Hiking During Hunting Season: How To Stay Safe

If you're like me, when you were a kid your parents warned you not to play in the woods in the fall and winter. "Hunting season," they said.

The prospect of being mistaken for a deer didn't always deter us kids (sorry, Mom and Dad!), nor should it deter hikers looking to take advantage of the cool weather and fall colors. If you take the proper precautions, you can play outside to your heart's content and make it back home safely.

1. Know the season
Hunting seasons for different animals vary by state, and even by county and weapon permitted. To get local details you'll have to check your state's fish and wildlife website (full list here). Firearm season for white-tailed deer, in particular, is when hikers should be on high alert, since it's when the greatest number of hunters are active. Wild turkey season in the spring also tends to see a flurry of hunting activity.

2. Know when and where hunting is allowed
It's possible to avoid hunters altogether by choosing your hike wisely. Many parks, including most national park units, forbid hunting. However, some popular ones allow it, such as the Delaware Water Gap, so know before you go and check in when you get there. Various organizations, like the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, keep lists of no-hunting parks. Some states also regulate the days and times hunters can be active. In New Jersey, for example, there's no hunting on Sundays except in certain limited areas.

3. Wear the right colors
Wearing a blaze-orange-colored vest, hat, or pack cover is one of the most important things you can do to stay visible to hunters. It's what hunters themselves wear for safety. If you don't have any of these (although you should if you're doing fall/winter hiking) make sure you wear bright colors and steer clear of earth tones. Avoid wearing white, though, because it resembles the rear of a white-tailed deer. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy also advises not wearing red or blue during turkey season.

4. Know what time hunters are most active
Many factors, such as the lunar calendar, affect peak times of day for animal activity, and hence hunting. However, as a rule of thumb, these usually coincide with sunrise and sunset. It's best to avoid being in hunting areas during those times since you'll be less visible in the dim light. But if you must be out at those times, use a headlamp or flashlight and wear reflective material.

5. Make some noise
Going outside may be about getting some peace and quiet, but hunting season isn't the time to stalk silently down the trail. Talk with your companions, whistle, do your best Freddie Mercury impression. And if you hear shooting, the Washington Trails Association advises shouting to notify hunters of your presence.

6. Protect your dog
You know those blaze-orange vests I mentioned earlier? They make those for dogs, too.