BOWHUNTING: Drink Responsibly
by John Solomon
Hunting in elk country has its dangers, but the biggest threat to your health may be the one you can’t see.
When I heard my friend was in the hospital, I went to visit. His eyes were sunken and cheeks narrow, and he was carrying an empty coffee can. When I asked what it was for, he shook his head. “It happens so fast. I don’t want to have an accident again.” After a few minutes of conversation, I learned that he’d been infected with Giardia while backpacking in the mountains.
On the first day of his week‑long backpacking trip, he drank directly from a tiny trickle stream that was so crystal-clear he had no thoughts of it being contaminated. Three days later, he suffered uncontrollable diarrhea and stomach cramps that paralyzed him every few hundred yards as he desperately hiked down the mountain toward his truck. He drove to the nearest hospital, and medical staff immediately plugged IV lines into him to combat the dehydration. He was there for two days. I didn’t want any part of that, and neither do you.
Untreated water has all kinds of nasties—bacteria, protozoa, cysts and viruses. Understanding how to get rid of them is important. Giardia, a parasitic cyst about 1 micron in size (the period at the end of this sentence is about 400-500 times bigger), is one of the most common contaminants. It is transferred through the fecal matter of infected animals and, in many cases, ingested by humans drinking from water sources where these animals have congregated. So how do we get rid of it? To destroy this little nasty and others, you can either kill or filter.
A water-filter strains out all the parasites but cannot get absolutely everything, such as the smallest viruses measured in tenths or hundredths of an inch (this is a minimal issue in most elk country, though). The water is pumped through a filtering device that has layers of microscopic pores to trap contaminants. The choices for a filter are mind‑boggling, so look around for one that fits your budget and hunting style. Many are small plastic cylinders with hand pumps built to handle hundreds of gallons of water. Katadyn makes a squeeze bottle with a built-in filter called the Exstream—perfect for fast‑moving hunters. You just scoop up clear water in the bottle, twist on the filter-equipped top with built-in drinking nozzle, and sip. Aquamira makes an emergency filter called the Frontier, which is basically a filter built into a long straw. It fits in the palm of your hand and weighs a couple ounces. It can filter up to 30 gallons of water, and makes an excellent survival kit item.
For hunters looking for fewer contraptions to fiddle with, you can always kill the organisms by using Micropur tablets from Katadyn, which are chemical additives that take about 30 minutes to kill the bugs. They’re very effective, but might not be the best choice to treat a lot of water in a little amount of time. Consider them for a survival kit. SteriPen makes several small, hand-held units that use UV light to kill the bugs. Battery-driven, they work best in clear water. Iodine tabs are an age-old remedy but ruin the taste of some of the sweetest water on Earth. And don’t forget boiling. Heat levels lower than boiling kill most contaminants, but seeing the bubbles tells you it has reached a temperature that will kill absolutely everything. Let it boil for a few minutes to be confident. Of course, let it cool before filling a water bottle.
As a rule, treat all water before drinking it. There will be times where you find a spring and water is bubbling out of the ground. Sure, you are at the source, but can you see the giardia? Why risk ruining your hunt with a trip to the ER.