Hike Safely During Hunting Season

Deer season may bring the most hunters into the woods, but it's not the only time to be aware.

Many frontcountry and backcountry areas that hikers, backpackers, trail runners, and mountain bikers frequent, are also popular with hunters.

Both hunters and non-hunters need to be educated and do their part to keep the outdoors safe for everyone.

Follow the safety reminders below whenever you get out into the woods and fields during local hunting seasons.


Know the Rules

Before you head for the woods and trails, know the rules and hunting season dates for any areas you'll be hiking, running, biking, or traveling in.

Dates for hunting seasons vary year to year and by type of game (moose, bear, deer, turkey, hare, etc.), weapon (firearms, archery, muzzleloader), and location and type of management area.

While fall's deer rifle season typically brings the most hunters out into the woods, a variety of hunting seasons can extend the activity nearly year-round.


Be Very Visible

Wear plenty of bright orange, visible from all angles, during hunting season.

Wear blaze/fluorescent orange clothing that can be seen from all angles, including a hat, vest or jacket, and covering for your pack (a vest, pack cover, or large bandana will work).

Again, know the rules. Some states require a certain amount of fluorescent orange (for example, at least 250 square inches on the head, chest, and back) during peak hunting season.

Find blaze orange items at your local outdoor, sporting goods, or general store. Stock up, then wear those fluorescent orange vests and hats every time you take to the trails, woods, or nearby fields and camp roads.

If you hike with your dog, put a fluorescent orange vest, collar, leash, and/or bandana on your pooch too.

If you don't have any or enough orange clothing, bright reds and yellows are other potential color options (though on overcast days they can appear black, so use carefully). Choose bright, neon, even garish, clothing. Now’s a great time to get on the retro bandwagon with that old hot pink jacket from the ’80s.

Avoid any brown, tan, earth tones, and especially white. You do not want to look anything like the flash of a deer’s tail.

During turkey season, avoid red and blue.

Hike during broad daylight, when hunters can easily identify you as another human.


Be Aware

Seasons for various game vary by designated areas, weapons, residency, and other factors.

Consider where you're headed and anticipate where you're likely to meet fellow hikers and hunters.

Hunters are active from early dawn to dusk and in between. You’re more likely to meet hunters closer to roads and trailheads (within a half mile) and in valleys. However, expect that you can meet them anywhere at any time.

If possible, avoid the most popular hunting days, like opening weekend.

Consider hiking on days of the week when hunting is not allowed. In some states, hunting is prohibited on Sundays.

Choose trails and areas that are off-limits to or unpopular with hunters. For example, many (but not all) national parks prohibit hunting, while national preserves allow hunting (always check local rules).

Stick to established, marked trails. Skip the bushwhacking during popular hunting seasons. Hunters are more likely to expect hikers on trails.


Make Yourself Heard

Be sure hunters can hear you well before they see you. While many of us enjoy running or hiking on a quiet trail, hunting season is not the time to practice your stealth moves.

You needn't be excessively loud, but keep up a steady conversation with a partner.

If you’re alone, whistle, sing, or talk to make yourself heard.

Consider putting a bell on your dog.

If you hear hunting taking place near you, make yourself known to the hunters.


Respect One Another

Be courteous and respectful of all outdoor enthusiasts, hunters and non-hunters alike.

Before you head out during hunting season, educate yourself about safe hunting and backcountry practices, know and follow all rules, and be prepared.

Above all, use common sense and do your part to share the woods safely. Hunters and hikers both have the right to pursue their chosen outdoor recreation safely. Respect each other and the land we share.


If you have suggestions for safe backcountry travels during hunting season, please share them below.


John Soares
0 reviewer rep
1 forum posts
October 31, 2010 at 11:28 a.m. (EDT)

Alicia, excellent and timely post. I'm directing my readers here rather than writing on the subject myself.

As you say, it's especially important to stay on a trail. Hunters expect you there.

If you are hiking cross-country, do it far from where hunters park and do it in the open: above treeline is best.

107 reviewer rep
762 forum posts
November 1, 2010 at 6:40 a.m. (EDT)

I posted this last year, but well worth the repeat:

Our nature center shares it's land with many different outdoor types: Mountain bikers, hikers, birders, fishermen (and women), and yes, hunters.  We recommend that EVERYONE wear blaze orange vests, helmet covers, or hats during hunting season.  It is required for the hunters for a reason, to be seen.  Why shouldn't everyone else take the same precaution? 

I am now reminded that I haven't placed this message on our facebook page, and need to do it right away.

48 reviewer rep
71 forum posts
November 1, 2010 at 7:52 a.m. (EDT)

I just ran into 2 hunters on the trial the other day. Sundays in PA is the best time for hiking, No hunting on Sundays.


107 reviewer rep
762 forum posts
November 1, 2010 at 9:07 a.m. (EDT)

As an equal opportunity message, both of these signs appear at various locations on our property and throughout the park.



Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
2,487 reviewer rep
4,638 forum posts
November 1, 2010 at 9:18 a.m. (EDT)

Welcome to Trailspace, John. I'm glad you and others found the article useful.

I like f_klock's equal opportunity educational tactic. It's important that everyone takes responsibility and knows the rules.

I'm also a Sunday hiker/trail runner here in Maine during hunting season. Most of the local places I frequent are popular with hunters, so I try to give them plenty of space.

0 reviewer rep
5 forum posts
November 18, 2010 at 12:43 p.m. (EST)

Cut 3 - 4 foot long thin "green" branch. Tie a couple of 2 - 3 feet pieces of day-glo surveyors tape to the small end tip. Easily secure onto pack. These streamers, fluttering a foot or two above your head add an extra measure of safety. In addition, tie a bit of tape to the hand-straps of each trekking pole. All this for a VERY small weight and cost penalty.


1,400 miles of the Appalachian Trail. 49 State High Points.

Alicia MacLeay @Alicia
2,487 reviewer rep
4,638 forum posts
November 18, 2010 at 1:37 p.m. (EST)

Thanks for the suggestion, TheThriftstoreMountaineer.

So, which peak is left on your state high points?

Larry Sparks
6 reviewer rep
1 forum posts
November 19, 2010 at 4:59 p.m. (EST)

Thanks for being fair to both hunters and hikers.  All good information and with a little common sense will keep all safe.

26 reviewer rep
98 forum posts
February 28, 2011 at 8:31 a.m. (EST)

I just noticed this thread because it got bumped by a question about hunting boots, which I don't think is the topic of the thread.

In any event, it reminded me that many people are unaware of the hunting laws and activities in and around their favorite hiking spots.  I think it is important for hikers and backpackers to familiarize themselves with the hunting laws in areas in which they will be visiting.

I encourage my non-hunting to take the free hunter safety course given in most states.  You don't have to get a hunting license after taking the course, but you'll learn a great deal about hunting safety and be more knowledgeable about what is going on in the woods around you.

In New York we can hunt on most state forest land all year for something. I've run into hikers on the Finger Lakes Trail outside of deer season who were surprised to learn that hunting was going on around them while they were hiking.  

A few years ago I took one of my children for a Saturday hike in a county forest during deer season.  At the trail head there was sign for a well-known environmental club group hike stating "today's hike is cancelled because of hunting season."  Yes, it was big game season, but two things struck me as odd about that sign.

First, hunting is not allowed in that county forest, so there was no reason to cancel the group hike.  Second, New York's hunting seasons are set about 8 months in advanced, so if they were worried about hiunting season they could have known well before they scheduled the event.


157 reviewer rep
20 forum posts
February 28, 2011 at 4:47 p.m. (EST)

If you do not have an orange hunter vest, use any bright orange shirt, jacket, or hat.  Also, many members might already own one of the reflective safety "runner's vests".  Don't forget your 4-legged friends.  You can buy orange dog safety vests as well.  The most dangerous time to be moving about in the woods during hunting season is dawn and dusk.  Be sure to exercise additional caution at these times. 

As for myself, I absolutely avoid going out hiking,camping, and horseback riding during the firearm deer season.  I am not so concerned about being mistaken for a squirrel.  Here in Indiana the firearm deer season is only 2 weeks  in  mid to late November.  Not exactly prime backpacking weather as it is.

1,731 reviewer rep
3,962 forum posts
March 1, 2011 at 8:34 a.m. (EST)

Bright colors are the way to go. Also as a suggestion, also carry a whistle. If hiking before day break a headlamp will help bigtime. My last suggestion is announce you presence. Whistling a tune is not a bad idea. Yes hunters may get a little irratated that you are causing commotion in the area that they are so quietly surveying but it is better than the alternative. Someone mistaking you for a deer or a squirrel or a turkey. Alot of hunters get an itchy finger during hunting season. I always wondered while sitting in my stand before daybreak what people were shooting at.... Its still dark. Just because someone took a safety course does not necessarily make them an individual with common sense.

26 reviewer rep
98 forum posts
March 1, 2011 at 11:06 a.m. (EST)

That is one of the reasons I suggest people who are going to venture out into the woods take a hunters' safety course.  Too many non-hunters have mistaken beliefs about what is going on in the forest that surround them. 

They can't make rationale decisions about the risk and take proper precautions because of commonly held mis-conceptions.  They also miss out on some great hiking and backpacking opportunities because of unfounded fears, or end up increasing the risk of an unintentional shooting by failing to take appropriate precautions.

First, most unintentionally shootings by hunters are not the result of mistaking a human for game but rather result from either an unintended discharge or a failure to see or anticipate the presence of a human beyond the target.

The purpose of wearing blaze orange is not to distinguish yourself from a deer, but rather to alert hunters to your presence.  Most hunters don't shoot blindly at big game but rather they are focusing on a specific gender or quality of target.

Second, big game season is actually one of the safest times to be in the woods because of a multitude of factors, including the existence of many knowledgeable hunters focused on safety and increased law enforcement.  Just about every unintentional shooting during big game season is between members of the same hunting party, other hunters, or self-inflicted.

Third, there are a lot causal hunters and inexperienced young hunters who engage in varmint and small game hunting.  And they use handguns and smaller caliber rifles, the errant bullets from which can actually travel much further than the rifles and shotguns used for big game season because of the dynamics of big game hunting.

Fourth, spring turkey season is a dangerous time to be in the woods because the shotgun hunters are stationary and trying to call toms to themselves.  This is the one time when wearing blaze orange (along with avoiding red, white, blue and black colors) is important to distinguish yourself from game.

Fifth, the most dangerous time to be in the woods is when poachers are out and about.  They don't care about your safety, and are just as likely to shoot you on purpose as they are to take game illegally.

denis daly
273 reviewer rep
1,962 forum posts
March 1, 2011 at 11:20 a.m. (EST)

NOGODS you are correct I believe in alot of your post. But to say that hunters carry just shotguns and small handguns? I have to disagree with all do repect.Yes In the Tristate Area. But not in the South..30/30 and 30/06 and a 204 are your average hunting rifle with a a flight path well over 3 miles. I also agree about the poachers. I also know my state has hunting written into their constitution. But it benefits like you described the hiker to know the hunting laws and participate in a hunter safety course to truly understand personal awareness.

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