Sharing the Trails and Staying Safe in Hunting Season
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.
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.
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.
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.