Hunting season is in full swing and will continue in many states until the end of November, and in other states for a few months longer. Many trail runners take this time period off in order to avoid safety concerns. This is not strictly necessary, but although you can trust 99% of sportsmen to behave legally and ethically, the other 1% create 100% of our tragedies. I was raised in the kind of hunting and fishing family that believes in responsibly sharing the wild. Here are a few of my personal strategies to be confident and safe in the woods.
1. Wear blaze orange. Hunters in many states (but not all) are legally required to do this, but it’s optional for the rest of us. Wear blaze orange to look as unnatural as possible in the woods. This is the easiest way to stay safe. You can get blaze orange trucker hats and toques for $5 at practically any gas station this time of year, or if you are looking for something more posh, check out the new orange hats available on Black Friday at the Trail Sisters store. Also, consider your layering strategy in these temperatures. If you need to add or shed a layer during your run, will your blaze orange still show?
2. Don’t wear white. That 1% of hunters you can’t trust? They’re reacting to moving flashes of white in the woods, which their poor judgment misidentifies as the hind of a running whitetail deer. None of us look much like deer but if you avoid wearing white in hunting season, you seal the deal.
3. If you see signs of hunting, choose another spot for your run. Big pickup truck at a trailhead? Find a tree stand in the woods? ATV parked seemingly in the middle of nowhere? Even an overturned bucket (makes a great seat) is a sign that this particular patch of woods is seeing some current hunting activity. As much as you may be nervous to see hunters, they actually don’t want to see you either–your human noises are scaring off the deer or elk. Turn around and find a patch of woods you can have to yourself. It’s a win-win.
4. Run in the midday. The best hunting opportunities present themselves just after sunrise and just before sunset. If you can run in the midday, you’re less likely to share the woods with hunters.
5. Run with buddies. My wife once told me that she could hear my Trail Sister and I chatting and laughing for 20 full minutes before we popped out of the woods at the trailhead. Granted, we were working a series of switchbacks on the slope directly above her, but the sound of human voices carries further than you expect. Running with a friend is already awesome, and the sound of your voices will alert others in the woods to your presence and keep you safe.
6. Run on low-hunting days. The majority of states law prohibit Sunday hunting, which is a great time to get in a long run; just be sure to wear your blaze orange anyway, because poaching happens. Also, be mindful that opening day, weekends–Thanksgiving weekend, and the final day of hunting season are especially busy. Just like you’d stay out of a state forest on a day that it’s hosting a major trail race you’re not entered in, you might consider staying out of the most popular hunting grounds on the most popular days.
7. Trail run in a state park or preserve that is closed to hunting. You can put in some fun miles without much worry about crossing paths with hunters. Again, wear your orange. Shit happens: that problematic 1% of hunters may get disoriented or willfully ignore boundaries. If you ever stumble upon illegal hunting activity, the game wardens or relevant public safety agencies want to know! Tag your location on your GPS watch and make your report once you are safely away. Your willingness to report unsafe or illegal behavior will keep the rest of us safe.
9. Put blaze orange on your pups too. Everything I’ve said about your safety applies to them. If doggo won’t tolerate an orange bandana or vest, he’s got to stay home.
10. Familiarize yourself with state law. I know the Maine regulations off the top of my head, but I always check the laws in neighboring New Hampshire (where hunters are encouraged but not required to wear fluorescent orange) before an adventure there. I’m also mindful of other hunting cycles, including the game seasons that are not so busy as the firearm season for deer. Moose, turkey, partridge, bear, coyote and other quarry bring hunters to the woods. It’s up to me to adjust my behavior accordingly.
This is my basic protocol for trail running safely during hunting season. What do you do to stay safe?