Vail Daily column: Hiking with hunters: Are you safe?
October 15, 2013
Autumn is considered by many to be one of the best seasons to enjoy the outdoors in Colorado. The mountains are especially popular this time of year, as the cool dry air provides the perfect atmosphere for those seeking a moderate workout unaccompanied by sweat-drenched clothes and high elevation sunburns. The quality of scenery throughout the state increases significantly during the fall, as leaves expose vibrant pigments, and wildlife sightings surge as many species scramble to prepare for the harsh cold ahead. Combined, these seasonal characteristics offer an unforgettable hiking experience.
Unless, of course, you find yourself dodging bullets from the estimated 300,000 big game hunters Colorado hosts each fall. More and more, hunters have come to appreciate big and small game hunting in our mountains. At the same time, the rapid rate of urbanization here in Colorado results in increasing numbers of residents who hike and recreate within our state's vast wild lands. The popularity of both hiking and hunting in our state has led to some serious safety concerns on both sides.
Hikers seeking exercise and beautiful scenery should always take precautions to prevent hazards such as dehydration, heat fatigue, sunburn, disorientation, wildlife encounters and other challenges that could arise in the woods.
Should the hazard of "being shot by hunters" also be a primary concern? According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesperson Randy Hampton, that will not be necessary. Hampton explains that, "In Colorado, there has never been a fatality of a non-hunter which had been caused by a hunter." He noted that when you consider the state data, being involved in an automobile accident is more likely than enduring a hunter-caused injury.
Precautions to take
There are a number of smart strategies hikers can use in the field to avoid unhappy encounters with hunters. The first is to stay on designated hiking trails. Hunters tend to avoid designated trails, as the high concentrations of people will scare game. Also consider your selection of apparel. Dress in a way that keeps you from being mistaken as a game animal. This may include dressing yourself and pets in a bright, vibrant color, typically orange. Also, consider hiking with a bell or engaging in loud conversation while you hike to alert any nearby hunters of your presence.
Although it would be extremely rare for a recreationist to be harmed by a hunter, it is far less unusual for a hunter to be injured by another hunter. Randy Hampton explains that "during the first half of the 20th century our state averaged nine fatal, and 24 non-fatal accidents caused by hunters each year." However, since the implementation of a mandatory hunter education course in 1970, Colorado has averaged only one fatal incident and 11 non-fatal incidents each year. This suggests that hikers should not live in fear of hunters while recreating in Colorado, but both hunters and hikers must take precautions to assure each others' safety.
The autumn season is a short one in the mountains, and many of us want to get out and enjoy the beautiful colors which have already begun to captivate visitors and residents alike. As you are out there enjoying the spectacular scenery and pleasant weather, though, make sure to keep yourself safe. Regardless which form of recreation you choose to pursue, if you are following proper safety guidelines, the woods will prove to be a safe place for us all!
Benjamin Mezger is a Colorado native who works as a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center. When he is not enlightening the public about our natural world, he enjoys pursuing activities like fishing, hiking, hunting and skiing.