Most every hunter has a First Aid kit. The contents of that kit will vary depending on the individual's training and experience. More often than not, the First Aid pack is merely a "Boo Boo kit", to borrow a phrase. Boo Boo Kits have Band-Aids® and alcohol wipes or Neosporin. Some have a small roll of medical tape and maybe even a 4x4 gauze pad. That's usually the extent of it.
Experienced adventurers will have aspirin, ibuprofen, and some type of antacid and maybe even Benadryl® and little more. Regardless, all of the aforementioned items are for minor wounds and comfort, not life-threatening trauma. Yes, Boo Boo kits are important. A nagging headache or an upset stomach can ruin a hunting trip or at very least make it less enjoyable. Cuts and scrapes aren't going to kill you but a nasty infection will again ruin your trip. So, you've got you First Aid kit with all its health and comfort items, what else do you need?
Recently I was out west on a hunting trip. We were out there, I mean way out there. On the second evening of the trip our guide drove us out to a new spot. We were more than an hour's drive away from the lodge. For the last thirty minutes of the trip we didn't encounter another vehicle. Hell, I can't remember seeing a building.
My point is we were well beyond "9-1-1" range. If, God forbid, someone in the party would receive a life-threatening injury the paramedic response time would have been considerable. Hunting is not without its risks. A deep cut, a compound fracture, or a gun shot wound can be fatal if medical attention is not received immediately. A gun shot wound to the chest cavity is beyond the capabilities of nearly any hunter, but what about to the legs or arms?
Simply put, you have major blood vessels running up and down your arms and legs. Should one of these arteries become punctured you will bleed to death in a matter of minutes. That is, if you don't get immediately trauma care.
The fastest and most effective way to stop a major bleed on a limb is to apply a tourniquet. Surface cuts can be addressed with bandages, but a severed artery is pretty difficult to get to, at least initially. Putting a pressure dressing bandage on top of an arterial bleed isn't going to stem the blood flow.
Unfortunately, far too many folks view the tourniquet as a "last resort" only to be used after all other methods have failed. The trouble with this thinking is time or the lack of it. If an artery is severed, indicated by bright red, spurting blood, you must shut off the flow quickly. If the brachial (arm) or femoral (leg) artery is cut or punctured you have somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three minutes before you bleed to death.
If you apply the old, "last resort" thinking to a major bleed you've got a death sentence. Follow me on this. You, or your hunting partner, receive a deep cut, gun shot wound, whatever, to the arm or leg and the blood is bright red and pumping hard. First you apply a large pressure dressing or bandage. That doesn't work so you try direct pressure. The direct pressure doesn't work and you decide you have to do something else. The clock has been running for several minutes. By the time get to the "last resort", a tourniquet, you or the patient has been bleeding for three or four minutes. Guess what? Your time is up.
Most of the fear of tourniquets comes from the assumption that they do more harm than good or that a tourniquet equals amputation. Some folks seem to fear amputation more than they do bleeding to death. The U.S. Army recently completed a three year study of tourniquet use in the Iraqi combat theatre. They found that the proper use of tourniquets dramatically saved the lives of soldiers with traumatic wounds to the arms and legs. Also, they found that patients who reached a hospital/trauma care center within two hours not only survived but did not experience long term damage to the limb. The short answer is this, based upon thousands of battlefield uses of tourniquets lives were saved and amputations were few and far between.
No the battlefield and hunting field are not the same, but blood is blood and dead is dead. Bleeding to death is Iraq is no different than bleeding to death in Montana. The bottom line is that tourniquets are readily available, relatively inexpensive and they can save your life.
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Paul Markel © 2013
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