With hunting season, put safety on first Gunshot wounds, falls occur the most


November 27, 1991|By PETER BAKER

A few weeks ago, while hunting with friends, a companion stopped to examine a broadhead arrow found earlier in the day near a deer hunter's tree stand.

As the hunter examined the arrow, he rested his shotgun in the crook of his arm with the muzzle pointing to the ground.

The gun went off, the shot missing his right foot by an inch or two.

It was an accident that might have been the cause of serious injury.

The hunter was knowledgeable. He was experienced.

And he was lucky.

Each deer firearms season there are those whose luck runs out.

Dr. Jay Zwally II, an orthopedic research fellow at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Services Systems, passes along the following statistics from the Shock Trauma unit in Baltimore:

Last year, during the weeklong firearms season, there were at least four hunting-related injuries treated at Shock Trauma, two gunshot wounds and injuries from two falls.

A survey of the same time period over the last four years showed an average of three major surgical procedures performed per hunting accident patient and an average hospital stay of 20 days.

Of those patients, 40 percent had spinal injuries and 75 percent of those spinal injuries resulted in paraplegia or quadriplegia.

"Those numbers may not seem like much," Zwally said. "But you have to realize that we see only a small fraction of of the cases in the state -- and virtually none of the gunshot wounds to fleshy extremities."

It is no secret that in deer season the two causes of the most severe injuries are falls from tree stands or wounds from firearms.

But it may come as a surprise that a single wound to an arm or leg from a deer rifle can easily result in amputation of the limb.

A wound from a deer rifle or a shotgun at closer range, destroys extensive amounts of tissue around the path of the bullet or slug.

So, if you are heading out for firearms season, be certain that you have followed safety procedures:

* Do not carry loaded firearms in your truck or car. A large number of accidents nationwide each year occur as guns are being unloaded from the vehicle or uncased. Do not lock and load before you are ready to begin the hunt.

* Carry your gun with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, away from yourself and others in your party. Keep the safety on and your finger off the trigger until your are ready to shoot.

* Know your target and what lies beyond it. Identify both before you shoot.

* Be sure that the ammunition you purchase is the right size for your gun. Unload firearms when not in use and leave the actions open.

* Never climb a tree or fence or jump a ditch or creek with a loaded gun. Never pull a loaded gun toward you by the muzzle.

* When getting into your deer stand, be certain you have a safety strap and use it. When pulling your gun and gear up behind you, be certain the gun is unloaded and lifted by a line that is clear of the trigger and allows the muzzle to point toward the ground.

* Alcoholic drinks, hunting and cold weather do not mix well. Alcohol may cloud your ability to make the right decision and can speed hypothermia.

* In the swamps and marshes of Dorchester County, a curious little elk named the Sika deer will be the focus of a Department of Natural Resources study to determine its reproductive tendencies.

"We are checking the reproductive rate of calves, which is the fawn of the Sika," said Ed Golden, director of the state's deer program. "We think the young of the year might be bred, and that ups the reproductive rate" and makes the calculation of the Sika population more difficult.

Current data, Golden said, assume that the Sika does not breed until it is about 18 months old.

To determine the age at which they start to breed, DNR biologists want to remove the ovaries and uteriof Sika that have been harvested and test them for pregnancy.

Hunters who take female Sika are asked to take their kill to special check-in stations in Dorchester County without dressing the deer first. Lists of special check-in stations will be posted.

"Sika aren't that big of a deer," said DNR regional wildlife manager Doug Wigfield, "so if a guy could just take it to Blackwater [National Wildlife Refuge] or one of the check stations and let us work with it, that would be a big help."

Wigfield said the process of removing the organs will not delay the hunter by more than a few minutes. However, field dressing should be avoided because the ovaries and uterus usually are removed as part of that process.

Sika deer, native to Eastern Asia, are most plentiful in Dorchester County but also range into parts of neighboring Worcester and Somerset counties. They also are found on Assateague Island National Seashore.

Sika prefer swamps and marshland and are more nocturnal than whitetail deer, feeding mostly at night and staying in thick cover during the day.

An 18-month-old Sika male dresses out to about 50 pounds, while a whitetail of the same age dresses out to an average of 100 pounds.

In addition to the reproductive study that will start this season, a tagging study of Sika is continuing.

Because Sika deer keep to cover during hunting hours, they are especially hard to harvest, and something of a trophy following is developing, especially among hunters from other parts of the state.

Wigfield estimates that 35 percent of the hunters who go to Dorchester County for Sika deer are from the Baltimore area.

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