Here we are in the midst of hunting season. Take a moment and try and picture yourself in this situation. There you are hiking along the trail feeling like everything is alright. Snakes and bears are about to go into hibernation so you feel safe. Then, all of a sudden, you hear gun shots and catch the breeze of a hunter’s bullet passing your face just inches off.
Think it couldn’t happen on the trail? Think again. In many states, hunting is permitted along trails through national forest lands, national recreation areas, and on state forests and game lands.
So the best advice that can be given to hikers during hunting season is being in the know about how to protect yourself.
First of all, it's a good idea to wear a bright orange hunters cap or have an orange vest either on your person or hanging in good view off your backpack. You can even get a blaze-orange backpack cover. It's a great idea since your backpack is higher than your body and can be seen for a long way. Some states have requirements, like Pennsyvania, whose law states that all hunters and non-hunters are required to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent orange material on the head, chest and back combined, or a fluorescent orange hat, from Nov. 15–Dec.15 (except on Sundays). The orange material must be visible from all angles (360 degrees). Since dogs are on all fours, it is also a good idea that your hiking dog wears orange as well.
Avoid wearing certain colors that could be mistaken for game as well. Colors such as brown and white during deer and bear season is not a good idea. During turkey season don’t wear red or blue.
Learn the regulations and hunting seasons for the areas where you'll be hiking before you go. Specific dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and also by type of game hunted and weapon used.
Small-game seasons (turkey, rabbit) stretch from fall through the end of May; large-game seasons (deer, bear, and moose) generally occur October through January. Hunting on Sundays is prohibited in some states. It is a good idea to print out hunting info and take it along if you plan on doing a thru hike, a long distance hike or even a section hike during hunting season.
Some states require hunter education classes prior to issuance of licenses, which has led to a significant decrease in hunting-related accidents. But that does not mean that hikers shouldn’t be any more aware of safety during this time. Never take a chance on the trail with your life or the life of a partner.
In late 2002 and early 2003, two Appalachian Trail hikers were shot and seriously injured in separate incidents by hunters who mistook them for deer. Neither hiker was wearing blaze orange, and neither hunter properly identified his target. It’s as much the hunter’s responsibility to identify what they are shooting at prior to firing as it is the hiker’s responsibility to wear bright orange.
Hikers should also be aware that interference or harassment of hunters in the lawful pursuit of game can be a violation of law and that includes dogs that are used in the hunting process as well, so leave the hunters and dogs alone when hiking.
And the old trick to avoid unwanted run-ins with bears works for hunters as well. Make noise, wear a bell and whistle or talk as you hike. Never try and hike as quietly as possible, when you make noise then a hunter and animals such as bears know you are there. When a hunter knows you are there he or she will not shoot if it is a bear he will want to get as far from you as possible.
Above all else, never hike alone. If something happens, you can send for help if you have a partner.