Hunters: Beware Of Ticks

by Stuart Spitz

Hunters seem, at times, ignorant of the possibility of being bitten by a tick. It's long past time to seriously consider the ramifications of not being aware of what a tick can do to a human being. I know. After having lived in the middle of a national forest for 15 years, my wife and I have both been bitten by ticks. Albeit, we knew what to do and came out of the situation without problems. Lots of people don't -- and that goes for hunters, too.

There are over 800 types of ticks -- so this article will not dwell on any particular "type" of tick, or the stages of tick maturation. Ticks are arachnids -- the same family as spiders and scorpions.

Ticks feed on the blood of mammals -- that includes dogs, deer, bears, and people. The old saw about not having to be concerned about ticks during the winter is just that -- an old saw. There are ticks that survive the worst that nature can provide; and while surely not as active in cold weather, some can still inflict their bite. So here are just a FEW quick, easy, and simple preventive steps that you can take to avoid being bitten --and if you are, some suggestions on what to do, and when.

Mature ticks generally are small ­ 1/8 of an inch to 3/8 of an inch, plus or minus -- but those are not hard and fast rules. They're tough to spot. They range in color from reddish brown to other shades of brown to black ­ tan -- whatever. They are VERY efficient feeders, and they feed slowly. They can stay on a victim for days, and then when "full," simply drop off. Their bite will not alert you as they have "jaws" or "pincers" if you will, that once embedded, are extremely difficult to dislodge.

First off ­ if you're in a state like Wisconsin, tick populations can border on epidemic proportions -- and that is no exaggeration. Ticks usually hang out on brush, tall grasses, weeds and shrubs -- usually not much on trees. Ticks do not fly. They wait, pincers waving, for a potential meal to brush against the shrub or tall grass, and the tick will attach itself as the mammal moves by.

It's that simple. Indeed, deer hunters in particular should be aware that their quarry (the deer) will often be infested with ticks -- and not only deer, but rabbits, your hunting dogs, a bear -- and YOU are tick food!

Ticks are "equal opportunity feeders."

*Wear protective clothing whenever you go out into nature ­ and that includes "citified nature," too. These days, ticks can be found in city parks as well as in wilderness areas. Wear long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, boots or sturdy shoes, and head coverings. Some say it's easier to spot ticks if you wear light-colored clothing. Tuck your trousers into your socks. You can also tape the area where trousers and socks meet. And please no "snickers" -- Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to name just two tick-borne diseases are no laughing matters.

Apply DEET to your clothing, AND CAREFULLY to your skin areas -- watch your eyes and other sensitive areas. Never spray DEET directly onto skin areas. Put some on your hands and rub your face and open skin areas. Wash yourself thoroughly when you come in. Don't overdo on DEET -- and if you're the least bit sensitive skin-wise, consult with your doctor before you use it. DEET is a very strong repellent and should be used with caution.

Another defense is to wear clothing that is infused with permethrin right in the fabric. Not harmful to humans, but deterrent to ticks, mosquitoes, etc. Buzz-Off® is the name of the most well-known product line (pants, shirts, neckerchiefs, hats, socks, etc.)

Walk in the center of trails, staying away from the tall grasses on the edges of the trail. Remember, ticks will also be on the ground, so if you sit on a forest floor for instance, any number of "little neighbors" might find you an opportune host for dinner.

When you come in, check yourself and whomever you're with carefully! Include behind ears, orifices, hair -- anywhere on your body. Have someone else check your back and neck and hair, places that you can't see.

If you spot a tick on your clothing, don't panic. Brush it off, or have some tape with you, and "tape" the little bugger. Then scrunch it, not with your bare hands! And by the way, ticks do not "scrunch easily!" They're tough as nails ­ literally, and you'd better be darn sure you crush them thoroughly with a hard base to do it on, so that they don't surprise you by crawling around again.

*Remove an attached tick promptly. The mouthparts of a tick are barbed and if you just "pull" on the tick, those barbs can remain embedded in your body, and they contain disease which will lead to infection -- even if you thought you got it. Don't use your hands. Use a tweezers, or better yet, a "reverse" tick-removal device that pries the pincers apart, and be very careful that you get it all -- especially those embedded barbs. I had a doctor TRY to remove an embedded tick from my abdomen ­ and he failed miserably. I ended up doing it myself. Don't ever "jerk" the tick. Put the tweezers as close to your skin as possible, and gently, but firmly pull it STRAIGHT OUT. Don't squeeze it. If you don't have a tweezers, use a piece of cloth or tissue, as long as it's a barrier between your hands and the tick. Then, once removed, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and apply an antiseptic to the bite area.

In the end, if you do get a fever, or spot the telltale "red bulls eye" somewhere on your body, get hold of a doctor QUICK! I became very ill, went to the doctor, and they gave me an antibiotic. When I got home, my wife noticed the telltale "bullseye" on my leg, so we knew it was a tick bite. We called the doctor, got a specific prescription for an antibiotic, and that was that. I took the antibiotic for one week, and nothing residual happened. Not the case with my daughter who didn't discover she had been bitten until Lyme Disease symptoms kicked in months afterwards; and now, twenty years later, she still suffers from some residuals. Beware! Symptoms of Lyme Disease can last a lifetime -- and that's solid fact.

If you want to identify the type of tick that bit you, put it in alcohol or soapy water at first, to kill it, and then ship it off to your state or local public health facility. They'll "type it," but DON'T WAIT to get treatment ­ do that immediately, whether the tick transmits disease (some do -- some don't) or not. Don't take any chances. By the way, I deliberately did not state which antibiotic I was given, as different types are used. There are a couple of very common antibiotics which are effective, so consult your doctor.

By the way, Lyme Disease is often MIS-DIAGNOSED, and that can be disastrous. If you think, or have a reasonable certainty, that you've been bitten by a tick, and some medical person tells you it's something else, like arthritis or your imagination, get a SECOND OPINION from a medical source that specializes in tick bites.

If you really "like" ticks, by all means go the Annual Woodtick Races, held every spring in Oxbo, Wisconsin. They have tick races all day, with the losers being shmushed, and the winner -- if he/she is lucky -- is let go to feast on another hapless mammal. It's been held for years and attracts mega crowds. It's about the only time I laughed when I encountered ticks. And the beer and burgers "ain't bad," either.

I could go on for "years" speaking about ticks. Take what I've written here seriously, and if you have any further questions go to a public health source. Ticks shouldn't be taken lightly. Remember that the next time you head out to any open "natural area" -- particularly when you're in the woods hunting.

Related Article:  How To Avoid Ticks While Hunting




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Outdoor writer and hunter Naomi ShapiroNaomi K. Shapiro and Stuart Spitz write about hunting, fishing, nature, outdoors and travel for a variety of media. They lived on a lake in the middle of the Chequamegon National Forest in Northern Wisconsin for fifteen years (where the elk were reintroduced; a number of wolf packs exist; and that has the largest-per-acre black bear population in North America).