(c) 1996, Willis Lamm, TrailBlazer Magazine

"Moving Target"
How to avoid becoming some hunter's trophy
By Willis Lamm


Reprinted with permission of TrailBlazer Magazine for non-commercial use.

One spring I was riding quietly in a nearby canyon when I came upon a herd of about a half dozen deer. My horse and I ambled quietly and within a few seconds we found ourselves surrounded by the deer who were nibbling on the brush, and who approached nearly close enough to touch. For several surreal minutes I enjoyed this unusual companionship until it was time to quietly ride away.

It's fun to be out in the bush "at one" in with nature. In other times of the year I might have been more anxious about blending in with a herd of deer. Fortunately in this instance it was not deer season and I was in fairly open territory and visible.

Every year riders and hikers are accidentally shot by hunters who mistake them for game. Most hunters are skilled enthusiasts who take pride in their mastery of the hunting arts. But in virtually every category of people there are those who don't possess good skill and judgement, are impaired by alcohol or other intoxicants, or simply don't care.

As a result, every rider needs to be aware of hunters whenever riding out in hunting areas, particularly during hunting season. One must also remember that when game is out of season, poachers may still be out there looking for something to bag.

Be Seen

The obvious first consideration in this situation is to be unmistakably identified as a horse and rider. As a rider, you should dress as hunters do; in bright clothes. A bright cover on your helmet or a bright hunter's cap (if you don't wear a helmet) is a good start. A bright shirt, wind breaker or vest can fill out your ensemble. Bright orange or lime yellow are good colors. Red also works in broad daylight, but many deeper shades of red can appear dark brown or black when in deep shadows and after dusk.

Your local hardware store should have orange flagging tape from which you can fashion bright "fly swishers" to attach to your horse's headstall. A couple of bright streamers attached to your cantle rings or rear saddle strings, and even a bright ribbon around your horse's tail can help some distant hunter distinguish you from that deer or bear he is searching for.

If you don't have a bright shirt, jacket or vest, you can fashion arm bands out of flagging tape and tie streamers to your pack or Camel Back.

Your dog will need a bright bandanna, or better yet, be left at home if the area is expected to be thick with hunters. If you will be out after dusk, wear something reflective and carry a flashlight.

Be Heard

Many hunters use rifles with scopes and they may detect you or your horse's movement, but be too far away to hear your horse's distinctive footfalls. Particularly in dense vegetation it is a good idea to generate some non-prey like noise.

A cowbell worn by one of the horses in the group should distinguish you from game. (Just hope no one is hunting beef!) Cow bells will also discourage bear from messing with you and their sound carries farther than bear bells. Rhythm beads with good jingle bells or small cowbells are also useful if the bells are clear enough to be heard over background noise such as footfalls and snapping twigs.

If you don't have a bell, sing a song or call out loudly every few minutes or carry on a conversation with your comrades.

Plan Ahead

Rhythm Bead necklaces with
bells are available through the
non-profit
Wild Horse Store

Stick to designated trails. Most hunters should be aware of them and would rather be off in the bush. If you are riding in an organized event, don't wander off course on your own. Hunters will be expecting riders to be where they belong... with the group!

Avoid thickly forested areas. If you cannot avoid them, be extra cautious.

If you hear rifle reports, be doubly cautious, noisy and visible!

Hunters tend to be less active at midday and during this time the light is generally best to facilitate recognition of your bright colors.

If you trailer into or pass by a trailhead which is full of pickup trucks with empty gun racks, consider going somewhere else if you can, especially if you don't have bright attire.

Check with a local hunting supply or hardware store to find out what hunting seasons are currently open, where hunters tend to be most active and where there are areas where hunters are not allowed.

Some locales prohibit hunting on Sundays and holidays. If this is true for your area, these may be the best riding days for you. Don't assume that no hunting is allowed until after you have checked.

When riding in a state or national park or forest, hunting information is usually available from the appropriate headquarters.

Don't forget that bullets don't stop at park boundaries and poachers don't care where they are, so even when riding in protected areas, still do your best not to look like a moving target!

  RIDERS' CHALLENGE
  Moving Target
  1. You and your friends want to get together for a long trail ride deep up into the mountains. The area is unfamiliar to you and it is a long way away. Aside from packing bright clothes, tape, etc., and perhaps a cowbell or two, what preparations should you make?

  2. You have arrived near your intended staging area and it has become apparent that you are in a hunting area in hunting season. From what sources can you get information which will aid you in achieving a safe ride?

  3. You have stopped at a hardware store prior to reaching your staging area.. If you don't feel adequately supplied with bright clothing, etc., what items might you buy to increase your visibility?

  ANSWERS

Proper preparation for adventures in deep bush country should include a call or letter to the appropriate agency responsible for managing the land. Even a good state road map should indicate if the area in which you intend to ride is a local, state or federal park, forest or preserve. In addition to requesting the usual information, trail map, etc., inquire about local hunting activities and see if the person giving you this information will note popular hunting areas on the map for you. This information should help you plan the safest routes, estimate riding times, etc. long before you arrive and will help prevent your stalling out in getting your ride started while you debate these issues.

As you enter the region of your ride and it appears that hunters are busy in the area, find out which season is open and where hunters are active. (Duck season shouldn't pose as much of a problem as bear season.) Good sources of information include forestry headquarters, fire stations, police stations, hardware stores, farm suppliers and any businesses that appear to cater to hunters. If the people at one of these specific locations don't have accurate information, they should be able to point you toward someone who does.

If you are concerned about your visibility and pass a hardware store, farm supply or lumber yard, consider shopping and making a purchase. Useful items include orange flagging tape, reflective sticky tape (for your helmet), a reflective orange safety vest, a cow bell and a flashlight. While checking out you can also inquire about local hunting regulations and where you are most likely to encounter hunters. You might also get some useful tips about some great places to ride!


Our thanks to TrailBlazer Magazine for permission to post this series on our web page.
You can visit the TrailBlazer website at www.horsetrails.com.
For related stories, see
Wild Encounters

Rhythm Beads


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