A properly attired hiker: Blaze orange in hunting season

TL;DR: Wearing the same amount of blaze orange as required by hunters is wise. Hunters will not shoot at “anything that moves,” but instead they will not shoot at all if a person is in their firing area. Wearing blaze orange is good for safety, the hunters appreciate it, and wearing blaze orange is a respectful way of sharing the outdoors among all users.

 

A few years ago during a shoulder season backpacking trip (attempt!), Swami and I started the first day of rifle season for elk hunting.

What this meant is that the taking of blaze orange (also called hunter orange) for our trip was an excellent idea.

Oddly enough, the wearing of blaze orange is not required for non-hunters in Colorado.  But, we thought it would still be a good idea for our safety and the hunters’ peace of mind.

With that recent experience in mind, here are some ideas for the wearing of blaze orange beyond a simple vest.

What are the dates and rules for hunting season?

The most obvious step is to find out what date the various hunting seasons start in your state (or province if hiking in nearby Canada).  Note that “hunting season” is a broad term. Hunting season is split into different types of hunting, areas,  and even weapon types. Big game? Fowl? Deer? Elk? Bow hunting? Muzzle? Rifle? The specific location and unit? You get the idea.

Different seasons and areas have different rules. *GENERALLY* rifle season requires blaze orange; strictly bow hunting season does not. But, again, find out the dates and regulations for the specific area first.  The various sites I found for all the states had many outdated links.  Better to Google, for example,  Hunting season dates in ColoradoMore specific and up-to-date.

After that, find out the blaze orange regulations. How much is required and where it must be worn. Google is again your friend for specific rules.  The IHEA site appears to be updated for that type of info.

In Colorado, 500 square inches must be worn and visible. That means visible both above the waist and on the head.

As you can see from some of the older photos, as hikers we did not 100% follow the hunting regulations during that weekend. As my awareness increased over the seasons, I changed my clothing for rifle season in particular.

In 2018, I wear a vest, a hat cover, and a pack cover. During cold weather, I wear a blaze orange thermal top. More info on those items below.

As mentioned, Colorado only requires blaze orange for hunters. In my home state of Rhode Island, wearing blaze orange is required of all users of the DEM lands. 

Regardless of the specific regulations concerning who is required to wear blaze orange, all outdoor users really should wear blaze orange during this time of the year.

When we were out hiking that weekend, the hunters expressed appreciation that we wore blaze orange. We are sharing the woods, and all users want a good experience for everyone.

Wearing blaze orange is needed for safety, the vests and headgear are inexpensive and wearing the blaze orange gear is easy to do.

Though hiker accidents are rare during hunting season (esp. compared to the number of people using the outdoors for recreation), any accidents that do happen are typically because no blaze orange is being worn.

According to this article from a hunting-focused website:

In 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported that in the past 20 years, 81 percent of victims in vision-related hunting incidents were not wearing hunter orange clothing.

 So, no reason to not wear blaze orange clothing.

There may be blow downs..but at least I am visible in them! From thehikinglife.com


What to wear?

  • The first and most obvious place is the vest for the core area. Avoid the plastic vests and get better polyester vests. These vests are perhaps $10 or less. I like mine sized larger for putting over my other clothes including insulation layers. At this time of the year, many big box stores, local hardware stores/outfitters and XYZMarts tend to have the blaze orange.  I like to KISS with my vest. I don’t need the pockets and a zipped up vest can snag on my other clothing.  If it is cold, I have a blaze orange thermal top that works well and provides much visibility.
    • If you are looking for lightweight vests that breathe and dry quickly, check out the Orange Aglow productsAbout 2.2 oz for a vest with mesh that ventilates well and has excellent coverage. The designer of the gear hunts avidly in varied conditions and has thru-hiked the PCT in addition to a good chunk of the CDT.  He also sells panels suitable for attaching to a pack or your dog’s harness.
    • Note: I would not wear construction vests. From what I read on hunting forums, the reflective white stripes can mimic, at a quick glance, a certain animal being hunted. :O  
mrs-mags-blaze-orange
Modeling the latest in backpacker fashion for the hunting season. The “model” is on record as saying her posing for this photo is a form of cruel and unusual punishment. 🙂  I now wear a blaze orange pack cover.

For a small monetary investment, you have a safe, versatile and not at all heavy (concerning ounces) coverage for hunting season.

October 2015 while off-trail in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Note the hat/pack cover/vest combo. The setup is what I use currently with a thermal top for cold weather.

Canine companions and blaze orange

On our recent trip, I was a bit surprised to see a trail runner out with no blaze orange clothing. Even more surprising, to see his dog with no blaze orange on. A brown dog with white spots…..Yikes!

Safety for your pooch is just as important. Perhaps even more so in a sense they are on four legs and running.

At the very least, get a blaze orange bandanna to attach to your dog’s collar.

Better yet, a vest or harness is going to give more coverage and visibility.  And if you want something more durable,  Ruff Wear sells a more robust harness if needed.

Already have a harness and don’t wish to buy additional gear? Orange Aglow sells safety panels that could easily attach to an existing harness.

Roots
Photo from Ruff Wear blog

At dawn and dusk

As noted by Colter in the comments, visibility is very low at dawn and dusk.  The time when many hunters are out and about, too. Wearing a LED light of some sort is advisable. Many headlamps have a low light, blinking mode that work well for longer distance visibility.

At the end…

There is no reason NOT to wear blaze orange when hiking. For the hiker, and outdoors people in general, the wearing of blaze orange will keep you safe, put the hunters at ease knowing you are helping with general safety and will make for a more pleasant experience for everyone sharing the woods.   It is not that “hunters are shooting at everything“. Most are responsible. The wearing of blaze orange helps hunters so they can see you are nearby before they take their shot.

The clothing and gear are reasonable in price and the weight penalty is slight.

Just do it.

Courtesy of thehikinglife.com. My blaze orange coverage is expanded in 2018 vs. 2014 when we took this photo.

Revised 2018

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9 Replies to “A properly attired hiker: Blaze orange in hunting season”

  1. Thanks for this. I’ve been hesitant to hike during hunting season. Wearing more visible clothing will help me feel safer!

  2. I just finished a 4-day trip in Ansel Adams, ending on day 2 of deer season. I met 3 hunters on the trail, all carrying loaded rifles. We chatted, trading experiences, and continued. I’m also a firearms owner, so I know their rifles were loaded with the safety on. I didn’t worry about my safety because I was staying on the trail, and because I have a blue backpack. Hunters are not going to squeeze off a round at anything that moves – they’re looking for fur and antlers. But, if you are bushwacking through a thicket, you may want to sing while you are walking.

  3. Normally, I like wearing muted colors in the backcountry. The color of my clothing and gear are typically tans, browns, and greens so I often blend into the background and other people don’t notice me if I’m not moving. As an example, while taking a break next to the trail in Yosemite NP, a backcounty ranger walked right by me and then stopped another hiker coming along 20 yards down the trail to ask him for his permit and bear can.

    But, during hunting season or when doing paved road walks, I wear a bright orange wind jacket (Montbell Tachyon Jacket at 1.8oz in size L). It’s light enough that I don’t mind carrying it. I also have a orange pack cover that I often use as well.

    In late September, I hiked up the Tahoe Yosemite Trail and run into several hunters with rifles in the area near Hwy 108 (some were nice enough to drive me down to Kennedy Meadows north. As I heard rifle fire in the distance several times as I hiked, I was glad I had something that mad me stand out.

  4. we came from S. Africa where there is no such thing as public hunting, wandered into Three Sisters Wilderness on the first week of deer season. Quite apart from the season of which we were blissfully ignorant, it never occurred to me there would be hunters in a wilderness area. The grey flysheet was hanging in a tree drying in the breeze as we ate breakfast. Someone shot it. At that point I wasn’t many years removed from the experience of being shot at in a war zone, so there was a lot of yelling and obscenity.. never did find the hunter.
    I still have the blaze orange caps and vests we bought at the first gas station on the way out.

  5. How about wearing a yellow reflective construction vest instead of hunter orange? Mainly because I already own the construction vest. Any thoughts?

    • I would not wear construction vests. From what I read on hunting forums, the reflective white stripes can mimic, at a quick glance, a certain animal being hunted. :O

  6. Very sensible Mags, as usual. As a hunter, I especially appreciated this part: “Hunters will not shoot at ‘anything that moves,’ but instead they will not shoot at all if a person is in their firing area.”

    I’m always a big fan of putting things in perspective, of quantifying risk. There are something like 42 million hikers and 16 million hunters. Most years there are no hiker fatalities. The risk of hiking during hunting season is tiny compared to say, horseback riding or boating or running.

    But during rifle season I’m STILL going to do as you suggest for the reasons you suggest. I might be happy with wearing bright, unnatural colors (avoiding white) rather than buying new gear, but your point still stands.

    One more thing I’d add is that just as it’s getting light, and just as it’s getting dark, when colors are hard to see, a headlamp or a little LED light is a good idea.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Colter.

      Indeed. The chances of hikers getting shot are small compared to other possibilities in the outdoors. It seems most accidents during hunting season are among hunters.

      Many hikers (myself included) tend to favor muted Earth tones or similar. Just yesterday, my clothing and gear consisted of green, black, gray, and dark blue. :O The only bright colors I own are the blaze orange purchased over the past few seasons. But, year, brighter colors could no doubt work, too!

      Good idea about the light. I’ll add that and the perspective, too.

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