The bugs are gone and the air is crisp. It’s evident why many Maine hikers peg autumn as the best season to hit the trails. But as of this Saturday, hikers will be sharing the woods with hunters searching for white-tailed deer. While sharing Maine’s 17.7 million acres of forest isn’t too difficult, some safety measures aren’t a bad idea.
Reiterating an old rule: The easiest way to increase safety is to amp up visibility. Everyone roaming the woods during firearm deer hunting season should wear hunter orange, and for good reason.
“Just because you’re not hunting doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be seen,” said Maine Game Warden Paul Mason, who is responsible for the Bangor area. “Wearing hunter orange hats and vests, something that can be seen from all sides, is important.”
Hunting accidents were a lot more common in the 1950s, before the popularity of hunter orange.
During a state legislative session on May 14, 1999, former Rep. Royce Perkins of Penobscot referred back to the two “atrocious years” in the early ’50s when there were 19 hunting fatalities in the state. Hunting fatalities took a precipitous drop after that, without state regulation, and Perkins attributes the drop in fatalities to the advent of hunter orange — and, perhaps more important, people wearing the hunter orange clothing voluntarily. By 1971, the state averaged four hunting fatalities a year.
In 2010, there were five hunting-related incidents in which someone was injured, but there were were no fatalities for the second consecutive year, according to the Maine Warden Service in a January 2011 report.
“Hunting is a safe sport,” Mason said. “Most hunters are very cautious.
Everyone has to take a hunter safety course. Everyone is educated on the dangers that can arise. In general, for the number of people out in the woods hunting in Maine, the number of accidents is very small.”
According to Maine’s target identification law, which was adopted in 1991, “While hunting, a hunter may not shoot at a target without at that point in time being certain that it is the wild animal or wild bird sought.”
Identification must be based on obtaining an essentially unobstructed view of the head and torso of a potential target.
Nowadays, it’s state law that “anyone who hunts any species with a firearm or crossbow during firearms season on deer must wear two articles of hunter orange clothing,” according to the State of Maine Hunting and Trapping Laws and Rules. One article must be a solid-colored hunter orange hat, and the other must cover a major portion of the torso, such as a vest or coat, and must be a minimum of 50 percent hunter orange.
“But the law only pertains to people who are hunting with a firearm [or crossbow]. It’s not forced on anyone else, but it surely is recommended,” said Mason.
Hunter orange is defined as “a daylight fluorescent orange color with a dominant wavelength between 595 and 605 nanometers, excitation purity not less than 85 percent and luminance factor of not less than 40 percent,” according to the state rulebook. Apparel manufacturers can do the science for you.
In addition to purchasing hunter orange apparel for yourself and your children, find an orange collar, vest or bandanna for your pet, said Rob Burbank, Appalachian Mountain Club director of media and public affairs. Burbank dressed his former dog, Buck, in a hot-pink T-shirt during hunting season.
Burbank also ties a hunter orange bandanna to his backpack, and he avoids wearing gray, tan and brown clothing — clothing that looks like deer hide — and white, which might be mistaken as a flash of the fluffy white underside of a deer tail.
A few of Burbank’s safety tips have nothing to do with clothing.
Hike with someone else so you can carry on a conversation, he said. Hunters are listening closely for animals, and a human voice is distinctive. You also can hike alone and talk to yourself, if you feel so inclined, but make sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to return. Consider hiking on established trails and avoiding trailblazing or exploring side trails. You also can simply opt to hike in areas that are off-limits to hunters, such as national parks, or on land that is not desirable to hunters, such as mountain terrain.
“Hunters often know where the hiking trails are and often choose to go to other areas that have less activity and more game,” said Burbank in a recent phone interview from his post at Pinkham Notch, N.H. “Hikers and hunters can share the woods in the fall.”
Where to find hunter orange clothing for children
While hunter orange items are easy to find for adults at most department stores and sports stores, sometimes it’s difficult to find hunter orange clothing for children who long to escape the stuffy classroom at the end of the school day and play outdoors. Here are a few Maine locations that sell hunter orange clothing for children. All of these locations also sell hunter orange clothing for adults.
- L.L. Bean, which has several stores throughout Maine and a flagship store in Freeport, sells a hunter orange youth Trail Model Fleece Jacket ($39.95), hunter orange youth fleece hats ($14.95) and dog safety vests ($36).
- Cabela’s at 100 Cabela Blvd. in Scarborough sells hunter orange youth fleece vests ($9.99), youth neck gaiters ($7.99) and youth sweatshirts ($29.99).
- Van Raymond Outfitters at 388 South Main St. in Brewer sells hunter orange youth hats ($12), jackets ($19.99) and vests ($19.99) and hunter orange bandannas ($4.50), ideal for tying onto a backpack.
- Maine Military Supply at 735 Wilson St. in Brewer carries hunter orange youth beanie hats ($2.99), fleece vests for toddlers and children ($12.99), teen fleece vests ($12.99) and youth safety vests ($9.99).
- Old Town Trading Post at 1681 Bennoch Road in Old Town carries hunter orange youth gloves ($3-$4), hats ($4-6), basic vests ($7) and hooded sweatshirts ($20).