There are many reasons to look forward to autumn in the mountains. Once the temperature dips, the air becomes crisp, and the leaves shift to vibrant reds and oranges, it’s difficult to resist the call of the forest. But people engage with nature in different ways. If you’re out hunting for the perfect trail, don’t get caught by people hunting something else.
It’s easy for hikers and hunters to both enjoy the mountains safely, as long as both parties take the proper precautions. Here are three important tips everyone needs to know if you’re out in the woods during hunting season.
If you’re hiking in the fall, it never hurts to know the dates of this year’s deer hunting season, by far the most popular of the hunting seasons. Hunting seasons vary by location and weapon, so take note of what’s going on in your area. Avoid “high use” hunting times, typically the opening days of the season or special hunting dates. Understand where hunting is allowed, and try to find trails that don’t overlap with popular hunting grounds. And don’t forget: hunting in North Carolina is restricted on Sundays, which makes that a better day to hike.
Hunters, know your position in relation to public trails and private land. In the mountains, many properties back directly up to parklands, public trails, or animal habitats. Be aware of all signage, including that for private property. And avoid shooting toward trail areas.
Regardless of which end of the barrel you’re on, it’s important to be seen by your fellow man. After all, the best way to be mistaken for a deer is to look like one. Wear blaze orange vests or caps for safety. Steer clear of earth tones and whites (which resembles the white tails of deer). If you’re a hiker, make sure you’re making enough people sounds so that you scare away deer and small game, and to alert the hunters on their tracks. And if you are bringing your dog on the hike with you, make sure it’s on a leash. Putting a safety vest on Fido is also a good idea, as dogs are much more likely to be accidentally shot than people.
Deer are most active at dawn and dusk because the change in light makes it difficult for predators to see them. But that also means that it’s difficult for hunters to see you. It’s best to wait until the sun comes up before heading into the forest. If you must hike when the light is low, wear reflective materials and a headlamp.
Hunters, make sure you’re in a position where you can properly identify your target and what’s beyond. Use extra caution when you’re within a half mile of road crossings and in valley areas, where hikers are more likely to be.
Hikers, be extra aware of general hiking safety rules. Don’t veer off trails, since animals (and sportsmen) tend to stay away from heavily trafficked routes. And make sure you have plenty of supplies, including a first aid kit, in case an accident does occur. High altitudes have fewer animals, so it may be safer to stick to higher peaks with more rewarding views. And remember that most national parks don’t allow hunting, so heading to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is always a safe bet.