Ticks are a common problem that most hunters will encounter at some point since we spend so much time in the woods scouting, prepping for season, and actually hunting. While most tick-borne diseases occur in the summer months, ticks can still be active into the fall or year-round in warmer climates.
Tick-borne diseases are no joke either! According to the CDC, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC by state health departments and the District of Columbia; this does not reflect every case of Lyme disease that is diagnosed in the United States every year. However, it is estimated that more than 300,000 people get Lyme disease each year. Additionally, there are many other tick-borne diseases, including anaplasmosis/ehrlichiosis, spotted fever rickettsiosis (including Rocky Mountain spotted fever), babesiosis, tularemia, and the Powassan virus.
Unfortunately, it’s unclear exactly why the number of cases continues to rise, but there are a number of factors that can impact tick populations, including temperature, rainfall, humidity, and host populations such as mice, deer, etc.
The moral of the story – you need to protect yourself! Below are 5 tips to help keep you tick-free in the woods.
1) Treat Your Clothing and Gear
Products with 0.5% permethrin work well for preventing ticks. Although you can’t use it on your skin, you can treat your clothes and gear, such as pants, boots, backpacks, ground blinds, and camping gear. It typically stays effective for about 6 washes, so you’ll need to reapply occasionally. Be sure to read and follow all directions before using.
2) Protect Your Skin
Use EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-methane diol, or 2-undecanoate. Tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks or boots to help prevent ticks from crawling inside your clothing. Wear a hat to help prevent them from getting in your hair, and if you have long hair, pull it up into a bun or tuck it under your hat so it’s not swinging or exposed.
3) Prep the Landscape
Ticks live in areas such as leaf piles, shrubs, and ground cover. They don’t jump or fly, so they just hang out and wait for an unsuspecting passerby to brush up against whatever they’re on. During your hunt prep, clear a path to your stand or blind by removing hanging branches, thick and overgrown brush, or old leaves. Not only does this make getting to your spot easier, but it helps you prevent coming into contact with tick habitat areas.
4) Wear Gloves When Touching Game
While most tick-borne diseases are spread through the bite of an infected tick, the bacteria that causes tularemia can be spread through bites or during contact with infected animals or their carcasses. Gloves should be worn when field dressing, cleaning, skinning, and processing game to prevent exposure.
5) Check Yourself
Once you return from the woods, shower immediately and inspect your body. The most common areas are in your hair, in and around your ears, under the arms, in the belly button, around the waist, between the legs, and behind the knees. Wash clothes in hot water or put them in the dryer first before washing them (water alone will not kill ticks, but the heat will). In addition to yourself, if you’ve been in the woods with your dog, give them a check too—not only to prevent them from carrying ticks into the vehicle or home but for their safety and health as well.
Illnesses from tick-borne diseases can range from mild to deadly. Once you return home, contact your doctor if you develop a fever, rash, or flu-like symptoms. Be sure to mention to your doctor that you’ve been outdoors and exposed to tick-prone areas.
Sarah Honadel is an avid outdoorswoman from Kentucky, now living in Idaho, who enjoys hunting elk, deer, turkey, pronghorn, and waterfowl. She is a team member at Huntress View, Pro Staff for Browning Trail Cameras, and Brand Ambassador for the GoWild app. Follow her on Instagram @sarah.honadel.outdoors and @arrowridgecreations.