Hikers here in the South look forward to the late fall and winter when the weather turns crisp and cool. So do hunters, their seasons for taking, birds, small game and white-tailed deer coinciding with the days hikers and mountain bikers favor for their recreational pursuits on public lands.
Is there a risk to those who want to bike and hike on a trail surrounded by hunters? That is a tough call based on national statistics gleaned from the Internet recently, mostly from sites that do not support hunting. It looks like each year there are about 1,000 hunting injuries and from that about 100 fatalities. Most of those were hunters themselves and mostly younger.
As tragic as these numbers are, it appears that hunting or being in an area with hunters, is statistically much safer than the drive to and from a hunt/hike/mountain bike ride. In the U.S. more people die in one year in automobile crashes than the total number of deaths from yellow fever in the history of New Orleans.
What level of risk these stats present to you as a hiker or bicyclist out and about in public lands during hunting season is for you to determine. Those unfamiliar with hunting would do well to follow these suggestions found in the "Mississippi Outdoor Digest 2013-2014", a free publication from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks. Following these tips may lower your risk of becoming a hunting accident statistic when hiking or bicycling on public lands that permit hunting, such as national Forests, national wildlife refuges and state wildlife management areas. Taking these precautions also shows respect for the hunters sharing this precious outdoor resource with you.
Trail users should know the local hunting seasons by the type of game hunted and the weapon used. Birds and small game are usually hunted with shot guns or small bore rifles. These weapons are often used to shoot relatively short distances, their muzzles pointed up when hunting birds and arboreal mammals. White-tail deer, on the other hand, are hunted with rifles shooting a much larger caliber bullet capable of traveling much farther before it hits something. Visit www.mdwfp.com for specific hunting season information.
Wear a hunter orange hat and vest. And a hunter orange pack cover if backpacking. There are hunter orange shirts, socks, hoodies, polypropylene skivvies and fleece jackets--all kinds of clothing in bright orange--if you want to augment the basic hat and vest. Also, it may be obvious, but don't dress like a deer. Avoid a brown hat topped with a white pompon or other white and brown clothing during deer season or red or blue during turkey seasons.
Make sure you are heard before you are seen by whistling, singing, talking (to yourself if you have to) while on the trail.
Avoid peak hunting times such as the opening day of a particular hunting season or early mornings/late afternoons or during holiday periods.