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Sharing the Trails and Staying Safe in Hunting Season

Posted by Francakes at Sep 14, 2016 04:25 PM |

To help hikers be safe during hunting season and understand some of our trail neighbors, WTA reached out to Kittitas Field and Stream to get their tips on how hikers can share trails with hunters.

A hiker at Crescent Lake in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest wears an orange backpack, keeping himself visible to other hikers and hunters. Photo by Shadowdad.

Hikers exploring our public lands in fall and winter should be aware of local hunting seasons, and take some steps to help ensure their own safety. Most national forest lands in Washington state are open to hunting.

To help hikers be safe during hunting season and understand some of our trail neighbors, WTA reached out to Kittitas Field and Stream to get their tips on how hikers can share trails with hunters. Kittitas Field and Stream is one of WTA's many partners working to ensure outdoor recreation remains safe and accessible for all, especially in their backyard in the Central Cascades.

By Deborah Essman

Kittitias Field and Stream has reached thousands of students in the past 58 years. It’s our goal to create a new generation of hunters who know how to be safe outside and be good members of the larger outdoor recreation community.

One of the things we tell our students over and over is how important it is to respect everybody who uses the outdoors. When hunters are out in the woods, they might come across all kinds of people from bird watchers to hikers to people on horses and bikes. We all use the trails and we should know and respect each other.

Hunters are happy to share the trails with everyone who loves the outdoors. In the spirit of sharing our great public lands here in Washington, here are a few tips to keep hikers safe during hunting season and how to be a good citizen on trail.

Be visible

The ten commandments of hunting include knowing the target and what lies beyond it. Until a hunter clearly identifies the target, they shouldn’t be shooting. You can make yourself stand out to any area hunters by wearing bright colors.

Hunter orange is traditional and highly visible, though recent studies have shown fluorescent pink is also effective. If you don't already own something brightly colored, many sportsmans outlets carry orange vests for cheap. Many running stores also carry reflective items meant to keep you visible. And if you're upgrading your backpack, consider getting one in a vibrant hue. What people should most consider is that they need to be visible even at low light.

    Make noise

    You can talk to your hiking buddy, sing, laugh, whatever. I wouldn’t worry about “spoiling” somebody’s hunt. You’re better off making noise and being safe. Most hunters may use trails at some point during our hunt, but there’s a lot of cross country hiking.

    The amazing thing about wildlife is that they use trails as well. We hike on a lot of wildlife trails; even animals look for the path of least resistance. So, you might not come across a hunter during hunting season on trails built for people, but if you do see us, don’t be afraid to say hello.

    Keep dogs on leash

    My husband and I have three dogs and we take them everywhere. We understand wanting to go outside with them, but it’s important to keep them under control for their safety and yours.

    Be aware of the local regulations and always keep your dog on leash. Dogs like to chase things and, in addition to posing safety risks to your four legged friend, it’s also very disruptive to wildlife. In the fall when animals are really trying to pack on the calories for winter, a chase could jeopardize their survival.

    Always keep your animal under control and close to you so everyone can be safe and have fun.

    Know your local hunting seasons

    If you're not a techno-dinosaur like me, you can check Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's online hunting schedule. If you want to hold something in your hands, go to your local sporting goods store and ask for the hunting season pamphlet. It will show you where and when all the different hunting seasons happen. However, hunting seasons can change. Some seasons are conditional depending on animal populations. For example, elk season is variable year to year and can sometimes last through the end of February.

    Know your neighbors

    219,000 people hunt in Washington each year (2015 numbers) and spent over $160M on trip-related expenditures. Just like hikers, we are big contributors to Washington’s outdoor recreation economy. I’ve been hunting with my family for about 28 years. To me it is the ultimate outdoor experience. It’s a very challenging sport, it gets you outdoors, it gets kids outdoors and teaches them where food comes from. I like to tell people it’s the ultimate way to be a locavore!

    Be a good steward

    Hikers and hunters actually have a lot in common. We both go outdoors to enjoy the beauty around us and have a desire to see these places protected for the future.

    It’s not all about the harvest for hunters. For example, I’m an avid birder and one of my favorite things is just to be in nature and bird watch while I’m hunting.

    Hunters are conservationists. We understand the need to preserve habitat. If you’re an ethical hunter, you’re playing a role in wildlife management. Washington state is one of the top states in terms of outdoor activities.

    When I’m out there with my students or grandkids, they’re not just learning how to hunt and firearm safety, they’re also learning about conservation. We talk about why habitat is important and why all wildlife is important, not just game species. And that’s really what’s fun for me.


    How do I protect myself from people killing for fun? I avoid them altogether.

    The obligatory yearly "how to protect yourself from hunters" post. This is when I start sticking to National Parks to avoid people who are out to kill innocent sentient non-human animals for fun. Hearing gunshots on a trail makes it hard to enjoy a hike for two reasons: 1. My safety. I do not trust that hunters have adequate training to handle a gun.; 2. The knowledge that somewhere, a non-human human individual is probably being shot at and possibly killed. Makes me sad.

    Posted by:

    pugethiker on Sep 16, 2016 11:05 AM

    Minor type in the make noise section.

    Last sentence 'see' and 'do' might need switched.

    Posted by:

    Douglas Butcher on Sep 16, 2016 01:54 PM

    Blaze Orange Pack Covers

    I'm pretty choosy about my pack, so I don't want to swap it out for something of a different color. Instead, I use a blaze orange pack cover. There are several sources online, like Cabelas and Bear Paw Wilderness Designs.

    Posted by:

    RestStep on Sep 16, 2016 05:46 PM

    Thanks for the great post

    Thanks for the great post, Deborah and Frances. As a life-long Washington hunter who spends much of my summer hiking and backpacking on our state's trails, I much appreciate WTA sharing this helpful info while also speaking to the value of hunters for conservation, wildlife management and public lands protection.

    As a hunter, the vast majority of hikers I meet in the woods are friendly and understand that with few exceptions, hunters are responsible forest users enjoying our natural heritage in pursuit of some of the healthiest and most ethical protein around. And when I'm hiking, the vast majority of hunters I meet are respectful, safe and responsible with their firearms, and have no problems sharing the woods with me.

    As Deborah said, hunters and hikers have much in common. And all too often mistrust or animosity of one against the other furthers unhelpful stereotypes.

    Posted by:

    WildWildNW on Sep 19, 2016 03:44 PM

    Few of us are hunting for "fun"; we are hunting for something deeper, that connects us to the food chain

    It's pretty insulting that the first commenter here holds onto the notion that the sensibilities and rationales of hunters lie somewhere between the ineptitude of Elmer Fudd (wabbit season! duck season!) and the callous cariacatures of the hunters in Bambi, killing for fun and for trophies.

    I was raised in a non-hunting household - it just wasn't an interest of my dad - but we did A LOT of hiking, and I later became a quite active and accomplished rock climber and mountaineer. Hunting is something I came to five years ago - in my late 30s. From an "outdoor skills" perspective, the hunters I have met are generally some of the more observant, patient, and knowledgeable people I have met on the trail -- and off of the trail. To be a good hunter means incorporating experience from a variety of disciplines: mountaineering, orienteering, tracking, backpacking, understanding weather and thermals and how that affects animal behavior, and where to be to gain some advantage from that knowledge, how to be hidden, how to be patient, how to really really really look, animal biology, estrus cycles, mountain ecology and population dynamics, and on and on...oh, yeah, and how to be very careful, purposeful, and responsible with this deadly weapon on the shoulder, and to shoot only when you are sure of a clean and quick kill. On the whole we are a responsible lot, very much aware of the poor impression that other trail users sometimes have of us - such as pugethiker (for example).

    Homo sapiens evolved as a non-selective omnivore and an apex predator. Individual humans may claim a vegetarian diet - that's their choice and it's fine by me - but it's just not how we evolved; it a modern choice influenced by personal values, not by ancestry. As a species we have pretty poor eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell, we don't run fast, but we do have brains that can plan and strategize and develop teamwork. And we can throw rocks. Lately, those rocks have become very specialized, accurate, and we can make 'em travel at supersonic speed, but we're still just throwing rocks at prey. Going to Safeway or QFC is the new thing, and if you're concerned/sad about sentient non-human beings (definitely) being killed - and I think we all should be - then might I suggest it is the industrial-grade feedlots and slaughterhouses where personal misgivings would be better placed? Personally, I don't feel great about the actual act of killing an animal, and field dressing is indeed yucky, butchering is a lot of work, but I DO feel very good about putting the cleanest, healthiest, sustainably-harvestable meat - plus veggies from my garden - in my freezer and in my kids' bellies.

    Posted by:

    Chad McMullen on Sep 20, 2016 09:57 AM

    There is no need to kill for fun despite evolution

    Yes Chad McMullen, the first commenter (me) does think that killing sentient animals (human or non-human) for fun is unethical. Since there is very little need to hunt for food in the U.S. and many other countries, the only logical reason most people hunt is for pleasure. Instead of gaining wilderness skills by killing, maybe consider gaining the same skills by "hunting" for pictures or simply enjoying the place you are experiencing. Fortunately, as omnivores, we can live without eating animals and animal products. Just because we are an "apex predator" does not mean we have to be predators to survive. We now can consider the impact on the environment and other human and non-human animals we have by our actions. Why kill sentient creatures when it is not needed? And please don't tell me "evolution" or "to be closer to nature".

    Posted by:

    pugethiker on Sep 20, 2016 02:39 PM

    Who said anything about fun?

    Who said anything about killing for fun? I didn't. That seems to be your basic, and basically misinformed, premise. Are you certain that "fun" is the ONLY logical reason to do it? Because I haven't met a single hunter who identifies it as theirs. In fact I pointed to it being a messy and unpleasant business. It's also an incredible amount of work. Now, there is a satisfaction to be had from removing middlemen and intermediaries from some of my personal foodchain - and that of my family's foodchain - this includes growing a large garden, plus hunting, fishing, foraging for berries, mushrooms, etc. There is also no need to grow your own vegetables in the USA and in much of the rest of the world -- these can be readily purchased at the supermarket. Are gardeners foolish for wanting to be directly responsible for some of their food chain, for wanting to be more than just Happy Consumers? In my opinion, simply being content with being a Happy Consumer is the thoughtless and careless position. The unethical position.

    And for that matter, have you ever walked through a farmer’s field after a combine harvester has done its work bringing in a crop? A bloodbath – mice, rabbits, snakes, ground-nesting birds, insects…not to mention the habitat removal associated with original clearing of that parcel from its wild state. Don’t pretend that a vegetarian choice doesn’t have a violent and bloody impact to the cute fuzzy critters.

    Being an apex predator is not something to be ashamed of. Predators are an important part an ecosystem, and we have (foolishly, IMHO) removed most of the other predators in our landscapes. Without predators, prey species die of resource constraints coupled with overpopulation – that is, they die of starvation, a slow painful process. There is no “fun” in that either, and it happens regardless of your or my sad feelings about it.

    Posted by:

    Chad McMullen on Sep 20, 2016 03:41 PM

    And another thing...

    And unlike a wolf, bobcat, coyote, etc., human hunters generally insure that the kill will be extremely quick. Ever imagine what it's like to still be alive and conscious while one coyote is clamped to your neck while several more are busy pulling apart your hindquarters?

    Posted by:

    Chad McMullen on Sep 20, 2016 03:48 PM