Truth bomb: There isn’t a good reason why you can’t go hiking during hunting season.
After the colors of autumn start to fade in North America, hikers are less active. When we get into the colder hunting season, most non-hunters stay indoors, leaving the wilds to those who tramp about armed and searching. That time belongs to hunters, right?
Yes and no.
As a tax-payer, hiking in lands dedicated to hunting is a right (I’ve wrote on this before). But to do it safe, you must take measures into your own hands and not be a jerk.
In this post, I touch on things to keep in mind when hiking during hunting season. Nature happens year-round…why can’t you go out and see it?
When is “Hunting Season?”
This is a complex question, really. Technically, hunting season happens year-round in North America. There is almost always something “in-season.”
We’re focusing on the “big game” seasons. “Big game” refers to larger animals- deer, bear, elk, antelope, moose, bison, caribou, turkey, and so forth. These are the seasons that see more hunters and more shooting. More hunters and more shooting means a higher percentage of poor hunters. This is when you need to take safety to another level (though you should practice safety year-round).
In most of the United States, these big-game seasons start around mid-August and stretch into mid- to late-April. This includes archery, muzzleloader, as well as rifle. The bulk of hunters gather between mid-October and mid-March. If you’re hiking during hunting season, this last timeframe is most important.
Where is “Hunting Season?”
This is another complex question. In general, hunting happens in non-urban and non-suburban areas. Specifically, it depends on the state.
Some states have wildlife management areas for hunting. For example, here in Pennsylvania they’re called State Game Lands (or SGLs). Most State Forests and National Forests are also open to hunting. States even allow hunting within State Parks, as well as National Parks (about 1/3 of them, actually). All of these hunting areas are controlled by the state, so to get a full picture of where hunting occurs, you need to check with the local game commissions (as well as dates- some area openings and closings change).
Hiking During Hunting Season Safely
You still want to get out there during hunting season? Great! There is nothing like seeing the changing of the seasons on foot, right in the thick of the forest. There are a few things you need to do to hike safely, though.
1. Wear blaze orange.
Also known as “hunter orange.” All states require or recommend hunters wear this color. The laws are much the same in Canada, with a few very remote areas being exceptions. Wear at least a chest covering, hat, and pack cover in blaze orange for full 360° of visibility, even if it isn’t required for the hunter. In some places, it is becoming a requirement for even hikers to wear blaze orange during certain seasons. Here is a list of hunter color requirements for the States and Provinces. This is critical for children and pets traveling with you!
2. Know when it’s hunting season.
It’s all on you, pal, no way around it. Knowledge will help you be more cautious. The closer you are to the middle of the October-to-March range, the more important it is to wear blaze orange. Check with your local wildlife management agencies on what is in season and which seasons are most popular or have the highest density of hunters.
3. Don’t assume they see you.
If you see a hunter in the forest, wave to them and see if they wave back. Don’t flail around or yell out to them if they don’t respond. While you want to be seen, you could also mess up their hunt, which, for someone who has been standing in one spot for hours, is incredibly frustrating. Even if they don’t immediately respond, keep walking, but don’t stumble through the wilderness like a drunken bear. Keep your eye on them and wave until they wave back or you can’t see them. By that point, there’s a very good chance you’re safe, either by distance or obstructions.
4. Keep your eyes open.
Hunters are on the lookout for game and blaze orange, you should be doing the same. You don’t want to accidently stumble through their range. Make sure your children are also alert. Pets should be kept close and, if necessary, on-leash. If your pet isn’t well-behaved, it’s best to just leave them at home (as much as it might break your heart). I go into more detail about pets in the wild in my Dirty Dozen of Hiking post.
5. Hike when hunters aren’t.
Most game movement happens around dawn and dusk, and there is no (or limited) hunting on most Sundays. Try hiking during the middle of the day or on Sundays. Check the local laws for hunting on Sundays, first.
6. Hike where hunters aren’t.
Hunter ranges are also limited. Parks inside urban areas, conservancies, and arbors are all fair game. You don’t have to go deep into the wilderness to find nature!
7. Stick to the trails.
Hunters don’t usually stay on the trails. If it’s blazed, hunters are also more likely to be aware that other people may use the trail. Of course, there are times when you need to navigate around downed trees, rocks, or swampy areas. In those cases, move cautiously and make human noises. You know, things that most animals don’t do, like singing or talking to themselves. Refrain from making grunting, snorting, or stomping noises.
Still Hung-Up on the Issue?
Rather than making this post longer than it needs to be (and to side-step the arguments that erupt on the topic), I’ve created a separate, supplementary page on Hunting Concerns. This page addresses issues found on both “sides” of the argument, as well as offering a “middle-ground.” There is also commentary on concerns about wearing blaze orange.
Check it out, and feel free to leave comments on what you think!
Hiking during hunting season can be a great experience. It allows you to see nature in a way that you don’t see it during the warmer months, provides a different kind of challenge, and keeps you from getting the dreaded “cabin fever.” Staying active year-round also provides a health boost to fight against the flu season and keeps you in shape for when spring rolls around again.
But hiking during hunting season, in most parts of North America, requires you to take safety precautions. These safety precautions don’t just protect you, they protect everyone who makes use of the wilderness. It makes sense, right?
So…where are you going during this season? Do you hike in hunting lands, or do you stick to non-hunting areas? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!