How Not to Die Hunting in Summer

Hunting predators or varmints in summer, or getting in some range time and work for autumn? Make the right decisions on preparation, apparel and time under the sun to avoid dehydration, heatstroke or worse.

How Not to Die Hunting in Summer

If you plan to hunt feral hogs, predators, varmints or do other work in summer, be smart about drinking enough fluids and the apparel you wear to avoid sunburn, getting overheated or other problems. (Photo: Alan Clemons)

After my brother and I had agreed on the hunting trip for hogs, I told him to be sure to bring extra clothes and start drinking a lot of water and Powerade.

Summer in Alabama can be brutal, especially in the woods where humidity makes it feel like you're wading through wet quilts. Add thick vegetation, sweaty clothing and boots, and before long you're sapped of energy. That's when you're potentially vulnerable to make mistakes: not paying attention with your firearm, not watching and listening for snakes, holes or a boar hog you might surprise, or getting turned around and possibly lost.

Our hunting trip with Barry Estes and Alabama Hog Control was a blast, and my brother killed his first hog with one well-placed rifle shot. We also sweated a lot, walked a lot, rode around a lot in the side-by-side, and pounded the water and Powerade in the cooler. An eye-popping amount of hot Popeye's fried chicken between the evening and nighttime hunts refueled us. Although we didn't see anything that night with the night vision optics, which was surprising, we still had a good time.

Hunting predators, varmints or hogs in summer can be tough. So too is getting ready for autumn hunting seasons by working at the shooting range or clearing areas for stands and ground blinds. I go a little OCD on the latter when I want to create a blind footprint or path to that spot or a ladder stand. Trimmed limbs, clipped brush and clear paths all help you get to the stand site quietly but it takes time and work. In summer, even early  summer in the Southeast, that can be challenging.

Here are some tips to help you get things done and not die during the summer heat and humidity, no matter where you live:

Sunburn

When we were kids, getting a sunburn and peeling and getting another one and peeling and getting another one were just part of the deal. Eventually you looked splotchy, red, tan or brown, and got slathered in some kind of "cooling lotion" that didn't work.

We didn't realize it then, or we ignored it, but all that burning was a bad, bad thing. Cumulative severe sunburn can increase your risk of skin cancer. Melanoma is the worst form of skin cancer and can, if undetected, lead to death. I'd never thought of this before until the mid-1990s when a co-worker had to have a big chunk of his skin removed from the top of his head. He described it as "scooping it out like with a melon ball thing in the kitchen."

More than 192,300 cases of melanoma are estimated to be diagnosed in 2019. Reduce your risk by wearing wide-brimmed hats and plenty of sunscreen with 30 SPF or higher and reapply regularly. Cover up. Today's performance wicking apparel, like the Tenacity line from Pnuma, keeps your torso and legs covered, too.

Heatstroke

"Ah, he just got a little overheated. He'll be OK."

Not a smart take if you or your friend are in this situation. When our body temperature gets too high, bad things can happen. We're within a tenth of a degree around 98.6 in normal situations. If you get sick and run a fever of 102, for example, you know that's not good and typically you feel like hot garbage.

You push yourself in summer working to clear shooting lanes or a food plot, or maybe drag ladder stands in and out of the woods. Or maybe you're out doing some hog recon in the woods, and in any of those situations you're not drinking enough and get overheated. Perhaps too much, sometimes. If your core body temperature gets above 104 degrees, you could sustain heatstroke.

Here are warning signs and symptoms from MayoClinic.org:

  • High body temperature. A core body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher, obtained with a rectal thermometer, is the main sign of heatstroke.
  • Altered mental state or behavior. Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, irritability, delirium, seizures and coma can all result from heatstroke.
  • Alteration in sweating. In heatstroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heatstroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin may feel dry or slightly moist.
  • Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
  • Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red as your body temperature increases.
  • Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.
  • Racing heart rate. Your pulse may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.
  • Headache. Your head may throb.

What can you do to prevent this? Wear clothing that wicks moisture and heat. Avoid cotton apparel, which holds sweat and heat, and becomes heavy. Drink plenty of fluids, take rest breaks in the shade and don't overdo it. Leave the macho tough guy stuff behind. Taking care of yourself isn't difficult.

If you believe you or someone with you is experiencing heatstroke, remove outer clothing, get in the shade and get cooled down as soon as possible. Apply ice, cold showers or baths, or crawl in a cool creek if possible. In urgent cases call 911 for help.

Hyponatremia

If you've ever wondered whether someone could drink too much water and get incredibly sick, the answer is yes. That situation is called hyponatremeia.

No, you're not waddling around like the old cartoon characters sloshing and gushing after having a fire hose stuck in their mouth. What happens is your body's cells become flooded with too much water and the saline balance gets out of whack. Sodium is an electrolyte. Drink too much water and dilute the balance in your cells, and that's when you get out of whack. Your cells begin to swell, which is not good.

Runners and other athletes may take salt tablets, gels or fluids with electolytes in them. In our high school August two-a-day football practices, our managers would double the amount of Gatorade powder in our fluids the first week or 10 days of practice. We sweated like crazy and didn't mind the taste; our bodies wanted the electrolytes. When we thought it tasted bad, that was a sign to cut back on the powder mix.

Avoid hyponatremia by mixing your water intake with some fluids that include electrolytes. I prefer grape Powerade Zero and Nuun tablets in water when I'm trail running or other summer activity. Pack a cooler with your preferred beverages and ice, and don't skimp on drinking enough fluids.

Dehydration

Memorial Day is when our local running club puts on its annual 10K, 5K and kids' fun run events. I've done the 10K for six years. While fun and still early summer here in Alabama, it can be pretty dang sweltering. I load pretty heavily on fluids the day before and morning prior to the event, and stop at the aid stations for fluids.

Still, even after finishing and hammering a couple quarts of water with Mtn Ops BCCA recovery powder, my urine still is dark. That indicates I'm leaning toward dehydration and is a sign to drink more fluids. Water, something with electrolytes and maybe a beer or two with carbs all get the nod.

You've heard for years about the color of your urine and dehydration. It's not bunk. If you're out working in summer and peeing dark urine, that's not a good thing. If you pee dark urine all the time, you may need to see a physician. Or if you're out working in the summer heat and not going to the bathroom enough, that's not good, either.

Conversely, if your urine is clear then you could be over-hydrated. Lightly colored or straw-colored urine is normal, according to the University of California-San Diego. Check out the list from them to find out some other good info.

How much water should you drink? Some say, in ounces, it should be your weight times 0.5 as the guideline. So if you weighed 200 pounds, you should drink 100 ounces. That is less than a gallon, which has 128 ounces — 16 8-ounce glasses of water. It's an easy math formula to use and remember.

Coffee, tea and alcoholic drinks can help cause dehydration due to caffeine, sugar or alcohol. Avoid those until it's time to relax.

Dress for the Heat

I'm so incredibly thankful the outdoors apparel industry has advanced in the last 30-40 years to where we are now with technical fabrics, greater insulation and boots that actually are comfortable.

When I started hunting more than 40 years ago my duck hunting waders were rubber-coated canvas. Clothing was cotton, from skin to jackets, including socks, and my first boots were uninsulated, lace-up leather models. This isn't an "old man yelling at clouds" moment but more of a retrospective, because I loved that my father took me hunting and fishing, taught me different stuff and included me.

But, man. Shivering in winter and soaking wet with sweat in summer isn't fun. That was part of the experience, though, back then. Today's clothing is light-years greater than then. While I still love and wear wool and down-filled vests in winter, I'm also fully on board with layering, water- and wind-proof outer shells, and supremely comfortable summertime shirts and pants that keep me cool.

Pnuma's Tenacity Coolcore shirt is created with fabric that uses a "hollow-core yarn (that is) moisture activated to wick away sweat, rain and water for fast evaporation." It's a great shirt for early autumn hunting when it's still hot. It's a good combo with the Tenacity pant, which has several great features including removable knee pads if you're glassing, scouting, or are in western country with cactus. The Rogue is a good knockaround shirt, too. For summer predator hunting or early autumn deer and big game hunting, the Tenacity line is pretty tough to beat. (Thinking ahead to winter, be sure to check out the Selkirk togs to stay toasty.)

Other options I like include the lightweight HUK Icon X long-sleeve shirt and AFTCO Jason Christie Hooded LS for fishing. If you want a little camo for everyday, check out the TrueTimber Visa Endurance short-sleeve shirt.

Rattlesnakes are found throughout the Southeast and desert Southwest, from the small pigmy rattler in coastal areas to the bigger canebrake and eastern snakes. (Photo: iStock)

No Snakes, Please

I'm not afraid of snakes but have a healthy respect for them, since in Alabama and the Southeast we have rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and water moccasins. We even have pygmy rattlesnakes, which although tiny are still evil little suckers. Anytime I'm in Texas, Oklahoma or west, I almost want to wrap my entire body in kevlar.

Instead, I usually wear snakeproof boots almost year-round in the Southeast. My old Lacrosse 4X Alpha boots aren't made anymore, but other options include the Aerohead Sport Snake Boot and Snake Country. Two things I like about the Snake Country is they're 17 inches tall and have finger holes on top to help pull them on.

Another option is the Danner Pronghorn Snake Boot, which also is 17 inches and has laces along with a side zipper. This would be a better option if you prefer laces and need a tighter fit, perhaps for ankle support. The Pronghorn series also is one of the best ever, simply put, and a longtime favorite of hunters for upland birds and big game.

I wear my boots when I'm hunting, shooting, working in the woods or around ponds, even those with clean edges. No snakes, please. 

Get Ready for Autumn

Hunters often talk about their favorite tools and mention backpacks, ion atmospheric devices, heat-seeking missile ammunition, broadheads that skin an animal from the inside out and other gizmos. All good, whatever makes you happy and confident.

Some of my favorite and best tools for hunting are limb loppers, hand saw, pruning shears, a weed trimmer, air blower and game cameras. That may sound weird, I know. But if you're hunting on a budget and don't mind a little work, those six items are pretty effective.

Where I hunt, I use those tools to create different paths to my stands and blinds. Right now I'm working on a new tract on which I'll put up a Primal ladder stand and Descender safety descent device. I also have an area where I want to put up a NAP Mantis ground blind, which can be used for hunting or photography. I enjoy hunting from both and like having options for windy and rainy days, or for when I might want to tell my wife I'm going hunting but need to snooze in the blind. (Just kidding.)

With those tools, I'll clear pathways to the stand or blind including nipping and trimming limbs and vegetation, using the weed trimmer to get to bare earth, and blowing everything away with the leaf blower. That may sound like overkill but it works for me. And I do it in early summer, despite the heat and knowledge that some vegetation will grow back by autumn. In September I'll return with the loppers and trim away anything that might have grown up and could touch my clothing, thus picking up scent. Although I use Wildlife Research Scent-Killer Gold and the new ElimiShield X10D liberally on skin, clothes and boots, I still want to have a clean and quiet walk.

With ground blinds, consider the size of the floor footprint along with where you'll be tying off the blind so it doesn't blow away. Previous land I hunted had rocky terrain so I couldn't easily put the tie-down stakes into the ground. Think about not just the blind site but whether you need to tie it down, where to put those stakes, and how to brush it in for better concealment. I'll do this site prep now but wait to put up the blind closer to season; if I put it up now, my luck it would attract a bazillion snakes. So, I'll wait.

With the stand and blind, I'll try to create at least two access routes to counteract the wind. I also have a couple of other little hidey holes trimmed out in heavy brush so, if I want to do so, I can sit quietly and wait. Something like an Alps OutdoorZ King Kong Chair for longer sits or Tri-Leg Stoolfor quick trips gets the job done in these little cutout spots.

Chiggers and Ticks

These spawns of Satan are among the worst things about summer, along with biting black flies in north woodlands and yellow flies along the southern coasts.

You won't die from chigger bites although they'll drive you bananas with the itch. The big myth is "the chigger is in your skin and you can kill it by smothering it" with something, with the usual suggestions being fingernail polish, oatmeal baths, vinegar baths, baths with moonshine and Grandma's elixir or some other remedy.

First, there is no chigger under your skin. The juvenile, tiny cousin to ticks and spiders bites and secretes saliva and that's what your skin reacts with, causing the itch. The saliva breaks down cells the juvenile mite eats. Because they're Satan's little handmaidens, they also create an itchy welt that can bother you for weeks. I've tried everything from the oatmeal baths to fingernail polish, but the best thing I've used is Chigarid. If I get into a mess of chiggers, a dose of Benadryl also helps quell the itch.

Ticks are terrible. Reams of print and a gazillion bytes of info have been written about them. They're found pretty much throughout the United States, can give you a handful of different diseases, and even may cause you to become allergic to red meat.

The first time I was bitten by a tick, I was maybe five or six years old. I don't know how many I've pulled off of me since then, including a couple in January and February here in Alabama. That was a couple of years ago when both months were warmer than normal. So I watch out for them all the time. If you want to know how they get on you and suck your blood, watch this video. The way they sit on vegetation waving their evil little clawed legs to snag something is one reason I like to clear paths to blinds and stands. 

GameHide makes some solid clothing with Elimitick repellent in the fabric; they offer lightweight spring and summer togs that help repel ticks and chiggers. It's also available in the Realtree line if you prefer their camo patterns.

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