Advice on Hunting Seasons
So you want to go hiking, but you're worried about hunting? Don't let the unknown stop you! If you don't hunt, or you don't come from a background full of avid hunters, the whole hunting thing is intimidating. You may be thinking...
Is it safe to hike during hunting season?
Which hunting seasons are safest?
Where might I encounter hunters?
Are all lands hunted?
This is all too confusing and scary. I'm not going.
First and foremost, hunting is an integral piece of Delmarva's heritage. These lands and waterways have been hunted for centuries. Hunting is also an important population control method for deer. Many hikers get frustrated that they are unable to safely hike their favorite trails during some hunting seasons, but it IS public land, and the agencies that manage these lands have an obligation to support all forms of recreation. In most cases, a hunting season only lasts maybe 4 weeks out of the entire YEAR, allowing low-impact recreation to occur safely for the remaining 48 weeks of the year!
Hikers and hunters can coexist in many cases, but the time to definitely avoid hiking is during deer firearm seasons (shotgun, muzzleloader, and anterless). These usually occur for only a few weeks out of the entire year, typically falling in late fall and winter. If you choose to hike during these seasons, avoid state forests and wildlife management areas, as those lands are hunted the most. Archery and crossbow seasons are less dangerous, as the range for hunting is much smaller. However, good trail etiquette would be to avoid heavily hunted areas (state forests and wildlife areas) during these seasons as well. Many state parks also allow deer hunting as well, so be sure to check with the individual park on what they allow.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are hiking from early February through October, you don't need to worry about deer hunting! The firearm seasons typically occur in Nov, Dec, and Jan. Other seasons, such as small game, turkey, and dove seasons, take place in other months in the spring and fall, but are not as popular or as heavily hunted as deer seasons.
If you need even more peace of mind, it never hurts to wear bright colors (blaze orange is best) to increase your visibility. Many hunters prefer dawn or dusk to hunt, so choosing to hike during the middle of the day can be a safer option.