Need some hunting safety tips? If you’re planning to go hunting for the first time, then you should know some of these tips that will ensure your safety.
The view out my kitchen window has a decidedly late autumn look. Most of the hardwood trees are bare, with only the golden beech trees and a few stubborn oaks still clinging tenaciously to their leaves. The antique Ben Davis tree has lost most of its apples, and wild turkeys frequent the ground underneath it as they gobble up the fruit before the first snows blow in to cover them.
Other wildlife species are active this time of year, too. Squirrels and other rodents are scurrying busily as the prepare for a long lean season, and the last of the migratory fowl have left the northernmost summer habitats.
Large animals like deer and moose are on the move as well, as physiological changes are taking place. Big males are storming the woods looking for mates, while the four-legged girls are trading in their red summer coats in exchange for thicker gray winter coverings.
In many areas of the country, this time of year is known for another phenomenon. Hunting season. This is when intrepid men and women load up their gear, take up their guns, and head out into the forest in search of the perfect prey.
The law says that it is up to them to make sure their training and skills are top-notch and that they must follow safety rules at all times. And most hunters can be counted upon to do so. But ill-equipped hunters do happen, and it is possible for even the best ones to make a horrible mistake.
Even though the chances of tragedy are slim, it is in everyone’s best interest to know a few important rules on staying safe during hunting season, even non-hunters.
If you are not a hunter, there are some basic safety precautions that you can take that will help minimize the risk of sharing the forest with hunters and guns.
1. Wear bright colors
Around out place, we wear blaze orange every time we step out the back door. In fact, we put all out other jackets and hats away for the entire month of November. There is little sense in cluttering up the coat rack with two separate sets of outwear – one for outside the immediate backyard and during hours in which hunting is illegal, and the other for every other occasion – so we just wear orange. We wear orange while we’re raking leaves, puttering in the garden, hanging clothes on the clothesline, tending the chickens, doing barn chores, throwing a ball around for the dog, everything.
Where we live, most people wear some orange, at least a cap, during hunting season even if they are taking a walk down a country road, and in some cases even strolling out to the end of the driveway to collect the mail. It is common to encounter orange clothing on shoppers at the local general store, and not even surprising to see parking lots and sidewalks in town dotted with bright safety colors.
I do have other colors that I wear when I leave home in a vehicle, but around the farmstead, orange it is. The dog and goats are used to seeing me in it. In fact, they have their very own to wear.
2. Dress your animals in bright colors as well
My dog walks off-leash with me every day in the woods behind our house. We travel on private property that is posted with “Access by Permission Only” signs, and the dog is generally good about staying close to me. Still, why take chances? She never leaves the yard without her bright orange vest, and we even keep spare orange on hand for visiting pets.
My goats are a breed that particularly look like deer, and they wear blaze orange from opening day of hunting season until cold and snow have relegated them to the small winter pens in front of the barn. There are “Safety Zone” signs around the barn and pasture, and it is illegal to shoot from the road, but I like to be careful.
3. Be aware of hunting laws in your area
I know how to look up the chart of legal hunting hours in my state—it is easily available online. It is legal to shoot deer up to an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, and it is really dark at those earliest and legal moments. Too dark to tell a goat from a deer, or maybe even a person from a deer. Even though I can travel easily in low light, I take care to carry a little battery-operated lantern if I am out.
I do know that illuminating is illegal, however. I take care to never place myself in a situation that would lead an official to believe that I am shining a light into the eyes of deer in order to immobilize them.
I know that Sunday hunting is against the law where I live, and can therefore relax my vigilance a bit. But it is legal to hunt seven days a week, at least certain species or with certain firearms, in some states—so make sure you know before you end up in a potentially dangerous environment.
4. Make sure those around you are aware of your presence
Hunting is an activity that requires keen focus. A person with a rifle or shotgun may be so intent on watching for wildlife in one direction that you approach from behind could go undetected. Call out in a clear calm voice if you are not sure you have been noticed.
5. Always let someone know where you will be and when to expect you back
This rule is true for any outdoor endeavor, anywhere and anytime. It is essential to be skilled and knowledgeable anytime you head into the backcountry, but you can never rule out unforeseen events. You cannot rely on your phone to bail you out, either—it can drop, break, submerge in water, or be unable to pick up a signal.
There always needs to be someone who can determine that you are late in returning, and know where to start the search party.
This time of year can be a wonderful season. The sharp bite of cold in the air and the stark undergrowth in the forest make this one of my favorite times, and I embrace every moment I am able to spend in the forest. I love the way nature presents such a stern austerity in late fall, so edgy and powerful. I hope you enjoy it too.
But never forget to take care. Enjoy the forest, stay safe, and come back alive to enjoy another day.