Erratic heart beat endangers deer hunt

Or maybe it’s the other way around. Studies have shown that the sight of a big buck can send your blood pressure and pulse skyrocketing. Actually, that might be just the remedy for my problem, an erratic and often too-slow heartbeat.

After passing out in a Gardiner restaurant on the Friday night before opening day of the firearms season on deer, I was carted to the Augusta hospital in an ambulance and captured in the cardiac unit there for the weekend. I argued strenuously, in the ambulance before it left Gardiner, that I felt much better and didn’t want to go to the hospital. They called my wife Linda in, showed me my EKG, and that was that. Off to the hospital we went.

For the first time in 53 years, I missed opening day. Even worse, that Sunday I was supposed to fly to North Dakota for my annual pheasant hunting trip. The guys are back now, had a terrific time, but were kind enough to say they missed me.

On Sunday the hospital cardiologist said I have sick sinus syndrome, would probably need a pacemaker, and should see my cardiologist and primary care physician the following week.

I made an appointment with each, one on Tuesday, one on Friday, and made my plans to hunt on Monday. Alas, going down to the basement of our home on Monday morning, I smelled sewerage. Never a good thing. The pipe, just outside the basement wall, had split. It took me most of that day to deal with the problem.

Tuesday morning, I got rained out. But the appointment that afternoon with Dr. Kane, my primary care doc, was reassuring. I was not in danger of heart attack or stroke. Ok to go hunting.

So, finally, on Wednesday, I got into the woods with Dad. It’s a real privilege to be hunting with him for the 53rd year. Didn’t see anything that morning, but seemed to appreciate the hunt more than I ever have.

Late that afternoon, in my favorite stand, a yearling buck spent 30 minutes feeding around the stand. Wonderful.

Got out again Friday morning with Harry Vanderweide and his adult daughter Amanda, who took up hunting two years ago, much to Harry’s surprise. I transferred my doe permit to Amanda, hoping she’d get her first deer. We didn’t see anything that morning, but they saw six deer in our other favorite spot later that day. I couldn’t join them because of my appointment with my cardiologist, Dr. Lesley West.

Dr. West is awesome. She’s been with me since a stent was placed in a clogged artery in 2004. That was the year of the bear referendum, and a friend noted that I seem to have these heart problems every time there is a bear referendum. Let’s hope the 2014 referendum is the last one!

Dr. West was reassuring, and will place a chip in my chest next week to monitor fainting episodes or abnormalities in my heartbeat. Eventually, I may need a pacemaker, because my spark plug is aging and not firing as well as it should.

Feeling a whole lot better, I slept late on Saturday and got to our hunting spot too late, after Harry and Amanda had already moved on. But I decided to stay, and enjoyed a leisurely walk around this woodlot of a farmer who allows us to hunt there. Sitting high on a ridge along his back line, I watched six deer slowly walk through an opening. Two does walked into my scope, before I noticed a bigger deer coming along behind them. He was ambling along in a thicket, and I could not see his head, but I figured he was the six pointer that has been hanging with these does all week.

Even if I’d been able to confirm that, it was too long a shot, especially free hand, for me. And too early in the season to shoot a deer. And I’m focused on the big buck I know is here – I saw him twice while turkey hunting.

Don’t know if my heart was racing when I spotted those deer, but I didn’t faint. And I had a smile on my face throughout the long hike back to my vehicle at the end of the day. Deer hunting is most definitely good for the heart!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.