Turkey hunters are always told of how potentially dangerous turkey hunting can be because we’re in the woods, camouflaged from the tops of our heads to the tips of our fingers and toes and are carrying shotguns.
We’re told to keep our focus and, before ever pulling a trigger, to pay attention to what’s in the area directly behind the turkey for fear another hunter may be in the path of the shot.
Although all of that makes good sense, but it is extremely rare to be shot by a hunter. The biggest danger hunters face is much smaller.
Several years back, I was turkey hunting near Lake Greenwood with a group of outdoor writers. We had planned the trip to be for a couple of days but Jim Casada had to return to Rock Hill after the first morning’s hunt.
He hung around for as long as he could, then tossed his gear in the car and drove away wearing the clothes he hunted in all day.
A few hours later, he called with a warning. “Make sure you check yourselves really well,” he said.
When he returned home, he discovered he was covered in ticks — more than 20 of them.
I still shudder at the thought of it.
Few of us have a good understanding of these tiny, eight-legged creatures and how they operate in nature.
No, they don’t jump onto you from the trees. They also don’t catch a ride on the breeze, allowing the wind to carry them onto a potential host. They just crawl.
Ticks are able to sense a warm-blooded creature from a distance. They either wait for the host to pass by, brushing against them in the process, or walk close enough that they can crawl onto them.
Once they’ve reached their prey, they may climb anywhere onto the body as they look for the perfect site to bury their barbed mouths into the skin. Then they gorge themselves on the donor’s blood until they have swollen to more than 10 times the normal size.
A host never even feels the bite because ticks have neurotoxins in their saliva which deaden the area and make their gnawing unnoticeable.
The problem with these rascals is not that they’re little vampires looking to suck the life out of us, but that they can carry diseases.
Most everyone has heard of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease, but those aren’t the only ones. Others include Tularemia, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Southern Tick Rash and Tick-borne relapsing fever.
Although these bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, the key to knocking them out with no long-term effects is early diagnosis. And that’s difficult, since symptoms don’t typically show up for weeks or months.
Complicating things even further is that symptoms of most of these tick-borne conditions are the same — chills, fever, muscle aches and other flu-like symptoms along with a rash.
How can we protect ourselves from such a small enemy? A little common sense can go a long way. Consider these tips from the National Wild Turkey Federation the next time you’re venturing outdoors even if it’s just to pick a few vegetables from your garden.
• Use insect repellant with at least a 20 percent concentration of DEET. Natural deterrents, such as those containing citronella, do work to some degree, but must be re-applied every half hour or so.
• Look for hunting clothing made with Permethrin, a tick repellent.
• Tuck your pants into your socks or wear gaiters. Hunters should wear tall boots with their pants tucked into them.
• When working in the yard or garden, wear light-colored long sleeves and pants so that ticks are more easily seen as they crawl onto you.
• Avoid brushing against high grasses, bushes and other tall vegetation and walk in the center of trails.
• If looking for a place to sit, such as in a hunting situation, look for a large rock as opposed to sitting on logs.
• Keep your yard mowed and free of leaf piles, an area that ticks love because the piles hold a lot of moisture.
• Keep play areas around the home free of vegetation.
• Do a good tick check on yourself after outdoor activities. If possible, have a family member check you. Pay particular attention to under arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, the backs of the knees, the waist and groin area and anywhere there is hair.
• Shower immediately upon coming in.
• After washing your hunting clothes, work clothes or other outdoor clothing, dry them on high heat.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his website at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BharveyOutdoors.