Starting Wednesday, it’s the season to don blaze orange in the woods

By DAVID BROOKS

Monitor staff

Published: 11-05-2023 7:28 AM

Wednesday is the start of the biggest hunting season of the year, which sends thousands of rifle-carrying people into New Hampshire’s woods in search of deer to shoot. If you’re a hiker, dog-walker or mountain bicyclist, how worried should you be about accidentally getting hit by a wayward bullet?

Hardly worried at all, although donning a bit of garish clothing is always a good idea.

In most years, New Hampshire sees a case or two in which somebody is accidentally shot by a hunter, but it almost always involves another member of the hunting party or the hunter themselves.

The only recent event in which a New Hampshire hunter accidentally shot a bystander was in 2017 when a mountain bicyclist was hit by a bullet near Elm Brook Park in Hopkinton. It was fired near dusk by a hunter taking aim at a deer who didn’t notice her in the background. The bicyclist was not seriously injured.

One accidental bystander shooting in six years is a pretty good safety record considering that 14,082 deer were killed by hunters in New Hampshire last year alone.

The best way to avoid even this very small risk is to wear something bright when going into the woods between now and Dec. 3, when deer hunting ends. The best bet is blaze orange, also known as hunter orange or safety orange, a fluorescent hue that’s very visible to the human eye but not to the eyes of deer or many other animals.

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Other hiking tips to stay safer: Keep to hiking trails – hunters usually avoid them because deer avoid them. Be more cautious near dusk and dawn, when deer and hunters are most active. If you hear noises in the woods that make you worried, don’t be shy: shout “hikers on the trail!” or something similar. Maybe sing a verse of “Sweet Caroline,” which will drive anybody away.

Hunters are in New Hampshire woods most of the year seeking a variety of species but it’s white-tailed deer that bring out the most. Roughly 50,000 hunting licenses are sold here annually and deer hunting is by far the biggest draw.

It has been legal to hunt deer in the state since Sept. 15 using archery and since Oct. 28 using muzzleloaders. Firearm season from Nov. 8 to Dec. 3 is more dangerous, however, because rifle bullets carry much further, raising the possibility of an accident if the hunter isn’t certain of what is behind their target.

Most hiking groups strongly encourage people to wear some blaze orange, the color used on safety vests and road hazard signs, when outdoors in fall and winter. You can buy all sorts of attire with the color, from bandanas and hats to an entire wardrobe.

A side note: blaze orange has a number of official definitions. For example, in something called the Munsell notation, blaze orange is 5.0YR hue and 6.0/15 chroma. It also has its own Pantone number and a definition using factors assigned by the International Commission on Illumination.

Many states require hunters to wear blaze orange or face fines, often defining the color and giving a minimum number of square inches of clothing that must carry it. New Hampshire, as you might expect, has no mandate but it does encourage hunters to wear a piece of blaze orange clothing above the waist. It doesn’t define blaze orange beyond saying that it should be bright and visible from 200 feet.

“Wearing blaze orange has statistically been shown to decrease hunting incidents across the country,” said Josh Mackay, who coordinates the Hunter Education Program at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Wearing blaze orange will not, however, help deer hunters faced with the most dangerous part of the sport: Falling out of tree stands.

Many deer hunters attach seats high up in trees, at least 10 feet up and usually much more, and sit in them waiting for deer, which don’t look up very often. Falling from that height, either from inattention or because the hunter has fallen asleep, kills or paralyzes scores of people every year.

The NRA says official estimates are that between 5,000 to 6,400 deer hunters will require medical attention in this country every year because of tree stand falls.