After a long, dark, and cold winter, outdoor enthusiasts are eager to get outside and adventure in the woods of Pennsylvania. Many folks eagerly await the opening of spring turkey gobbler season. The specific dates of hunting seasons vary, but it is safe to assume spring gobbler season runs from the last week in April through the end of May. It's a good idea to assume hunters will be sharing the woods with you while you are engaged in your outdoor adventures from pre-dawn to post-dusk Monday through Saturday. Sunday is the only day you can safely be in the woods without the risk of disturbing active shooters. Everyone has the right to enjoy the woods safely, and there are some basic rules for risk mitigation during the spring hunting season that should be respected.
Not bright red, not lime green or bold yellow, but blaze orange. Seriously, it's the best way to go. Pennsylvania State Game Lands, by law, require all visitors to wear 250 square inches of blaze orange during certain hunting seasons. In Pennsylvania State Forests this is just a suggestion...but why not just go for 250 square inches nonetheless and call it good? What is 250 square inches? Generally speaking, this is at least a hat and a vest.
Pro tip: Keep your blaze orange Lizard hat on at all times. A vest on a backpack doesn't help much when you take off the backpack and walk off trail to squat in the woods in deep underbrush.
Yep that's right, turkey can see colors, so hunters aren't always required to wear blaze orange. Turkey hunters are required to wear 100 square inches of orange only when moving. When stationary and actually hunting, they are not required to wear any orange because the birds will easily see them. A well-camouflaged hunter can be standing a few yards away and you won't even know they are close by. What does this mean for you? Make your presence known, in a polite manner, when enjoying public lands. If you are hiking or bicycling with a friend, keep an occasional conversation in play. If you are hiking alone, a bear bell on your backpack will let others know you are coming through. If you enjoy whistling a tune, this may be the right opportunity to expand your repertoire.
We all want to use public lands and we want these lands to remain open for shared use. Hunters prefer dawn and dusk, because this is typically when game species are most active. Try to avoid being on trails at these times of day during hunting season. Also, be sure to make eye contact and give a friendly wave when a hunter is spotted. They see you, you see them, you proceed quietly past their spot, and all parties continue to enjoy their experience in the woods.
It's also a great idea to outfit your pets with blaze orange. You must keep pets under close control and on leash during hunting season. You do not want to take the risk that your loose dog will be mistaken for a hunting target. Legally, if a hunter shoots your dog by mistake you have little to no recourse if your dog was not on a leash. You also don't want your dog eating, rolling, or in any way enjoying the remnants of a recently harvested animal.
May is a magical month in the Northeast. Spring green is everywhere and flowers are beginning to bloom. The weather can change abruptly, so bring some warm clothes and sunscreen, your Purple Lizard Map, and your best blaze orange!
For hunting season information in Pennsylvania check the Game Commission website:
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I had two seriously long days in the woods planned, for an estimated total of 44 miles of backpacking. My plan was to follow a slew of lesser-known trails to create a loop that incorporates both Black Forest Trail and West Rim Trail. I picked this route after studying the Pine Creek Lizard Map. There are countless trails on this excellent map, but some of them are old, neglected, and untravelled. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Winter is a great time to do this kind of exploring. There are no rattlesnakes, nettles, or ticks. Streams are easy to follow, and the cold temperatures can dress up the stream banks with ice sculptures. The lack of leaves creates winter vistas where in the summer there is only endless green. So off I went.