6 tips for hiking safely in hunting season
You see it in the parking lots.
Visit almost any public land at this time of year. The jumping off points for outdoor exploration that often were empty, or close to it, during the muggiest, buggiest days of late summer suddenly are busy.
And with good reason.
The splendors of autumn draw lots of people to the woods. There’s the crisp air, the colorful leaves, the suddenly cool and sparkling water, the wildlife bustling about in preparation for winter.
Some of those out wandering are hikers. Others are hunters.
Both can coexist safely.
The chances of being involved in a hunting accident — from whichever side of the bow or firearm you’re on — are slimmer than ever these days. Indeed, any injuries connected to a day roaming the forest are most likely to be suffered on the drive there or back.
Still, it pays to be smart.
Hunters wear bright orange — or, in some states, pink — clothing to make themselves visible to one another. So it’s not a bad idea at this time of year for hikers to do the same.
That doesn’t have to mean looking like a pumpkin among the trees, necessarily.
But wearing an orange hat or vest is just smart.
There are some other things hikers can do to stay safe while roaming through fall, too. Here are six tips to keep in mind.
1. Be extra careful early and late
Dawn and dusk are when wildlife, and the hunters pursuing it, is most active. That’s also when visibility is at its lowest.
So in addition to wearing bright clothing, it’s not a bad idea to carry a flashlight or headlamp if you’re going into or coming out of the woods then.
2. Check your maps
Portions of some public lands — think state parks — are closed to hunting. So, too, are some federal lands, like battlefields and military parks or city parks. Many offer trails. Hit them if you want to avoid hunters altogether.
3. Make yourself heard
If hiking with others, talk while walking. If going solo, consider singing or whistling.
4. Stay on the trail
Hunters generally avoid hunting right alongside paths getting lots of human traffic.
Stick to one of those, and the chances of encountering a sportsman or woman diminish considerably.
5. Know the seasons
You don’t plan to hunt? That’s OK. But if you know when others do, you can work around their schedule as you please.
Statewide firearms deer seasons, for example, draw the biggest crowds, almost regardless of where you are. Check with your state wildlife agency to find out when seasons are in, and you’ll have a handle on when competition for space is at a premium.
6. Remember your pets
If you take your dog hiking with you, consider keeping it on a leash. If not, at least give it an orange vest or put a brightly colored handkerchief on its collar.
Most importantly, remember there’s room for everyone in the woods.
Hunters, through safety education training, are taught to be responsible for their actions in the woods. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy says hikers need to respect their right to share open spaces, pointing out it’s wrong, not to mention illegal, to harass legal hunters.
“Sportsmen are our partners in conservation, and encounters between hunters and hikers are opportunities to raise the awareness of both groups,” it notes.
Indeed, hikers and hunters have more in common than not, given their love for wild places and wild things. It’s in everyone’s best interests to get along.