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Trail Riding Safety During Hunting Season


By Leigh Ballard
The cool weather of fall and early winter in the mid-south is seen by many as the very best time for trail riding. But it’s the favorite time of year for hunters, too! All trail riders should stay informed about the different hunting seasons and the different start and end dates of each.  And all trail riders should also be aware of the areas where hunting is permitted. Many public lands, including recreation areas, state and national parks, and wildlife areas, are open to the public and the public’s interests, and those interests include hunting at certain times of the year. Check with your state’s Fish and Wildlife agency for the particulars of a location in which you wish to ride.

No matter where you ride during hunting season, there are certain safety precautions that all trail riders should take, even on private land where hunters might be hunting without permission:

Be Visible! Wear hunter’s orange. Or wear something that is bright, hot pink, neon green, and stands out as not natural in the woods. Don’t wear camouflage and ride a buckskin horse so that you’re sure to look like a deer walking through the woods! (And if you’re riding at a time that all the leaves are orange, hot pink might be a good color choice anyway!) Put colors on your horse too. Hunter orange vests are sold for horses. Bright saddle pads and leg protection are easily available. Cyclists’ blinking lights on your saddle might even be a good idea, especially if you have to be on the trail during low light times of dawn and dusk.

Be Noisy! Trail riding is a fun time with your friends. Talk a lot and talk loud. Put bells on your horse, or on your saddle or stirrups. All the noise will help send the deer and other animals away from you, so nobody should have reason to shoot in your direction. Also, the hunters will probably hear you and know you’re present.

Don’t ride alone. Besides the usual safety reasons for not riding alone, you’ll make a lot more noise with a friend. But if you do go alone, make sure people know where you are going and when you will return.

Don’t take your dog. Dogs roaming in the woods can accidentally be shot by hunters. But if you have to take your dog, dress him in hunter orange too.

Carry your cell phone on your person, not in your tack. If you come off your horse because he’s spooked by a hunter, a gunshot blast, etc., you certainly don’t want your phone running through the woods somewhere on your horse’s back! And always have a little bit of first aid equipment with you, and a good knife that can cut a rope or halter if necessary.

Avoiding the deep woods during hunting season is a good idea, especially in known hunting areas. Ride as much as you can in open fields where you are visible and obvious, or stay on well traveled trails where hunters would expect to see you. There’s no need to take a notion to go bushwhacking during hunting season! It’s also a good idea to avoid peak hunting times like early morning and dusk when deer are more active, and hunters are also more active.

And remember, there is no set season for our favorite sport, but hunters can only enjoy their sport for short times during the year. Be friendly and courteous if you run into them, and let them know where you will be riding. Be sensitive to the fact that they have as much right to hunt as you have to ride. And also be aware that you might be interfering with a day they’ve been waiting for all year. But also remember that while most hunters are careful and conscientious, there are times that excitement or inexperience can cause accidents. Be safe!

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