Hiking and hunting are two vastly different hobbies. The thing they have in common is the public lands that are an ideal playground for both activities.
It often comes up as a subject of debate: Can hunters and hikers coexist and enjoy their favorite outdoor activity in the same place at the same time?
We believe they can. The issue is a little more in-depth than some make it out to be, and we wanted to provide some safety tips for both parties to make sure we can all share the woods equally this time of year.
What are the odds of an accident?
I've read online comments from many a hiker who was concerned about "getting shot" while out backpacking in their favorite nature area during hunting season. I just want to assure the non-hunters out there that most of us aren't the way we're portrayed in the movies. We're not out there just blasting away at anything that moves!
Responsible hunters take the time to identify their target properly and determine what is behind it before they take the shot. Are there a few idiots out there? Sure, but that's true for any outdoor activity. And your odds of running into one of them are slim.
Estimates on hunting accidents in the United States each year are around 1,000 accidents and close to 75 deaths. Considering the fact there are around six million car accidents in this country each year, around 40,000 of them fatal, you're much more likely to get injured on your drive to the trailhead!
And often, once you start diving into the circumstances behind many of this incidents, you'll find that the authorities say they were entirely avoidable.
Hikers, take proper precautions
One mistake I hear again and again is hikers only taking precautions during deer season or more specifically, during rifle season. While it is true that this is when you'll have the most hunters in the woods, the fact is, there is almost ALWAYS something in season.
I highly recommend hikers reading up on their state's hunting regulations. It may be surprising to discover they've already been hiking during bird or small game seasons for years now.
Does this mean they should quit hiking during hunting season? Absolutely not, but it is worth educating yourself on every possible date hunters will be in the woods.
As soon as the seasons start, that is the time hikers should be wearing bright colors. We highly recommend blaze orange, mainly because that is what most hunters are conditioned to look for. An orange vest is always preferable to simply donning an orange hat. If you're going to be lugging a large backpack, consider a bright pack cover too.
You don't necessarily have to wear orange, but if you're not going to wear that color, wear something else that stands out. Avoid earth tones that can blend in, or colors that resemble local game animals.
Consider a bright, fluorescent yellow, like you might see on a construction worker's safety vest. Another option is blaze pink. This color isn't legal for hunters to use in all areas, but there's no laws restricting what hikers can wear. Trust me, you'll definitely stand out in the woods wearing that!
Remember, you're not just trying to avoid appearing like game animals, but you also want to stand out from the background. Just in case you happen to unknowingly walk behind a game animal, a hunter is targeting. Too many accidents happen simply because the hunter couldn't see the person standing behind the game animal they were shooting at.
Where hunters are most likely to be found
For the hikers out there, figuring out where the hunters are going to be set up is easy. For most State Parks, State Forests and National Forests, the most popular hunting areas will be obvious from the vehicles parked on the roads as you drive to the trailhead.
If you see multiple pickup trucks with big game hunting stickers plastered over the back windows, it's a good sign to be cautious. Sometimes, it's just observing the little things that makes all the difference.
Educate yourself on the type of hunting done in your area so you can more easily identify where the hunters will be. Are you in the Midwest? Odds are, most hunters are going to be perched up in a treestand, usually within a mile of the nearest road.
Like to hike in the Colorado Rockies? The hunters here are probably on foot, spotting and stalking huge elk over miles of rough terrain. These hunters may be found as far as 10-15 miles back into the backcountry.
If you're unsure of anything, talk to a park ranger or call a local conservation officer. Most will be more than happy to give you some pointers specific to your area.
Other tips for hikers
Hunters won't always be wearing blaze orange. During bow season or when turkey hunting, they're going to be covered up from head to toe in full camo and you might not see them until you're right on top of them.
If this happens, don't panic. Just make sure to signal some sort of acknowledgement that you see the hunter, and then try to move out of the area as quickly and as respectfully as you can.
We recommend sticking to the designated hiking trails during hunting season. Responsible hunters aren't about to set up on an established trail, especially for something like deer hunting. We're not saying you can't go off-trail, but keep in mind that's where most hunters will be. And most of them have been waiting all year for the few limited weeks the seasons give us.
It's not too much to ask that hikers respect the fact that our time here is valuable and often extremely limited. Anything you can do to avoid walking through our bowhunting spot is greatly appreciated!
There's one more courteous thing to consider. Adjusting your destination and finding places where hunting isn't allowed doesn't automatically mean it's a hassle or a drawback. Hunting season is the ideal time to tackle those hikes in areas off limits to hunting like National Parks or certain wildlife refuges. This way you're not intruding on the hunters, you don't have to worry as much about safety, and you're discovering new places to explore.
Tips for hunters
During the appropriate seasons, make sure you also wear blaze orange so hikers can see and avoid you. If a hiker walks up on you but doesn't see you, there is no reason to get bent out of shape about it. Simply wave or flash a headlamp to let them know you are there. Most will quietly acknowledge their mistake and move out of the area.
When hunting in a hiking area, don't rush your shots. Try to set up to avoid shooting towards designated hiking trails. Make sure you carefully check your surroundings for hikers and fully identify your target before you shoot. You know, basic hunter safety stuff.
If you encounter hikers on the road or trailhead that aren't properly prepared, don't chastise them for it. Sometimes hikers might not even realize hunting is legal in their favorite spot. A simple, gentle reminder that it's hunting season and a bright orange vest, hat or bandana is sometimes all it takes.
Hunters and hikers should be allies
I've seen some hunters make disparaging remarks online about hikers. Namely, it's the old "they don't buy hunting licenses to help pay for conservation," argument. Look, that needs to stop. There are plenty of ways to enjoy outdoor adventure beyond hunting.
Remember that hikers do have to pay the same fees for entrance to your favorite state park or national forest, so yes, they are helping contribute to the preservation of our natural areas, especially when they pay for special permits for hikes in sensitive areas. Let's not get in petty quarrels just because one person's idea of outdoor entertainment isn't the same as yours.
I've noticed many hikers also make it a point to pick up garbage and help keep these natural areas clean. That's great! Let's follow their example and do the same.
A little common sense and a little common courtesy is all it takes for both parties to enjoy the beautiful natural areas we all know and love so much.