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.