Staying clear of COVID-19 while hunting during the upcoming nine-day gun deer season, at first glance, seems to be a collision trail.
Wisconsin’s traditional, late-November deer quest is as much about tradition, absent-from-school, outdoors culture, fresh air, and camaraderie as it is putting meat in freezers and mounts on den walls.
Contrasting coronavirus is about isolation, social distancing and gathering in small groups for fewer than 15 minutes.
Can the two actives mingle without unpleasant, painful symptoms, maybe death? Maybe even lingering, life-long symptoms?
“I don’t believe we need to cancel the gun deer season, but rather consider ways we can participate in these outdoors activities, including deer hunting, in a very safe way,” said Dr. Jeffrey Pothof, UW Health’s Chief Quality Officer. He is on the med flight team, and a physician in the Emergency Department at UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
He’s also a Wisconsin deer hunter who grew up in Randolph.
Recent changes and developments in Wisconsin’s hunting regulations allow accomplishing many tasks in private, including ordering supplies, purchasing licenses, registering deer and filling out paperwork electronically.
“If the hunter chooses to do some of these activities in person, that presents a slightly increased risk, but not any that needs to be too great. Spending five minutes in a store, if you’re masked and the person behind the counter is masked, makes for a reasonably safe scenario,” Dr. Pothof said.
Home processing reduces the risk, too, but going to a shop to drop off deer, most commonly outside, can be safe if the hunter and clerk are masked, according to Pothof.
But there are things hunters may do that will put them at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, including traveling long distances to hunt and then crowding into close quarters with six or more fellow hunters.
“There are two additional risks associated here,” Pothof believes. “If we hunt in groups or with buddies who are not otherwise in our bubble, we’re assuming any risk that anyone has taken on, so we need to be more careful, socially-distance, and wear a mask when with those buddies.”
Riding in a vehicle for more than 15-20 minutes, we are assuming all the risks others have assumed. If a person has COVID-19 and doesn’t know it, a long ride means the chances contracting the virus are really high. You might as well assume you’re going to get it, Pothof believes.
“The ‘lone wolf hunter’ is at an advantage to remain clear of the virus,” Pothof said. “But Wisconsin has this rich deer hunting culture, which includes spending time with others. All these people getting together create a scenario health professionals would have a really hard time recommending right now.”
Dr. Pothof cited an example of a group of Colorado elk hunters, which would be similar to some Wisconsin deer camps. One of the hunters brought in the virus and the entire camp got sick.
Symptoms may not show up while hunting, but can 3-5 days later when the hunters go back to their job, family and coworkers.
Pothof recommends camp hunters, and others, too, watch for symptoms one might ordinarily shove aside as flu, allergies, a cold or being run down and tired.
“Get tested 3-5 days after returning, but that can be tricky because not everyone has easy access to testing,” he said. “Just don’t overlook any symptoms that might be indicators.”