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Are you a November hiker, or do you relinquish the woods to deer hunters when rifle season comes around? As someone who didn’t grow up near the woods or hunters, it took me a really long time to feel comfortable hiking during hunting season. Each October I would look up the rifle season dates and mark them on my calendar, and for several weeks during hunting season, I would only hike in urban parks — listening to the distant crack of rifles as happy deer hunters reclaimed the forest.
Hiking During Hunting Season
Don’t misunderstand me. I have a healthy respect for most hunters, and our mutual love of the forest has made us conservation allies. Hunters are often staunch protectors of the environment, and without them, our beloved hiking trails and national forests may not even exist.
If you are a hunter, please understand that I get it. It’s just that running into people with guns in the woods is a little unnerving, especially for someone who hikes solo. Despite all this, late fall is such a fabulous time to hike. The bugs are gone, the air is crisp, and leaves on the ground are still full of crunch. The more I fall in love with the forest trails near my house in Vermont, the more impossible it is for me to stay out of them. Even during hunting season.
After several years of caution, I have finally realized that hiking during hunting season is not out of the question; it just requires extra caution. Here are some tips to help you make the most of the November forest. In other words, everything you need to know about hiking during hunting season.
Be Aware of Hunting Season Dates in Your State
It seems like it’s always open season for one species or another, but the most popular hunting season across the country is definitely deer season. Where I live, in the northeastern United States, deer season takes place throughout November, but it might be different where you live. I was hoping to find a link to a site that provides hunting season dates across the country, but I don’t think such a thing exists.
Before you head out on your autumn hike, I recommend doing a quick internet search for “hunting season dates in (your state).” I still write important hunting season dates on my calendar to avoid unpleasant surprises while hiking. Instead of refraining from hiking during hunting season, I make sure I’m aware of important hunting season dates so I can be proactive.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable about sharing the fields and forests with hunters, it’s not too hard to find places where hunting is forbidden. Town and city parks, conservation areas, and national parks cater more to hikers, and with few exceptions, you won’t find hunters in these areas.
If you want to avoid hunters altogether, steer clear of national forest trails and wildlife management areas, as well as trails that cross private property. Where to Hunt is a website dedicated to helping hunters find permitting info and locations to hunt in every state. By default, it’s also a great resource for regular folks who want to avoid hunters during hunting season. Knowledge is power, my friends!
Wear Blaze Orange or Another Bright Color When Hiking During Hunting Season
You can keep yourself safe and make a fall fashion statement by sporting your blaze orange hat, vest, and coat during hunting season. If you are hiking during hunting season, this is really your best line of defense. Seriously! Bright orange is not exactly my color, but a few years ago I watched the video below and was totally convinced that it was the safest way to hike.
The video was created for hunters, but it really helped me realize how important being seen is! If you don’t have blaze orange attire, bright red or another bright color is better than nothing. Please do not hike during hunting season in brown, grey, or green — you’re just asking for trouble.
Blaze Orange Fashion Trends for Hiking During Hunting Season
Keep Your Dog on a Leash When Hiking During Hunting Season
My dog is my all-time favorite hiking companion, but hiking with dogs during hunting season can be quite risky, especially if they hike off-leash. No matter how well behaved your dog is, please keep him on a leash during hunting season.
In many states, dogs who chase deer can be legally shot, and dogs are much more likely to be accidentally shot than people are. I also recommend dressing your pup up in blaze orange when you hike. Now you’ll both be safe, and you’ll match!
Make Some Noise While Hiking During Hunting Season
As much as I love tiptoeing through the woods looking for birds and other wildlife when hiking during hunting season, it’s better to call attention to yourself. I spend a lot of time talking to my dog in the woods during hunting season. Sometimes he even talks back. I’ve also been known to whistle, but I never sing (that would be mean).
If you don’t want to talk to yourself or your dog while hiking in hunting season, how about rounding up some of your rowdiest friends for an autumn hike? Hunters may not appreciate your revelry, but at least everyone will stay safe.
Stay Out of the Woods When Deer and Hunters are Most Active
Deer are most active during dawn and dusk, and so are hunters. Try and plan your hiking excursions during the middle of the day, and you are much less likely to run into hunters in the woods. Deer aren’t exactly weekend warriors, but you’ll find fewer hunters in the woods during the work week.
There are also eleven states in the USA where hunting is prohibited or restricted on Sundays. If you live in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia or West Virginia, you may have an easier time hiking on Sundays during hunting season. Check your state’s hunting regulations for more specifics.
With a little advance planning, you should have no problem sharing the woods with hunters during deer season. Most hunters will try and steer clear of hikers, not only for safety reasons but because hikers tend to scare away their prey. Follow the tips above, and you can continue to enjoy the woods throughout November. Happy trails!