Protecting Your Pets and Yourself During Hunting Season
The cool air…. The crisp nights… The fall foliage… The gunshots…. THE GUNSHOTS?!?
I’ve been walking dogs on the trails of Western Mass for 15 years now, and every fall there is an influx of armed woodland visitors hoping to take home a furry, meaty souvenir of their time in the wilderness. No matter your opinion of the ethics and regulations of hunting, it is a reality that folks will be out there shooting, and it is up to us to do everything we can to protect ourselves and our animals from a dangerous accident.
There are a variety of hunting seasons throughout the year for different creatures and for various weapons. Thankfully the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife have made this mostly-not-that-confusing chart for us all to try and follow: http://www.eregulations.com/massachusetts/huntingandfishing/hunting-season-dates/
By far, the most dangerous hunting season for dog owners is deer hunting season. Deer are one of the few wild game animals that could be potentially mistaken for dogs, plus there are a lot more hunters who have traditionally gone after deer in comparison to other game. Actually, deer hunting is a good thing for population control, keeping the deer from overgrazing their food sources, which prevents starvation and disease overall. Not to mention that having too many deer can lead to too many fat and happy ticks who are just waiting to find your leg and give you a disease. Gross! Even as a animal lover, who never wants to see animals suffer, I can see that the argument for allowing hunting is a good one.
Hopefully the hunters out there are well trained and following all the rules and guidelines, however, we can’t be sure everybody is practicing the best safety practices, so we must take precautions to protect ourselves.
- Wear “Hunting Orange”
Both you and your pets should have on a significant amount of “Hunting Orange”. Sporting goods stores, pet stores, and online retailers should all carry vests, jackets, sweatshirts, hats, and bandanas in that crazy neon orange color. The high quality products are also light reflective and don’t fade. If you can’t find a dog vest or your dogs doesn’t like wearing one, put a bandana around their neck to make them visible.
Make sure you stand out from the environment. Put a hat on your hairy head, so a foolish hunter doesn’t accidently shoot you thinking he’s found some sort of New England-y Sasquatch.
We really like the products made by Mudd and Wyeth, so check out their webpage for high quality hunting orange accessories that last!
- Make yourself known to others in the woods
If you see or hear anyone else in the woods, call out to them, letting them know you are there and that you have (friendly) dogs with you. If you hear gunshots nearby, call out as well, so the hunters know you are there. If you see a hairy New England-y Sasquatch…. run! But take a cell phone pic first, so that people will believe your cockamamie story.
- Don’t Go Into the Woods Near Dawn or Dusk
Low light means you and your pets are harder to see. Don’t get caught out on the trails as the light is fading and Rover starts to look more and more like Bambi’s Mom.
- Put Bells on Your Dogs
Another great way to keep hunter’s aware of your presence is by attaching “bear bells” to your clothes and your dogs’ collars. Hopefully, these will also alert bears that you are around. No matter what, Fall is not a great time to be sneaking around the woods. The main theme here is to announce yourself, and these bells are a very safe way to be known. Also great for tracking any of your hounds who might like to run off for stretches of time.
- Don’t Let Your Dogs Chase Wildlife
The more you practice good recall with your dogs (so that they come quickly even in the face of distraction), the quicker you can control your pups, and the safer they will be. Every day is a good day to practice recall, and every walk should have at least a few moments of training work to keep your pets’ recall up to snuff.
- Try to Find Trails Where Hunting is Not Permitted
If you have the choice between land where there are hunters and land where there are no hunters, choose the latter. This is maximum safety!
- Keep Your Dogs on Leash
If you are in a place where there are hunters around, you can put your dog on leash. This is very-close-to-maximum safety!
- Be Sensitive to Dogs Who Are Afraid of Loud Noises
Some dogs have a strong anxiety or fear response to loud noises. If your dog shivers and drools her way through the horror of a thunderstorm, you may want to stay away from areas where there are gun shots. Many dogs are not bothered, but loud noises can startle some dogs and cause them to run off or otherwise behave erratically. If this is your dog, please let your dog walker know, so that they can either leash the pup or go to an area where hunting is not allowed.
- Remember, There’s no Hunting on Sundays!
Apparently God hates guns (Don’t tell that to the NRA!), so there is no hunting on Sundays in Massachusetts. A perfect opportunity for a serene service in the Church of the Wilderness.
If you follow these suggestions, you will have a fun and safe time in the woods during this spectacular Fall season. Don’t let hunters deter you. Don’t let New England-y Sasquatch scare you away. There is room enough in the woods for all of us, if we are safe and keep our wits about us.