orienting limits and be a close observer. It is easy to become disoriented in the relatively flat terrain dominated by a single tree type and similar looking meadows. It is difficult or impossible to see distant objects when in the trees. Carry a compass and know how to use it (away from your iron rifle) if you get disoriented. Leave the deep black timber before sunset, or before fog, mist or clouds of an approaching storm. The loss of the sun orb reference point creates confusion. Low light angles can make memorized guiding fixation objects unrecognizable. Do not be myopic when hunting. Continually look around when walking and sitting to memorize landmarks. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Beware of overcast days when there is no sun for orientation. Stalking in timber is an especially good way to get mentally “turned around”, since the hunter is concentrating on the stalk and not mentally registering landmarks he is passing. Nightfall is the period to get lost if you have wandered beyond familiar territory. At dusk snowfall may instantaneously limits visibility of recognizable features. Not Having Pre-arranged Plans and Signals: Always inform your hunting buddies where you will go and when you should be expected to return. Know the normal distress signals and review them with your group. Formalize what responses will be made if some one is lost or injured. I had experiences with hunters who got lost and the rest of the elk camp was in confusion about what should be done and when. Hunter Safety Kits: A hunter should be prepared for getting lost by carrying a small survival kit kept permanently in a daypack. Let it contain a GPS that you know how to use. Always have a compass as a standby if the GPS batteries fail. There are also satellite beacons which let another person know your last position. Included in the kit should be strike-in-the-rain/wind matches (or several books of waterproof matches sealed in “Seal-A- Meal” plastic), a magnesium fire starter, a foil space blanket, some twine, and a whistle. A large, long plastic leaf bag can serve as a rain coat or shelter. Several cheap motel shower caps are great for over-caps if you encounter rain, wet snow or the need to cover your rifle scope/breech. Carry a large fluorescent orange nylon drag-bag to use for signaling to equestrians, vehicle drivers or aircraft. This will also come in handy to tie around antlers as a safety precaution when you pack out. Check the internet for more complete survival kit suggestions. A video site is: WWW.bit.ly/CPWvideos . I would demand your kit include nine extra cartridges and a coach’s “pea whistle” to signal if you are lost or injured. Wind Storms: High altitude winds can develop fast and become furious. At over 8,000 feet winds are often influenced by upper atmosphere jet streams. It is important your campsite out of the prevailing evening winds. Make sure there is little likelihood of dead trees falling on you. Avoid pinnacle and bench sites which face west. Note again that evening winds have the potential to kick up “dead” campfires. Be extremely careful with fires. Becoming Snowed In The Backcountry: There have been years when deep snows have prevented hunters from removing their camps and vehicles. I know what a snow crushed abandoned tent looks like the following July; sort of like something left behind by arctic explorers Scott and Amundsen. Some years vehicles had to be abandoned until the next summer; winter snowmobilers vandalized a few of these. A few times National Guard helicopters checked camps outside the wilderness area and removed seriously sick, injured or permanently stranded hunters. Hunters could only take out what they were wearing and maybe their rifles. They could not carry more because helicopters have limited lift in the thin air at the Flat Tops’ high altitude. Winter snowmobile vandals may loot camps left behind. Do not bring any unnecessary valuable items such as laptops, expensive cameras or other high-class gear. Horse Safety and Courtesy: Horses and mules can be a big safety hazard in the backcountry. Colorado law stipulates that under all circumstances riders are responsible for their own liability. Most outfitters back up that with additional contracts, which must be signed before riding. Come dressed for safety. Pack wide boots that will not release from stirrups and may result in a dragging death. Wear camp shoes. Do not bring backpacks that cannot be stowed in or tied paniers. Being tossed and landing on your back on top of a hard object may result in a broken spine and whiplashed neck. Wear a thin pair of leather glove; thick, fluffy mittens give poor grip. AND DO NOT COME INEBRIATED. This is an outfitters nightmare waiting to happen. The outfitter may deny you a horse to ride and you will have to walk. Large horse ranches often supply additional horses to outfitters, and the ranches also rent horses to hunters. The horses often are not ridden much of the year. They can become difficult to handle, obstinate at loads, bonded and in inseperatable conspiracy with companions, spooky, and sometimes just plain nasty. Keep well away from horses you do not know to avoid being kicked, bitten or dragged, and from startling a mounted horse into a bucking caper. Do not bring your gear to horses being packed. Let the wrangler come get the gear and meat to pack. I hope that you will have packed your gear with a soft side place able against the horse. That means no lumps, projections or other potential irritants. Have good horse tack and packs and make sure your own horses are well trained and retrained to pack before the hunt. Know how to pack balanced and secure loads. Some people bring horses and mules that have never before been used to hunt game, or elk. These horses may spook and panic at the smell of dead elk, with dire consequences. They may run home or try scraping off riders and loads against a tree. If you field dressed an elk, do not approach an unknown horseman. Advise the rider that you have strong elk scent. I once saw a scented hunter approach a trail rider who got tossed off his mount. The spooked horse bolted away to base camp miles away. The scabbarded rifle flopped on the horse’s flank to further incite the beast to run faster. The sight-damaged rifle was found on the trail by one heck of an angry former rider. Remember that horses from low altitudes also need time to adjust to rarefied air. Over taxed weak horses may become belligerent and a hazard. (See Horse Hullabaloo story in the Romance section for an idea of what can happen when using unknown horses.) Foot hunters should yield to horses. Get well off the trail on the downhill side. Spooked horses can climb up hill when mounted or loaded with packs. However, horses spooked downhill will bunch up, panic, stumble and flounder as mounts and packs bounce around. You do not want to be in the way of stumbling horses. (See book for what might happen to you.) Stand still and quietly talk to let the horses know what you are. Do not sit, especially in low light, because horses may think you are a predator like a bear or lion. Elk Goring, Stomping and Kicking Hazards: Wounded or even apparently dead elk and mule deer are potential hazards. Track wounded animals with a partner if possible. A wounded an animal may be in a pain-stupor and become crazed when startled by your approach. You do not want to be gored or mowed down by a charging beast. I can tell you from experience that a bull elk charging at me pell-mell down a steep hill was an oncoming terror to behold. Not all animals downed and laying silently are necessarily dead. A spine shot or shot high in the shoulder may have knocked down, disoriented and stunned it. Your approach may startle it into the panic “flee or die” adrenalin rush and it will get up. It may directly run off, or buck around in circles and attack anything – including you. The long legs of dead appearing elk can instantaneously lash out when you approach, and during the last autonomic reflexes of dying. The wild is no place for a broken leg or smashed face. Wait until the animal shows no movement, including quivering of the skin and flicking of ears. Then wait some more. Move to the animal by circling around it where it cannot see your approach. I recommend then shooting the animal once more through the neck just below the head. (This has the added benefit of allowing easy separation of the cumbersome head and rack.) Lastly, beware of bull elk during the rut season. They can be cantankerous and unpredictable. Cow protecting spring calves may also chase and stomp humans. Bear Problems and Attacks: Bears frequent the Flat Tops Wilderness in the summertime looking for berries and grubs. The bear populations seem to be increasing in the Trappers Lake and Sweetwater areas. You can identify past bear movements by the ripped-up rotten stumps and overturned rocks left behind as they foraged for grubs. It is a good idea not to leave kill meat in the field during in bear country in the September archery and muzzleloader seasons. Bears usually have retreated to lower elevations by early October, but some may remain if there is a good food source. In late seasons, bears are usually in hibernation. (See book for bear attack information.) Mountain Lions: Mountain lions are becoming more numerous state and nationwide. They have been reported to frequent the Flat Tops Wilderness, particularly by sheepherders who are on protective duty before dawn. While lions are not usually not seen, their presence are known by their distinctive screams. In my opinion you would be darn lucky to see or hear one, since they are still scarce, well deer-fed and nocturnally elusive. Nevertheless, study your kill site at a distance when approaching it. If meat has been dragged away AND COVERED WITH LEAVES AND DEBRIS, it probably was scavenged by a lion which obviously intends to return for more food. Lions will linger several days at a site they killed game, or at scavenged game. (Bears do not normally cover scavenged game meat.) Falling Trees: It is extremely important that you maintain wilderness shelter. Pick your tent site carefully. Do not place it where the winds can pummel it and break the tent poles or rip the fabric. Clear the tent area of any brush and ground debris. You are going to be in trouble if you stumble on litter and fall into and crush the tent. Stay clear of fall zones of dead trees. These trees’ roots commonly rot over the wet summers, and the strong fall winds topple them. What was sturdy last year may not be this hunting season! Danger of Field Dressing Elk : Field dressing a large animal on a slope can result in an instant catastrophe. The animal may have one last death spasm and shift its weight, or strike out a leg for a bone-shattering blow. Even gutting can create imbalance that causes the animal to roll as the entrails are removed. Chances are you (to reduce bending), are standing unstable in slippery gore on the downhill side of a five-hundred-pound carcass. In sloped situations, I always tie s LONG rope to the animal and roll-drag it downhill to where either the slope is more level, or to against a hillside tree. Wounded Elk Bulls : Bulls in rut can be an unpredictable hazard. Don’t get too close to their combat, especially if you do not pre-plan escape routes. Arrow struck elk can take so much stalking pressure before they resort to charging out of a cornered area. Always be alert, wary and never take wounded elk for granted!
© 2016 -2017 Copyright by P. K. H. Groth, Denver, Colorado, USA All rights reserved - See contact page.
Backcountry, High Altitude Hunting Hazards
My Backcountry Philosophy: My upbringing and later employment instilled me with the life philosophy that a solution to a conundrum will become evident once the problem is adequately defined. The following discussions of potential backcountry health hazards is just a start to your awareness. Do not panic at a backcountry situation. Stop and think things through. Always plan ahead and tailor adventures to your own capabilities, limitations, time and equipment. Prepare for the remote hunt by asking yourself “What if this happens……?” Giardia A Devastating Drink Gift from Russia? : Susan Zwinger (Stalking the Ice Dragon, Univ. Arizona Press 1991) relates the legend that giardia is not native to North America. Purportedly, in 1960 visiting Russian backpackers released the pest in the Aspen area. The lore continues that Aspen skiers contracted and almost instantly transported giardia back to PA, NY, NH, VT, MT and CA. It was subsequently transferred to other states. Giardia is a hardy parasite. It can live in ice, and survive exposed for two months at 17 F and one month at 70 F. It can survive two minutes in boiling water, longer at higher altitudes/pressures when water “boils” at lower temperatures. Always treat drinking water, even if a spring looks clean. The spring may have serviced wild animals or sheep. I had a colleague who contracted giardia. He said it was murder to get it under control and cured, a highly offensive gut infection, and the medicine damages the liver. Diabetic Ketoacidosis: Diabetics must be in good physical condition, accustomed to exercise, and must carefully monitor their blood pressure. High Altitude Sickness can trigger ketoacidosis. Remember that some glucose meters may not properly work at high altitudes and low temperatures. Diabetics using Acetazolamide as a prophylactic may be difficult to treat for Acute Mountain Sickness. They in particular should acclimatize to altitude before going to high spike camps. Hypothermia: Physiological hypothermia occurs when conditions cause the body’s core temperature to drop from 98.6°. The person lapses into a coma at 79°. Causes are prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, wind-driven cold air, and excessive deep breathing of cold air. A majority of hypothermia cases are caused by being wet. The evaporation of water from the skin and clothing takes thermal energy. Bodily functions will begin shutting down if the energy expended is greater than the body can produce on short demand (it takes time to reduce stored fat and glycerides.) Initial (mild) hypothermia symptoms are shivering, slurred speech, apathy, poor coordination, mumbling, and slow thinking. Uncontrollable violent shivering and very poor coordination indicate moderate hypothermia. Severe hypothermia has been reached when shivering stops, muscles get rigid, the heart pulse decreases, the heart ventricles may fibrillate, and unconsciousness occurs. An incorrect sense of safety, unjustified general exhilaration and hallucinations may occur.Never give hypothermic patients caffeine or alcoholic drinks. For mild and intermediate hypothermia wrap the patient in multiple layers of sleeping bags after removing all wet clothing. Cover the head with a wool hat and the feet with loose warm wool socks. Give warm, sweet drinks and eventually high caloric foods. Severe-stage patients should be sleepingbag- wrapped with warm water bottles or heat packs on hands, feet, groin, armpits and neck. If hot water is not immediately available, strip down and lay beside the victim. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY, but carefully, since a hypothermic patient cannot feel pain very well and will not be able to rationally communicate about pain/discomfort. A Hunter Hypothermia Story: I talked to a church member who lost a rifle loaned to a neighbor. The inexperienced neighbor took his son on an elk hunt with inadequate, “make-do” equipment and clothing. The father-son team became separated in a brief snow storm. While the son found help, the father became lost and panicked at the evident loss of his son. He unreasonably overexerted and became irrational and confused. Rescuers found the easily recognizable man in the last nick of time. He had entered near-death total irrationality and abandoned his gun and clothing, and he was struggling along naked in de lirious aimless rambling around the hills. Rapid Temperature Drops : Weather fronts moving over the high elevations may result in quick and severe t e m p e r a t u r e changes. This partly because the high topography is closeer to the jet stream winds. Temperatures may plummet 40° or more in a day. Very cold air sinking into valleys on clear nights can shock you into subzero reality in the mornings. Do not presume balmy weather will continue. Bring and carry cold weather gear. Keep essential cold weather gear in day packs when you hunt. This graph shows a four-day cold snap. (Courtesy of Western Regional Climate Center, Colorado State University). Hunter Dehydration : Commonly hunters may have a tendency to not drink enough water at high altitude. The low air pressure and wind result in rapid evaporation of perspiration, and without sweat you may falsely believe you are retaining water. Since a greater portion of body liquids is eliminated through vapor loss, there is less urge to urinate. You may continue to falsely conclude that since you are neither urinating or sweating, sufficient water must be retained in the body. There is the misconception that you can get away with drinking alcohol, but alcohol dehydrates the body even more. You could be heading to Altitude Sickness Junction! If you do not arrive there, you will arrive shortly at Constipation City – not a happy place to be when hunting. Leave the caffeine-spiked energy drinks in the car. Your heart will be racing enough without extra caffeine. With caffeine- induced poor sleep, your lungs may not suck in enough air at night, leading to raised blood carbon dioxide levels, with a consequence that the pituitary gland will trigger wakefulness and you will not get a good night of energy-replenishing REM deep sleep. Drinking a lot of water at one time is NOT the way to get hydrated. The human body can process only about eight ounces of water per hour. So a large intake of water is rapidly passed through your body to be shortly urinated. The organ and muscle cells are not replenished of water. Take many small sips. This allows the body to distribute water to all cells in the body, AND to wash out cellular waste that may create cramps. Dehydration also elevates blood pressure, so maintain hydration both day and night. Hyponatremia (Sodium Crash): This condition is caused by drinking too much water. The average body can process only eight ounces of water an hour. Drinking more than that causes the blood sodium level to fall. This will cause lightheadedness, headaches, nausea (without vomiting), cramping, frequent clear urination, and abnormal sweating. Mental alertness may fade. Treatment includes preventing the patient from drinking any more liquids for a while, eating small portions of salty foods and ingesting electrolytes. If symptoms persist and become worse, evacuate the patient to medical help. Hypoglycemia (Sugar Crash): Unusual and stressful exertion combined with the effects of cold, plus nausea and appetite loss due to altitude sickness can result in blood sugar levels plummeting. You can almost instantly loose stamina and become fatigued when your readily available blood sugar becomes depleted. Marathon runners know this as “hitting the wall”. Carry some carbohydrates in your day pack to eat if you become weak or disoriented. Fructose sugar is supposed to be ingested faster than sucrose. There are simple energy tablets available for this purpose. Asphyxia : Be extremely cautious of tightly closing a tent. Snow can cover vents and door bottoms and prevent air entry. This can be especially dangerous if the tent is heated by a wood stove or if several gas lanterns or gas heaters are used. The smaller the tent, the more dangerous it is. Keep fresh air circulating! Truck campers using gas heaters should have carbon dioxide detectors. Maintain adequate ventilation, no matter how cold it becomes. Constantly check to make sure their heater vents are snow-clear, and not pointed into the wind to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Hunter Night Time Hypoxia and Sleeping Problems: (Please see the special section on Sleep Problems) The typical person has a hard time sleeping well at high altitudes, particularly the first few nights. Some disturbances are obvious: snoring tent mates, low-frequency wind sounds, eating a large meal without post- meal exercise, etc. These are controllable events: wear earplugs, take a short walk after eating, or eat less. Avoid alcohol because while it initially acts as a depressant and induces sleep, it becomes a stimulant for wakefulness about 2:00 AM. That is right when most people enter deep sleep (REM) which is needed to refresh the mind and body. Get extra rest before the hunt. Avoid carousing and partying. Cheyne Stokes Syndrome: Be prepared for some different sleep effects. Many people have vivid dreams or feelings of being gagged or suffocated. Hallucinations may occur between the sleep to wakefulness transition. You may experience Cheyne Stokes Syndrome (periodic breathing rate changes) at higher altitudes. This is a form of sleep apnea. A person takes several deep breaths followed by shallow breathing. Typically, there may be 5-15 seconds of no breathing. During the shallow/no-breathing phase, the body’s oxygen level drops. The pituitary gland and heart electrical nodes send signals to increase oxygen, resulting in a deep, fast lung breathing reaction. The low oxygen level induces sleep arousals. You therefore will not get enough long-period deep sleep (REM). Mornings will find you “groggy” and tired. Practice deep breathing when you awaken at night or during the day. It quickly lowers the blood carbon dioxide level and increases blood oxygen concentration. Warning: Never go to higher altitudes in the wilderness to sleep if you are already experiencing any kind of altitude sickness. Wait to see if you acclimate, or the condition gets worse and you must leave. Please see the webpage sections on adjusting to high altitudes and the effects of poor sleep on hunting success. High Altitude Cough: Spontaneous, hard (even rib-breaking) coughs can develop with some people. The cough is due to a narrowing of the airways (bronchi) of the lungs, much like asthma. Even people without infections like bronchitis can have this condition. Research shows that receptors in the airways are more sensitive at high altitudes. Another cause may be minor fluid weeping into the lungs’ small air sacks. Breathing cold dry air further irritates the lungs and throat. Breathing too much very cold air can shock the lungs. People have choked to death after falling into and gasping in powdered snow. Phlegm dries, becomes sticky, and is difficult to expel. Carry a supply of cough drops. Coughing really interferes with hunting. Bring standby antibiotics if you are prone to sinusitis attacks. Sinus infection pressure at high altitude’s low air pressures can bring excruciating pain. Cold, dry, low-pressure air can cause bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing) which disturbs game, is annoying and potentially debilitating. You may develop the cough, so bring some cough drops. R. A. Thompson cites hypobaric chamber research that disclosed airways receptors are more sensitive at high altitudes. This possibly may be from increased inflammation, there may be increased lung fluid buildup, or that the brain oxygen levels drop and cause receptor sensitivities. Appetite Loss: Exertion at high altitude can cause premature fatigue and the loss of appetite. A hunter may fail to ingest enough high-energy food over the day. Three meals a day may not be sufficient to maintain blood glucose levels high enough to replenish muscle cellular efficiency. The result is a decrease in energy at certain times of the day. The recommended daily 2,000 calorie per 160- pound person may have to be doubled, or even tripled with heavy exertion. Hunters should bring and eat extra high carbohydrate foods. These include oatmeal, pasta, rice, crackers, granola bars, trail mix, cookies, and peanut butter. Eat these over the day as you hunt. However, still try to maintain reasonable mealtime eating habits so that your digestive system adheres to schedule and you avoid constipation. Eating several snack meals over the day is better than gorging on late evening meals and then lying down to sleep. Medications: Bring at least an extra week’s prescription medications in case you become snowed-in. Getting to a doctor and receiving a new prescription may be time consuming and difficult. Bring headache medicine in case you experience minor mountain sickness. Medications should be in waterproof containers. (I like to seal daily doses in strips of “Seal-A-Meal” heat plastic.) Do not forget cough drops. “Beano” can reduce indigestion problems. Pepto Bismol tablets (liquid freezes) may help if you have diarrhea from unusual foods or the water. Diarrhea in the backcountry with limited clean clothes is not pleasant! Ankle Sprains: Research has disclosed that most hunters sprain their ankles late in the day, commonly when returning to camp. Hunters are fatigued and walk sloppily at that time. Another factor is the decreasing sunlight and long shadows, which hide obstacles and uneven terrain. Boot lacings may also stretch, allowing boot vamps to flex and not give adequate ankle support. Injury and Death by Knives: Your hunting knives can be very dangerous in the excitement of a kill. Never use a folding knife that does not have a blade lock. An unlocked knife can squirm around in gore and fold against your finger when field dressing and animal. Never cut or pull a knife toward yourself, nor toward others. Positively never stand astride of an animal you are field dressing. It may look macho in Field and Stream articles, but that position is extremely dangerous. A knife pulled toward you to open the carcass can hang up on bone or rib cartilage and then suddenly let go. A resulting cut to the inside thigh may cut the large femoral artery and result in rapid unconsciousness and death. Lesser cuts and stabs to our legs or groin can produce great injury, and possible massive infections. Knife injuries can also occur when field dressing a large animal on slopes, especially in wet or snowy conditions. The carcass may roll over on you or slide downhill. A stumble could cause a self-inflected wound or a snapped leg. Maintain Hunter Hygiene or Experience an Epizootic Epidemic at Elk Camp: Establish camp hygiene right off the bat and maintain it. Wash hands (even in the cold) after using the latrine, and stick to using personal water bottles. Hunter Wild Fires : In the fall many elk hunting areas are tinder boxes waiting to explode, particularly in drought years. Grasses are dry after frost, there are tangles of dead trees and ample pine needle and cone litter under trees (where you may camp). Having an open fire is dangerous and usually unnecessary for just a hunt camp “atmosphere”. Winds can kick up fast and usually there is no water to fight fire, nor time to get any. Be aware that you can be charged for timber loss and for fire fighting costs if your fire goes wild. We have never built a fire in 45 years for several reasons. Fires can get out of hand when the common evening winds fan remaining coals. Cooking on fires is tedious, slow, and gets pans sooty. Fires are also a “heads up” warning to game in the area. Walking around with smoky clothing is equally a game chasing event. Black Timber Hunter Safety: Some hunters “walk the deadfall trees” timber in black timber. They believe walking on fallen logs allows them to stalk somewhat quietly and to see a little farther ahead than walking in crunchy snow. Walking on old horizontal or inclined deadwood is dangerous. Unnoticed ice, snow, moss or a bootlace caught on a broken branch may launch you into a non-recoverable fall, with a good chance of being impaled on other branches. Even a minor fall may result in damaging your gun or gun sight, with the later consequence of missing a shot. Lastly, being precariously balance on a log is not a great shooting position. Getting Lost: Cell phones generally do not reliably work in most Colorado backcountry and wilderness areas. It is imperative that you know your orienting limits and be a close observer. It is easy to become disoriented in the relatively flat terrain dominated by a single tree type and similar looking meadows. It is difficult or impossible to see distant objects when in the trees. Carry a compass and know how to use it (away from your iron rifle) if you get disoriented. Leave the deep black timber before sunset, or before fog, mist or clouds of an approaching storm. The loss of the sun orb reference point creates confusion. Low light angles can make memorized guiding fixation objects unrecognizable. Do not be myopic when hunting. Continually look around when walking and sitting to memorize landmarks. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Beware of overcast days when there is no sun for orientation. Stalking in timber is an especially good way to get mentally “turned around”, since the hunter is concentrating on the stalk and not mentally registering landmarks he is passing. Nightfall is the period to get lost if you have wandered beyond familiar territory. At dusk snowfall may instantaneously limits visibility of recognizable features. Not Having Pre-arranged Plans and Signals: Always inform your hunting buddies where you will go and when you should be expected to return. Know the normal distress signals and review them with your group. Formalize what responses will be made if some one is lost or injured. I had experiences with hunters who got lost and the rest of the elk camp was in confusion about what should be done and when. Hunter Safety Kits: A hunter should be prepared for getting lost by carrying a small survival kit kept permanently in a daypack. Let it contain a GPS that you know how to use. Always have a compass as a standby if the GPS batteries fail. There are also satellite beacons which let another person know your last position. Included in the kit should be strike-in- the-rain/wind matches (or several books of waterproof matches sealed in “Seal-A-Meal” plastic), a magnesium fire starter, a foil space blanket, some twine, and a whistle. A large, long plastic leaf bag can serve as a rain coat or shelter. Several cheap motel shower caps are great for over-caps if you encounter rain, wet snow or the need to cover your rifle scope/breech. Carry a large fluorescent orange nylon drag-bag to use for signaling to equestrians, vehicle drivers or aircraft. This will also come in handy to tie around antlers as a safety precaution when you pack out. Check the internet for more complete survival kit suggestions. A video site is: WWW.bit.ly/CPWvideos . I would demand your kit include nine extra cartridges and a coach’s “pea whistle” to signal if you are lost or injured. Wind Storms: High altitude winds can develop fast and become furious. At over 8,000 feet winds are often influenced by upper atmosphere jet streams. It is important your campsite out of the prevailing evening winds. Make sure there is little likelihood of dead trees falling on you. Avoid pinnacle and bench sites which face west. Note again that evening winds have the potential to kick up “dead” campfires. Be extremely careful with fires. Becoming Snowed In The Backcountry: There have been years when deep snows have prevented hunters from removing their camps and vehicles. I know what a snow crushed abandoned tent looks like the following July; sort of like something left behind by arctic explorers Scott and Amundsen. Some years vehicles had to be abandoned until the next summer; winter snowmobilers vandalized a few of these. A few times National Guard helicopters checked camps outside the wilderness area and removed seriously sick, injured or permanently stranded hunters. Hunters could only take out what they were wearing and maybe their rifles. They could not carry more because helicopters have limited lift in the thin air at the Flat Tops’ high altitude. Winter snowmobile vandals may loot camps left behind. Do not bring any unnecessary valuable items such as laptops, expensive cameras or other high-class gear. Horse Safety and Courtesy: Horses and mules can be a big safety hazard in the backcountry. Colorado law stipulates that under all circumstances riders are responsible for their own liability. Most outfitters back up that with additional contracts, which must be signed before riding. Come dressed for safety. Pack wide boots that will not release from stirrups and may result in a dragging death. Wear camp shoes. Do not bring backpacks that cannot be stowed in or tied paniers. Being tossed and landing on your back on top of a hard object may result in a broken spine and whiplashed neck. Wear a thin pair of leather glove; thick, fluffy mittens give poor grip. AND DO NOT COME INEBRIATED. This is an outfitters nightmare waiting to happen. The outfitter may deny you a horse to ride and you will have to walk. Large horse ranches often supply additional horses to outfitters, and the ranches also rent horses to hunters. The horses often are not ridden much of the year. They can become difficult to handle, obstinate at loads, bonded and in inseperatable conspiracy with companions, spooky, and sometimes just plain nasty. Keep well away from horses you do not know to avoid being kicked, bitten or dragged, and from startling a mounted horse into a bucking caper. Do not bring your gear to horses being packed. Let the wrangler come get the gear and meat to pack. I hope that you will have packed your gear with a soft side place able against the horse. That means no lumps, projections or other potential irritants. Have good horse tack and packs and make sure your own horses are well trained and retrained to pack before the hunt. Know how to pack balanced and secure loads. Some people bring horses and mules that have never before been used to hunt game, or elk. These horses may spook and panic at the smell of dead elk, with dire consequences. They may run home or try scraping off riders and loads against a tree. If you field dressed an elk, do not approach an unknown horseman. Advise the rider that you have strong elk scent. I once saw a scented hunter approach a trail rider who got tossed off his mount. The spooked horse bolted away to base camp miles away. The scabbarded rifle flopped on the horse’s flank to further incite the beast to run faster. The sight-damaged rifle was found on the trail by one heck of an angry former rider. Remember that horses from low altitudes also need time to adjust to rarefied air. Over taxed weak horses may become belligerent and a hazard. (See Horse Hullabaloo story in the Romance section for an idea of what can happen when using unknown horses.) Foot hunters should yield to horses. Get well off the trail on the downhill side. Spooked horses can climb up hill when mounted or loaded with packs. However, horses spooked downhill will bunch up, panic, stumble and flounder as mounts and packs bounce around. You do not want to be in the way of stumbling horses. (See book for what might happen to you.) Stand still and quietly talk to let the horses know what you are. Do not sit, especially in low light, because horses may think you are a predator like a bear or lion. Elk Goring, Stomping and Kicking Hazards: Wounded or even apparently dead elk and mule deer are potential hazards. Track wounded animals with a partner if possible. A wounded an animal may be in a pain-stupor and become crazed when startled by your approach. You do not want to be gored or mowed down by a charging beast. I can tell you from experience that a bull elk charging at me pell-mell down a steep hill was an oncoming terror to behold. Not all animals downed and laying silently are necessarily dead. A spine shot or shot high in the shoulder may have knocked down, disoriented and stunned it. Your approach may startle it into the panic “flee or die” adrenalin rush and it will get up. It may directly run off, or buck around in circles and attack anything including you. The long legs of dead appearing elk can instantaneously lash out when you approach, and during the last autonomic reflexes of dying. The wild is no place for a broken leg or smashed face. Wait until the animal shows no movement, including quivering of the skin and flicking of ears. Then wait some more. Move to the animal by circling around it where it cannot see your approach. I recommend then shooting the animal once more through the neck just below the head. (This has the added benefit of allowing easy separation of the cumbersome head and rack.) Lastly, beware of bull elk during the rut season. They can be cantankerous and unpredictable. Cow protecting spring calves may also chase and stomp humans. Bear Problems and Attacks: Bears frequent the Flat Tops Wilderness in the summertime looking for berries and grubs. The bear populations seem to be increasing in the Trappers Lake and Sweetwater areas. You can identify past bear movements by the ripped-up rotten stumps and overturned rocks left behind as they foraged for grubs. It is a good idea not to leave kill meat in the field during in bear country in the September archery and muzzleloader seasons. Bears usually have retreated to lower elevations by early October, but some may remain if there is a good food source. In late seasons, bears are usually in hibernation. (See book for bear attack information.) Mountain Lions: Mountain lions are becoming more numerous state and nationwide. They have been reported to frequent the Flat Tops Wilderness, particularly by sheepherders who are on protective duty before dawn. While lions are not usually not seen, their presence are known by their distinctive screams. In my opinion you would be darn lucky to see or hear one, since they are still scarce, well deer-fed and nocturnally elusive. Nevertheless, study your kill site at a distance when approaching it. If meat has been dragged away AND COVERED WITH LEAVES AND DEBRIS, it probably was scavenged by a lion which obviously intends to return for more food. Lions will linger several days at a site they killed game, or at scavenged game. (Bears do not normally cover scavenged game meat.) Falling Trees: It is extremely important that you maintain wilderness shelter. Pick your tent site carefully. Do not place it where the winds can pummel it and break the tent poles or rip the fabric. Clear the tent area of any brush and ground debris. You are going to be in trouble if you stumble on litter and fall into and crush the tent. Stay clear of fall zones of dead trees. These trees’ roots commonly rot over the wet summers, and the strong fall winds topple them. What was sturdy last year may not be this hunting season! Danger of Field Dressing Elk : Field dressing a large animal on a slope can result in an instant catastrophe. The animal may have one last death spasm and shift its weight, or strike out a leg for a bone-shattering blow. Even gutting can create imbalance that causes the animal to roll as the entrails are removed. Chances are you (to reduce bending), are standing unstable in slippery gore on the downhill side of a five- hundred-pound carcass. In sloped situations, I always tie s LONG rope to the animal and roll- drag it downhill to where either the slope is more level, or to against a hillside tree. Wounded Elk Bulls : Bulls in rut can be an unpredictable hazard. Don’t get too close to their combat, especially if you do not pre-plan escape routes. Arrow struck elk can take so much stalking pressure before they resort to charging out of a cornered area. Always be alert, wary and never take wounded elk for granted!
Index Index