Avoiding ticks while hunting can help you stay clear of tick-borne diseases and illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Colorado Tick Fever.
I just recovered from Colorado Tick Fever (CTF). Which is why I feel compelled to write this article to help generate awareness around tick-borne illnesses that hunters and outdoorsmen can contract. It started on a pleasant Sunday afternoon fly fishing with my father in southwest Colorado. We broke for lunch in a stand of pine trees to escape the sun bearing down on us. I ate my sandwich propped back against the trunk of a ponderosa without giving a second’s consideration to the insect life around me (I notice the flowers, birds, and mammals like most of us, and since it was a fishing day, I kept an eye on the back of an eddie, hoping to see fish rising).
We quit fishing mid afternoon and headed back to town. Dad left early the next morning for home in Alabama and I proceeded to go about my day by getting ready for work. I began dressing after a quick shower when I noticed an odd “freckle” on my chest. It only took about a second to realize it was a tick, which had done a good job of burrowing its ugly little head into my skin. I was able to get the tick, head and body intact, out with a quick pull, flushed it down the toilet and didn’t give it another moment’s thought. Until a few days later…
I found the tick in my chest on Monday morning. By Thursday at noon I thought I was coming down with the flu. The symptoms got worse that afternoon and throughout the night. By the wee hours of Friday morning even getting out of bed was a struggle.
I waited six days before consulting a doctor where blood tests came back positive for CTF. My white blood cell count was incredibly low and rendered me physically useless for another week. I ate ibuprofen like candy to ward off the back pains and headaches. Needless to say, Colorado Tick Fever really knocked me on my rear end. I’m going to do my dangdest to never allow a tick to bite me again.
Avoiding Ticks While Hunting
I couldn’t imagine getting sick in the backcountry rather than in the comfort of my own home. That’s why I think we need to be, as a hunting and outdoor community, more aware of the dangers such a small insect can cause. Avoiding ticks while hunting can help you stay clear of tick-borne diseases and illnesses like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Colorado Tick Fever, and Alpha-gal Syndrome (AGS), which causes the host to develop an allergy to red meat.
Treat Your Clothes & Gear
Right after the doctor called with my diagnosis, I ordered a bottle of insect repellent, containing permethrin, from Sawyer Products. This is a treatment to be applied before wearing clothes or using gear. You’ll want to lay out all garments and gear in an outdoor area, treat them according to directions, and let them sit for a couple hours. This is some serious stuff that you don’t want to ingest or even touch.
But it works. In fact, it also repels mosquitos and the various diseases they carry. Perhaps the best part is that since the spray is a molecule-based application, it will hold onto your clothes and gear for a minimum of 42 days, so you’re not having to re-treat every time you go outside.
Avoid Tick-Heavy Areas
According to the CDC, we can avoid ticks by staying away from woody and brushy areas where populations thrive. Stay on trails, they say. While this is a good tip for a simple day hike, it’s not something the backcountry hunter will adhere to. So, instead, think about where you break for lunch or even set up. Contact with ticks is inevitable, but if you’ve treated your clothing and check yourself regularly, there shouldn’t be an issue.
Check Yourself Regularly
Make regular stops throughout the day to check yourself. Like in my case, ticks may look like a freckle, so scrutinize each one closely. Not to sound overly gross - inspect every crevice of your body.
If you have a dog, check it regularly as well. And most importantly, watch out for ticks when cleaning a big game animal. While we treat our pets for ticks and fleas, elk and deer are tick magnets.
Having CTF was a rough experience. The only cure is time. And often it comes in two waves though I’ve yet to experience the second. However, I couldn’t imagine Alpha-gal Syndrome and never being able to eat red meat again. Most hunters are meatatarians. So this summer as you’re scouting and in the fall when it’s go time, make sure you properly treat your clothes and check yourselves for ticks. We want you to have an enjoyable backcountry experience void of some illness caused by these nasty little critters.