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 in the November forest. 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. It’s just that running into people with guns in the woods is a little unnerving. Still, late fall is such a great time to hike. The bugs are gone, the air is crisp, and leaves on the ground are still full of crunch. The more I fell in love with the forest trails near my house, the more impossible it was for me to stay out of them. Even during hunting season. After several years, I 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. 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. I may not stay out of the woods during hunting season, but knowing when people with guns are in the forest with me is always helpful.
Hike Where Hunters aren’t Allowed
If you’re still 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. 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 hikers who want to avoid hunters during hunting season. Knowledge is power, my friends!
Wear Blaze Orange or Another Bright Color
Make a fall fashion statement and sport your blaze orange hat, vest, and coat. 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.
Keep Your Dog on a Leash
My dog is my all-time favorite hiking companion, but hiking with dogs during hunting season can be risky. 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
As much as I love tiptoeing through the woods looking for birds and other wildlife, when hiking during hunting season, it’s better 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, 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 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!