One of the most unsettling things you can hear on a backpacking trip is gunfire, especially during hunting season. I experienced this last month when I was climbing Mt. Greylock on the Appalachian Trail, just outside of North Adams, Massachusetts. It was kind of scary.
The fact of the matter is that hunting is widely permitted on the same lands used by long distance backpackers and hikers across the US. Even if hunting is prohibited on the trail you’re on, it may still be permitted on adjacent lands, so you still need to be vigilant in case hunters don’t know about your trail and unknowingly shoot in your direction.
As a hiker, it is common to feel defenseless in this type of situation, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- If you hike a lot in the same region, find out when the local hunting season is and try to hike in protected areas that prohibit hunting during that time.
- Wear blaze orange. You’ll look like a geek, but it could save your life: a blaze orange hat or backpack cover will make you more visible to hunters who’ve been trained to identify their target before shooting.
- Make noise. Whistle, sing, or shout. You’ll scare away the game and hunters will hear you coming before they see you.
- Don’t interfere with hunters or provoke a confrontation with them. They have as much of a right to use public lands as you do and they are our allies in the preservation of wilderness areas for future generations.
- Use extra caution near road crossings and in valleys where hunters and game tend to congregate.
If you’re shopping for blaze orange wear, the vest shown above is available in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy online store. Amazon also sells a wide selection of very affordable blaze orange hats and caps that can help keep you visible and safe during hunting season.
I wonder if that orange vest would work for deer. Hmmm….
This is a great article. I know what it is like to hunt and bike in areas where hunters frequent, and you are right on about those feelings of "defenselessness" at the sound of a gunshot. These are some great tips. If it is alright with you, I'm going to drop a link to this article on my site. Thanks for a great article, I'm adding you to my blogroll.
I am an avid fly fisher as well as a hiker. I live in the Chicago-area. Most of my outdoor activities occur in WI, MN & No. IA in November & December. During gun deer season I do not frequent anywhere near public hunting lands, even with blaze orange. Many of the trails away from urban centers are closed during deer season. WI harvests about 500,000 deer each sesaon, that's a lot of hunters with high powered guns out there, many of whom are not skilled. Every year sees a lot of hunting "accidents". Read hunter error. The hunters can have their couple of weeks, that leaves 50 for us.
Take a firearms safety class and talk to some hunters. You'll feel a lot more comfortable once you know some hunters and you know that people who use guns typically take safety seriously. It's something you're not going to understand until you have the responsibility of handling one safely yourself. In my neck of the woods small game hunting is legal all year round and there is a free rifle range and a US bombing range. If you're afraid of a couple bangs you'll never go outside.
I have two blaze orange fleece vests and a blaze orange fleece hoodie that become part of my gear when I'm hiking in hunting season. Might as well make it easier for that guy to get me in his sights… "Hey Bubba! The deer are orange this year!"
I'm taking two grandkids backpacking next week. Each of us will have that orange on.
If you hike with dogs, make sure they’re wearing blaze orange too, especially if your dogs are brown colored. I usually hike with two big dogs. One is white and long-haired and is always on a leash with me, so I don’t worry about her much. The other one is a hound and she loves to wander all over the place. I put a bell on her just so I can keep track of her when she’s out of sight, but it also serves to notify hunters that she’s not a bear or a deer or something else they might want to shoot at. They both wear blaze orange scarves during hunting season.
I am an avid Hiker and hunter and always wear orange while in the wilderness during the fall. Most hunters I know are reasonable, sound minded folks that aren’t named “Bubba” or some other name which implies that the individual is an unintelligent hillbilly (attn: grandpa).
There is no reason we can’t share the woods. Also, my state (PA) and some others do not allow hunting on sunday (with the exception of crows)- perhaps that is a good time to be out and not feel that you have to worry so much.
Seriously, you shouldn’t fear what you don’t understand. Hunter’s get a bad reputation for shooting at anything that moves in the woods. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Occasionally there will be accidents, and of course there’s always some assh*le that doesn’t respect firearms or hunting. But the vast majority are good, responsible people. You probably have a greater chance of getting in a car accident on your way to the trail head, than you do getting shot while hiking. Educate yourself. Take a hunter safety class, go to an outdoors store and handle a firearm. Ask about the size and type of ammo that is used, and the likely hood of it traveling through the woods to accidentally strike you. But most importantly talk to a hunter. And for everyone’s sake…leave the political “don’t shoot I’m a hiker” vest at home! You’re only stirring up problems. If you’re seriously concerned about your safety, stick to a standard blaze vest!
I’ll never forget the time we summited Mt. Mansfield in October 2008. As we were descending we started to hear shots being fired in the distance. As we got closer to the Trout Club it was really getting loud. Once we got down, we consulted an atlas of Vermont and realized that we were not all that far from the Underhill Artillery Range. A friend of my was in the VT National Guard and told me they were doing howitzer practice that weekend in preparation for a deployment. I was wearing my usual orange Hawaiian shirt, but it would not have offered me much protection.
It is disconcerting to encounter hunters while peacefully hiking and enjoying nature. When I lived in PA, hiking one day produced 2 hunters in tree stands in trees actually ON the trail (and, of course, not far from their vehicles). Quite disconcerting, for certain, and, while I detest the color orange for wear (sigh), it makes me feel a tad bit more comfortable. Hmm… maybe hanging pots and pans off my backpack would do some good so hunters can hear me and wildlife has a running chance. Would that be considered “interference” to a group that interferes with my enjoyment? Hmmpfh.
Brenda, have you ever considered the group that “interferes” with your enjoyment has the same rights to use the land as you? Entitlement mentality indeed…
The truth is that being involved in a hunting accident is very small. In comparison AS A hunter you are:
11 times more likely to be injured playing volleyball
19 times more likely to be injured snowboarding
25 times more likely to be injured cheerleading or bicycle riding
34 times more likely to be injured playing soccer or skateboarding
105 more times likely to be injured playing football.
Nearly every hunting accident involves the hunter, not someone else.
What are the chances of being injured hiking? Very good particularly on thru hikes and inexperienced hikers.
What are the chances of a hikers/campers fire burning down thousands/millions of acres of wilderness? What damages to hunters cause?
Another fact to consider is that hunters pay to hunt that land, even when on private property. This amounts to MILLIONS of dollars that benefit everyone else that uses public lands whether hiking, camping or whatever.
Fear: People unfamiliar with guns are scared of them just like people that have never been outdoors are scared to hike or camp alone in the woods overnight.
People like Brenda need to educate themselves and have consideration for others.
I am a trained hunter/gun owner who enjoys sport shooting (so please spare us the “you’re afraid of guns” line), and I also really enjoy hiking/back packing/birding/camping. Where I live, it is GOSPEL in the hiking community that you shouldn’t even think of hiking anywhere in the National Forest during hunting season…which effectively means the better months. I can understand the frustration of the hiking community. I like to hike for my birthday–just before Christmas–but end up on some tired and tiny park loop each year.
While I partake of all of these activities, and I am not a big government-interference proponent, I would be willing to accept some sort of rotating schedule to allow for SHARING the precious resource safely.
It is increasingly less safe for more and more people to share the woods during the hunt. Many hunters are wonderful, thoughtful people…but not all. Many hikers and even mountain-bikers (joking) are great folks too, but obviously not all.
I speak, sadly, from experience when I insist that there are plenty of “hunters” who take offence at anyone else daring to be in the woods with them and who are not above behaving in a really menacing way toward unarmed people. And hikers, please at least be aware that your activity does adversely impact the hunt even if you aren’t going out of your way to do so.
I offer for consideration that we might at least study pushing for seasonal scheduling that includes both hunting and non-hunting weeks. Maybe by simply extending hunting seasons durations this could be accomplished to the benefit of all involved?
What about the tarp / tent? Should it be blaze orange too? Or how would one prevent being shot at sunset or sunrise while asleep?
During hunting season, I drape my blaze orange vest over my tent/tarp. Just bought a hammock with a blaze orange overcover too. Can’t be too careful.
Has anyone on here ever thought that the money for conservation efforts that help keep the public land open come primarily from the sell of hunting tags and hunter license fees? I would wager that the average hunter spends as many or more days outdoors than the average hiker; and I KNOW that hunters spend more money on habitat management and conservation than hikers.
So perhaps the fear mongering of “Bubba the hunter” should be tempered by a little bit of thought and appreciation for a fellow outdoorsman (outdoorsperson?) who spends their time and money on a shared resource.
In fact most of the hunters I know are also hikers/campers/backpackers the 9 months of the year or so we are not hunting. A vast part of the enjoyment of hunting is being out in nature and not in killing an animal (perhaps also the reason it is called ‘hunting season’ and not ‘killing season’). I, personally, am out hunting, fishing, and/or camping about 100+ days a year and less than zero of them involve shooting at hiker shaped objects in the brush along hiking trails.
Is it prudent to put on an article of blaze orange clothing (usually a hat is enough as it is the most visible/tallest part of the body in the woods) when in hunting areas during rifle season? Of course. Goes double for animals – I have a brown lab that i both backpack AND hunt with and he doesn’t leave the truck without his blaze orange vest on. But telling people it is necessary to blow a whistle while walking and use an orange hammock to stay safe during hunting season as a hiker is just Fox news style fear mongering. (or MSNBC style fear mongering depending upon your political slant. lol).
We all share the same land and need to be cooperative not devisive about the use of the land we all hold dear.
Also my time afield while hunting feeds my family with a freezer full of organic, free range, antibiotic-free meat; assuming I am successful in the field. So basically I am a paleo-eating hippy who happens to do a portion of my backpacking and hiking while carrying a firearm or a bow. Far from the Bubba da hunter with budweiser in hand killer of all things mammal that is portrayed here.
Congratulations. Hunters are great. I’m still going to take precautions when I go into the woods during hunting season.