Hike in your brightest this hunting season
By Rob Burbank
My dear departed canine hiking companion, Buck, was always eager to hit the trail at any moment. The weather and the season made no difference to him. There were new miles to cover, new sights to see, and new smells to smell. "All right! Let's go!" his eyes would seem to say when he'd see me shoulder my day pack and head toward the door.
And so it was with no hesitation at all that Buck, a black Labrador retriever cross, would allow us to dress him in appropriate attire when our destination was the woods during hunting season. I don't think he knew the costume was a brightly-colored attempt to keep his shiny, black coat and four furry legs from too closely resembling those of wild game. Whether he understood the purpose or not, he would calmly step into his hunting season T-shirt, front legs through the arm holes, head where the head was intended to go. The ritual would get him even more excited than usual. The T-shirt, you see, was invariably bright — usually a vibrant orange; on occasion, a vivid, hot-pink number.
We got some strange looks on the trail (both he and I), but no one ever mistook my pooch for a bear or a deer.
And that's the point when hiking in the fall. It's hunting season, and it's important to be visible in the woods. There's no better way than by wearing blaze orange — the color worn by virtually all hunters, and the color which excites the visual spectrum to such a degree that you pretty much have to stick your head in a bucket to miss it.
Each year we at the AMC get questions about hiking during hunting season. Many people, especially those unfamiliar with the traditions of hunting, are fearful of venturing into the woods during hunting season.
Caution is certainly advisable, but fear isn't necessary, if you think about where you're going and you prepare properly for your trip. The best form of preparation is in the clothing you wear and the places you choose to go.
I avoid wearing white during hunting season. A flash of white may be mistaken for the white of a deer's tail. Follow the lead of hunters when you dress for a fall hike. Items of blaze-orange clothing that are visible from all directions are best. For instance, an orange cap or an orange jacket encircle the wearer in color. Inexpensive, orange, vinyl vests are easy to come by in outdoors shops or department stores. And don't forget your four-legged pal. Pet stores carry blaze-orange collars and mesh vests for Fido's safety, too.
Hunters generally know where hiking trails are located, so it's not a bad idea to stick to established trails and limit off-trail trampings at this time of year.
All that said, remember that a responsible hunter never fires until he is absolutely certain of his target.
According to a statement from the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, "the increased voluntary use of hunter orange clothing and the steadfast efforts of volunteers in the hunter education program for the past 35 years" have been credited for declining numbers of hunting accidents.
Keeping in mind that there are many areas where the hiking is great and the hunting isn't, I'll often head for the high country for an autumn outing. There are some areas where the habitat isn't attractive to game, but where views are well worth the trip. Consider hiking away from areas that are popular with hunters.
If you're wondering where those areas are, you might ask the proprietor of your local sporting goods shop, or check with the folks at your state Fish & Game Department. Don't miss the fun of a fall hike, when the air is crisp, the bugs are gone, the crowds are scarce, and — with the leaves off the trees — the views are terrific. A little extra planning and preparation will help ensure a safe and enjoyable outing.
Wear that hunter orange and we'll see you, I mean, really, SEE you, on the trails.
—Rob Burbank is the Public Affairs Director for the AMC.