Hiking trails have provided a welcome chance for people to get outdoors, enjoy nature, and take advantage of the fresh air during a pandemic that has stretched on for so many months.
Now, those carefree treks in the woods takes on a new twist for hikers with the arrival of hunting season.
Deer hunting season this year runs from Nov. 21 to Dec. 13 followed by the bow hunting and muzzle loading season from Dec. 14 to Dec. 22.
“Hunters need to be extremely aware of what they are shooting at, what the surrounding area is and hikers need to be aware of hunters being out and the potential that this time of year people are hunting,” said Mark King, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. “The number of accidents is extraordinarily low, it’s at a historic low according to DEC and if you look through last year’s incidents in New York, none of them involved someone out hiking.”
Both hunters and hikers can share the woods safely as long as both groups remain vigilant about their surroundings.
“There is more opportunity for interaction,” King said, “but I think it’s a very manageable situation.”
The key to cooperation in the woods is that both groups of outdoors people agree on the importance of a single color – hunter orange.
“It is really important for both sides to be proactive,” King said. “Hunters need to be extremely aware of what they are shooting at, what the surrounding area is and hikers need to be aware of hunters being out and the potential that this time of year people are hunting.”
“I think that hikers should wear orange during hunting season at least,” Peter Rieck of Schenectady said. “We’re out in the woods and we don’t know if someone is not wearing orange you don’t know that they are not an animal.
“People don’t understand how easy it is to conceal themselves in the woods even walking on a hiking path, you can’t be seen too easily.”
Rieck, a retired New York State Trooper, has taught the New York State Hunter Safety course since 1969. He said that hunters bare the burden of safety, including when they are successful or not with an intended target.
“I tell the story that on I-88 a few years ago a guy was driving down through Schoharie County and heard a noise, didn’t know what happened,” Rieck said. “Next time he pulled over to get gas he noticed a bullet hole in the pillar right behind him.
“They traced it back to the hunter, he was hunting legally, he just didn’t make sure that there was a bullet stop between him and I-88.”
The current safety course, available to hunters from 12-years-old and up takes place over two Saturdays, and requires more than 14 hours of instruction.
The Wolf Creek Falls Preserve in Altamont is just one of three preserves overseen by the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy that allow hunting through a historic rights arrangement.
The preserve provides several orange vests at the entrance for hikers to borrow before heading into the woods.
“People are very grateful for that and I think that’s a really basic safety thing,” King said. “If you are wearing an orange vest out there even an interaction with a hunter are extraordinarily small.”
Avid hikers Janet Schulenberg of Delmar and Cynthia Johnson of Berne were ready to enter the Wolf Creek trail Sunday, Schulenberg dressed in a red vest and Johnson wearing a yellow T-shirt under her vest.
“You don’t usually find hunters out mid-day,” Johnson said. “They hunt in the early light and failing light, so go out in the middle of the day.
“Hunters are going to stay away from where there are people and people are going to stay away where there are hunters. It’s not in a hunter’s interest to come out here to Wolf Creek Falls on a weekend and try to catch a deer.”
Hiker Alison Mesick of Rotterdam had her own orange vest on, a staple for her during the hunting season months.
“I don’t wear orange all year long, just during hunting season,” she said. “I hike Catskills, Adirondacks, locally, I go all over. I have heard shots, I have seen people, hunters obviously with guns.
“I go with Hiking Mates [of the Capital Region] which is a group and the leader of the group normally suggests wearing your orange if it’s this time of year,” she said. “I hike with a small group of people and we know, to wear your orange.”
Following some simple practices, King said, can make for a safe time, for pets too.
“Stay on trails, at this time of the year the hunters know where the trails are. Responsible hunters are not going to hunt near trails and roads,” King said. “Dogs are probably at a higher risk than people if they are running unleashed and we want dogs on preserves leashed.”