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.” They have band-aids and alcohol wipes or Neosporin. Some have a small roll of medical tape and maybe even a 4×4 gauze pad. That’s usually the extent of it.
Experienced adventurers will have aspirin, ibuprofen, some type of antacid, maybe even Benadryl, and little more than that. 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 your first-aid kit with all its health and comfort items. What else do you need?
Why You Need a Tourniquet In Your First-aid Kit
Recently I was out west on a hunting trip. We were way out there. On the second evening of the trip, our guide drove us out to a new spot, more than an hour’s drive from the lodge. For the last 30 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 received 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 gunshot wound can be fatal if medical attention is not received immediately. A gunshot 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 immediate 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 difficult to get to initially. Putting a pressure dressing bandage on top of an arterial bleed isn’t going to stem the blood flow.
Why Should I Use A Tourniquet?
Unfortunately, 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 roughly two to three minutes before you bleed to death.
If you apply the “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 or gunshot wound 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 tourniquet, you or the patient has been bleeding for three or four minutes. Your time is up.
Are Tourniquets Safe?
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 in 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. There are numerous companies offering ready-made tourniquets. Visit them at www.narescue.com or www.mymedic.com.