Fall is a favorite time of year for many hikers, and it’s easy to see why. The daytime temperatures cool off, the skies clear, and the clouds of mosquitoes start to fade -- and let’s not forget the leaf change. With the return of the cooler weather also comes the return of some of the most popular hunting seasons. If you’ve been hiking in the fall before, you might already know that there are some additional things to keep in mind. If not, then never fear! Here’s what you need to know about going for a stroll, a ride, or a run in your favorite patch of public land.
The short answer: it depends. Hunting season is not one long, continuous stretch. It’s more like many sets of overlapping seasons, depending on the type of game being hunted. There are small game seasons (think woodchuck, squirrel, and rabbit) and large game seasons (think deer, bear, and elk). There are also seasons for migratory birds and fur-bearing game.
The season that most hikers, cyclists, and runners are concerned about is firearm deer season, which typically lasts around two weeks. Hunters are out enjoying the woods in much greater numbers than in other seasons, and blaze orange attire is required to stay safe. Depending on where you live, firearm deer season could fall in November, December, or January, with additional muzzleloader deer seasons sometimes being held later.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that hunting seasons are local, and they may change slightly each year. Be sure to check the start and end dates in the state where you recreate each year.
If you’re new to hiking during hunting season, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on your state’s blaze orange requirements.
In many states, hunters and other recreators are required to wear a certain amount of outer clothing with the color blaze orange -- also known as international or fluorescent orange. Or, if you're like the folks at Purple Lizard Maps, you call it Screaming Warning Orange.
There’s a good reason for this bright orange color: deer aren’t able to see orange, which keeps hunters camouflaged to their targets, but helps us stand out to each other in the woods. The bottom line: orange keeps everyone safe, except the deer. Deer all have a similar colorblindness in the red-green spectrum that a percentage of people have. A deer's eyesight can only see short [blue] and middle [green] wavelength colors. As a result, the Screaming Warning Orange Lizard Hat just looks like a shade of grey to a deer, and if it isn't moving would fade into the landscape. Deer are very attuned to movement - they have a field of vision that spans over 300 degrees, and their ears are very sensitive to the slightest of sounds.
Like start and end dates for hunting seasons, each state has different rules as to the amount of orange that should be worn, and for what seasons it’s required. The amount is usually measured in square inches, with 100 square inches being roughly the size of a sheet of printer paper. To keep on the safe side, it’s a good idea to put on your orange during any hunting season, regardless of whether it’s required by the state.
In Pennsylvania, public land users are required to wear 250 square inches of blaze orange above the waist during all small and large game seasons. The exception is archery-exclusive seasons that don’t overlap with firearm seasons.
In West Virginia, that number is 400 square inches, but applies only to firearm deer season.
If you recreate in Ohio, you’re required to wear a vest, coat, jacket, or coveralls that are blaze orange during deer gun and muzzleloader seasons.
If you’re in need of some stylish blaze orange, a Lizard Screaming Warning Orange hat will get you around 100 square inches of orange and some serious jealousy from your friends.
In Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio, hunters may hunt from 30 minutes before sunrise until 30 minutes after sunset. Many game animals are most active at dusk and dawn, so plenty of hunters prefer to hunt at these times. So, be polite and keep activities to daytime hours.
In Ohio and West Virginia, hunting is allowed all seven days of the week. Traditionally, Pennsylvania has prohibited hunting on Sundays, but the 2021-2022 season has three exceptions in November.
Yes! However, your best buddy will also need to wear plenty of orange, visible from all sides. It’s also more important than any other time of year to keep your dog leashed. An unleashed dog running through the woods could be mistaken for a deer by an unexperienced hunter.
Most State Parks have designated No Hunting areas, called Safety Zones, that provide outdoor access for non-hunters. The boundaries will be posted along trails so you should know where you are crossing out of the Safety Zone into the Hunting Zone. However, signs may be missing, so it is important to have a good understanding of the boundary - talk to your local State Park personnel for clarification. In addition to State Parks, you may have local areas that are open for recreation and closed to hunting, such as Preserves, Parks and other areas that may be in conservation easements.
Getting outside during hunting season doesn’t have to be difficult or worrisome. Wave and smile at hunters when you pass them, rock the blaze orange, and enjoy the leaf change!
Renée Koma is a writer in mental health and personal development. When she’s not tapping away on her laptop, she loves to play her cello, go backpacking, and write for her own outdoors-themed blog, The Dirt.