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Hunting Series: Deer Retrieval

In the final installment of the hunting series for this season, I wanted to talk about the last aspect of the hunt, bringing the deer out of the field. Common methods of retrieval among hunters include manual dragging, utilizing the animal's legs or antlers to bring the animal out of the woods. Another common method is towing, utilizing a harness around the hunter’s torso with additional straps attached to the previously mentioned portions of the animal. Fountaine and Evenson attempted to compare the above two retrieval methods and their toll on the hunter’s body in their 2016 article. What they found may not surprise too many experienced hunters, and provide some valuable insight into what method you utilize during your next successful hunt.

The researchers had each participant complete an exercise test in order to get baseline cardiovascular measurements. The next day, they had each participant perform both dragging (figure 2) and towing (figure 1) of a simulated 99lb deer carcass on level ground over 500 yards. Each participant received a break between sessions. What they found was that the harness towing scenario demonstrated significantly less cardiovascular stress in the form of peak oxygen uptake, peak heart rate, and perceived effort when compared to the dragging method. A contributing factor for the difference was the impact of isometric exercise on the cardiovascular response called, exercise pressor reflex. This reflex results in increased cardiovascular demands in the presence of static exercises, such as the bent-over posture during the dragging scenario. The towing allowed increased arm movement which allowed for lower cardiovascular demands and reduced perceived effort.

With the results of this study in mind, it presents some considerations for hunters. Our health can impact our ability to hunt and enjoy the outdoors. In past reports, isometric activities such as hunting, snow shoveling, and weight-lifting have been found to be associated with a higher risk of a cardiac event. This is not meant to instill fear, but to highlight an area of hunting that all hunters can do better in preparing their fitness. For those hunters who have cardiovascular disease, switching methods may provide an easier retrieval with less stress on the heart. If you are concerned with any aspect of your fitness, please consult your doctor first. From there, an exercise program from a licensed exercise professional can be prescribed to help increase fitness to increase your ability to bring your harvest home.

I want to hear from you. What method do you use? Do you train your cardiovascular endurance before hunting season?


1. Fountaine, C. J., & Evenson, M. J. (2015). Cardiovascular Demands of Deer Retrieval Methods. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 26(2), 216–220.

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