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Staying Safe During Hunting Season

Tips for staying safe around hunters in the backcountry.

Hunting is permitted on public land during the fall and winter. It's during these seasons when hikers and hunters share the trail and the forest. With the help of Deborah Essman, from Kittitas Field and Stream, we’ve put together some safety tips to keep in mind as you head out. You can first determine if you’ll be hiking in an area that’s open for hunting, and if so, take the necessary precautions to be visible to hunters.

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Hunters heading out on Paddy Go East Pass in the Teanaway. Photo by Taylor Rauch.

Research hunting schedule and locations

When and where. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulates hunting in our state. Dates and locations vary based on the type of animal and the style of hunting, and change year to year. Check out their schedule and map to plan your trip. 

Deborah Essman: "If you're not a techno-dinosaur like me, you can check Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's online hunting schedule," says Deborah. "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 own comfort level. If the idea of hiking during any hunting season makes you uneasy, choose a hike in a location where hunting is not allowed, such as one of Washington's national parks or at any of the more than 100 Washington State Parks.

Be Seen and heard

Wear bright clothing. If you are hiking in an area that is open for hunting, be sure to make yourself visible. Choose colors that stand out, like pink, red and orange. Avoid wearing blacks, browns, muted greens and camouflage.

Deborah Essman: "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 sportsman's 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. Whistle, sing or carry on a conversation as you walk to alert hunters to your presence. Sound carries well across mountain basins, and hunters will take note. If you do hear shooting, raise your voice and let hunters know that you are in the vicinity.

Deborah Essman: "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," 

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A hiker wears orange while heading out on trail. Photo by Paul Courter.

Hiking with dogs. Keep your pup on leash and consider having them wear a brightly-colored pack, coat or an old orange t-shirt. Dogs or stock can easily be mistaken for coyotes, deer or other game, so make sure they stand out. 

Deborah Essman: "Be aware of the local regulations and always keep your dog on leash," says Deborah. "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."