As an experienced hunter, I’ve learned that first aid skills are absolutely critical for any hunting trip. When you’re miles from the nearest hospital and cell service is spotty at best, having the knowledge and supplies to treat injuries and illnesses can make the difference between life and death. In this article, I’ll share the first aid skills and knowledge every hunter needs to handle medical situations in the field. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, review these tips to be prepared for any emergency on your next hunt.
- Carry a well-stocked first aid kit on every hunt, tailored to your specific needs.
- Know how to assess scenes and patients to determine the right course of action.
- Be competent in bleeding control, wound care, fracture management, and other key skills.
- Recognize and know how to begin treating environmental injuries like hypothermia.
- Take a formal wilderness first aid course whenever possible to supplement your knowledge.
- Prevention through proper planning, gear, and fitness is the best way to avoid emergencies.
The most important thing you can do to prepare for medical emergencies is to carry a complete, well-stocked first aid kit designed specifically for the rigors of hunting. Factory pre-made kits often lack the items you really need in the field. While each kit should be customized, here are some essentials every hunter’s kit should contain:
- Sterile gauze pads – for dressing wounds
- Roller bandages – to secure dressings
- Adhesive tape – for minor cuts and blisters
- Antiseptic wipes – for cleaning wounds
- Antibiotic ointment – to prevent infections
- Burn cream – for thermal burns
- Tweezers – for splinters and ticks
- Tourniquet – to stop severe bleeding
- Hemostatic gauze – helps clot bleeding
- Pressure bandage – apply pressure to wounds
Bone & Joint Injuries
- Sam splint – to immobilize fractures
- Elastic bandage – to wrap sprains
- Ibuprofen – relieves swelling and pain
- Blanket – retains body heat
- Whistle – signal for help
- Mirror – signal aircraft
- Water purification tabs
- Fire starter kit
- Trauma shears – cut away clothing
- Tweezers – remove splinters
- Safety pins – fasten bandages
I also recommend taking a wilderness first aid or first responder course which will teach you how to use these supplies when seconds count.
When an accident happens on a hunt, your first priority is to ensure the scene is safe for both you and the patient. Look for environmental hazards like cliffs, rising water, or dangerous animals. Next check to see if the patient is conscious and breathing. If not, immediately call emergency services and begin CPR if you’re trained.
If the scene is stable, conduct a head-to-toe physical exam looking for any visible wounds, burns, or deformities. Ask questions to learn about the patient’s symptoms and medical history. Especially look for signs of shock which can be deadly if untreated. Monitor the patient’s vital signs like pulse, breathing rate, and skin temperature which can provide clues to their condition.
By completing a thorough scene size-up and patient assessment, you’ll have the information needed to decide whether you can provide care on-site or if immediate evacuation is required.
Excessive blood loss represents the most immediate threat to life in many hunting accidents. Being competent in bleeding control methods allows you to stabilize patients until full medical treatment is available. For minor cuts, clean the wound and apply direct pressure using gauze until the bleeding stops. Elevating the wound above the heart helps slow blood flow.
For severe bleeding of a limb, immediately apply a tourniquet proximal to the injury and tighten it until bleeding slows. Note the time applied. To control bleeding in the torso or junctional areas where tourniquets can’t be used, pack wounds tightly with hemostatic gauze. Applying a pressure dressing over the gauze helps hold it in place.
Know how to improvise tourniquets from materials like rope or clothing when hunting in remote areas. Though a last resort, tourniquets applied correctly can save lives by cutting off blood flow to uncontrollable wounds. Use extreme caution and only when direct pressure has failed to stop bleeding or isn’t possible.
Sprains, fractures and dislocations are common hunting injuries that must be properly stabilized to prevent further damage. For sprains, immediately immobilize the joint and elevate the extremity to limit swelling. Apply a compression bandage and cold therapy to ease pain until you can seek medical care.
With fractures and dislocations, check circulation and sensation in the extremity first to ensure no major vessels or nerves are damaged. Splint the injury by placing soft padding around the affected limb, then wrapping a rigid splint material like a Sam splint snugly over the padding. Adding an elastic bandage over the splint holds it firmly in place. This limits movement and reduces pain until the bone can be properly set.
If you suspect a spinal fracture, use extreme caution. Leave any impaled objects in place and keep the patient still. Only move them if absolutely necessary by log-rolling the entire body while supporting the head and neck. Evacuate immediately and monitor breathing closely for signs of paralysis which requires medical intervention.
Shock occurs when bloodflow to the body’s vital organs becomes inadequate, leading to cell damage and eventual death if untreated. It’s characterized by pale, cool, clammy skin; rapid breathing; weakness; anxiety; and thirst. Shock can result from severe wounds, burns, dehydration, illness and other causes.
Treating shock involves keeping the patient warm, elevating the legs about 12 inches to improve venous return, and maintaining an open airway. Do not provide food or drink as this can cause vomiting and aspiration. Evacuate the patient immediately and continuously monitor their airway, breathing, and circulation enroute to advanced medical care. Catching shock symptoms early and treating them properly gives the patient their best chance at recovery.
Hunters face unique environmentally-induced conditions requiring specialized treatment. Learn to recognize and manage cold and heat related illnesses you may encounter in the backcountry. For hypothermia, notice signs like shivering, confusion, and lack of coordination. Protect the patient from further heat loss and slowly warm their core temperature with blankets, body heat, and warm (not hot) fluids.
Heat cramps, exhaustion and stroke are dangers during warm weather hunts. Headache, nausea and muscle cramps precede the onset of heat exhaustion. Move the patient into shade, remove excess clothing, and provide small amounts of water and electrolyte drinks. Left untreated, heat exhaustion can progress to deadly heat stroke marked by extremely high body temperatures. Cool the patient immediately by dousing with water and evacuate to advanced medical care.
While first aid knowledge is critical, the best way to handle emergencies is avoiding them in the first place. Make safety your top priority on every hunt. Select hunting areas within your physical abilities and arrange for rescue options in advance if needed. Pack appropriate clothing and survival tools based on terrain and weather conditions. Stay properly hydrated and nourished, and use trekking poles for stability during hikes.
When possible, hunt with a buddy who can assist if injuries occur. Review first aid protocols and emergency action plans with your partner before each trip. Consider enrolling in a wilderness medical course to expand your skills and allow you to act as the group medic. Through proper preparation, wise decision making, and caution, you’ll drastically reduce the likelihood of needing to act as a first responder in the first place.
In closing, every responsible hunter should make first aid a priority before heading into the field. Assembling a comprehensive kit, acquiring proven skills, and planning for safety will give you confidence to enjoy your hunts knowing help is on your hip should emergencies arise. Though lessons are best learned hands-on, I hope this overview provides a useful starting point to build and refine your own critical hunting first aid knowledge. Stay safe out there and happy hunting my friends!
Captain Hunter is a seasoned hunting mentor with over 20 years of experience in the field. His passion began as a young man on trips with his father and grandfather in the Colorado mountains. Today, he shares his unmatched skills in survival, tracking, and marksmanship through his website CaptainHunter.com. When he's not volunteering with youth hunting programs, you can find Captain Hunter providing expert hunting tips, gear reviews, and answers to your most pressing questions. His decades of experience make him the trusted guide to help any outdoorsman master the sport.