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Q&A: How to camp and hike safely during hunting season

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More from Outdoor Living Newsletter October Outdoor Living Newsletter
Hunter holding a rifle over his shoulder silhouetted by a setting sun
Stay safe in the backcountry

I'm going camping and hiking with friends and we will be in the backcountry during hunting season. Any tips to stay safe? What do I need to know?

Dear Camper,

Camping is a wonderful way to get outside, spend time with family and friends, and enjoy all that nature has to offer. But going on a camping trip, especially deep in the woods, is not without its risks during hunting season. With population increases the size of wilderness areas are decreasing, forcing hunters to share the woods with other outdoor enthusiasts. The unfortunate result is accidents. In some cases, campers and their dogs are mistaken for game and are shot. Fortunately, many of these accidents can be avoided. We show you how.

Hunting season takes place year round

If you're camping in the woods there's a good chance that you're going to be camping in an area that is "in (hunting) season". Different hunting seasons, such as black powder, archery or rifle, often overlap each other (dependent upon state law) and run the majority of the calendar year. So be sure to check local laws in the places you intend to camp and hike before setting out.

Foul and archery season is the least dangerous hunting season

Foul (bird) season does not pose a significant threat since guns are typically pointed up in the air and the chances of being mistaken for a bird are slim, unless you're hunting with Dick Cheney that is. Archery season also poses a reduced threat since hunters have to be fairly close to take a shot, meaning they'll notice you're not deer.

Rifle season is the most dangerous hunting season

Rifle season is the most heavily hunted season and poses the greatest risk to others. The long range of a rifle means hunters can take shots from far distances and will likely see less of their target. Stray bullets can also be a problem since missed shots from a rifle travel much farther than shotgun shells or missed arrows. The sheer number of hunters present during rifle season increases the chances of an accident. Therefore, it's best to avoid hiking and camping in areas that are in rifle season.

Federal law prohibits hunting in National Parks

Federal law prohibits hunting in National Parks and some states prohibit hunting on Sundays but that doesn't mean everyone will follow these rules, so here are some tips to keep in mind.

Useful tips for keeping safe

  • As with anytime you go camping make sure someone knows where you will be and when you plan to return.
  • Wear orange clothing such as hats, vests and pack covers. Some state laws even require hikers and hunters to wear orange during hunting season. White and brown are poor color choices for deer season since many hunters will be looking for the white tail of a deer.
  • If you're hiking with a dog get an orange collar, vest or something reflective. A bell on the collar is also another good idea as it will not only protect your dog from hunters but will also scare away bears and bobcats before your dog has a chance to interact with them.
  • Make noise by carrying on conversations with others, the woods or yourself. Sing songs, whistle or play the harmonica. Stumble and crash your way through the woods, and do anything to let others know you're coming. If you hear gunshots yell out to let hunters know where you are.
  • Opening day for rifle season is one of the busiest days on the hunting calendar, and is one of the most dangerous. Check out this list of state web sites with hunting information and regulations to find out when this is in the area you plan to camp and hike. We suggest that you stick to National Parks or avoid hiking altogether over the opening day weekend.

Protect Yourself From the Animals

Okay, now that you've read through these tips remember you not only have to protect yourself from hunters but also the hunted. Bears and other wild game are thriving during hunting season and may decide to attack if they feel threatened or startled. Some of the same methods that keep you safe from hunters will also work for animals. Making noise will ensure you don't startle any near by animals. The scent of food will attract bears and other critters so don't keep food in your tent. Animals become braver at night so put your food into a bag and hoist it up into a tree with a rope or in bear proof containers. Many campsites in bear-country provide a stationary bear box for people to store their food in. Designs vary but they are typically small metal lockers. Portable bear boxes or bear bags can also be used. A portable bear box is strong enough to withstand the weight of a bear and is too difficult for a clever bear to open. Bear bags can be hoisted up into trees with a rope. They will also protect your food from bears but if left on the ground, the food inside your bear bag could be turned into mush before the bear finally gives up.

Follow these simple tips and you should stay safe all year long, no matter where you decide to hike and camp. Get out there and have fun ... safely.

Copyright ©2010 Camping Road Trip, LLC

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