When I first wrote this, deer season was in full swing. All over along the road side in areas of my county I would see the vehicles of hunters. Many of us want to walk our dogs in the woods and may go where hunting is allowed. During hunting seasons I often see stories shared of dogs shot by hunters or caught in leg hold traps. How can we be safer during hunting season?
Always remember safety is a two way street. Let me make an analogy to cyclists. No matter how safe car drivers attempt to be, if cyclists are being reckless they can compromise their safety. It takes a couple seconds for even an alert driver to process and act on a situation. Depending on road conditions, vehicle weight and speed it can take some distance for a vehicle to stop. When cyclists run red lights and stop signs, dart into busy traffic, swerve dangerously around cars, cut off vehicles while making left turns, and fail to signal when they are turning, etc., cyclists increase their own risk. Cyclists need to take some responsibility for their safety. Similarly, when we are out in areas where hunting and trapping is permitted during hunting season we need to work to increase our safety and that of our dogs.
Knowing hunting seasons and permitted hunting locations is the first step. In Virginia check the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website. https://www.dgif.virginia.gov Click on “hunting” in the menu bar. Some county websites also have hunting information specific to them. Whenever possible it is best to avoid areas where hunting is permitted during hunting season. Luckily in this region it is pretty easy to find alternative areas to walk. If you still choose to go into areas where hunting is allowed you need to take precautions.
For readers who are not in Virginia, check your state Department of Fish and Game websites for hunting season information.
Though the majority of hunters try to recognize their target before firing, things may look different depending on environmental conditions. When it is darker, foggy, lots of dense brush, etc., you and your dog’s appearance may be altered. Then yes, there is the risk of a few less than responsible hunters. Hunters who may be new, excited and a bit fast to fire, ones who are overtired or yes, those who may be under the influence of something may not be as aware of what they are firing at. If you go walking in areas where hunting is permitted you and your dog must be highly visible.
There is a reason hunters wear blaze orange, or should: it stands out. Blaze orange clothing is easy to get. Many stores carry various blaze orange clothing as does Amazon. Your dogs should be in a blaze orange jacket or at bare minimum a reflective orange collar. Go all out with the orange!
You may want to let Sparky run loose in the woods. What dog would not love a good romp amongst the trees, the ability to chase squirrels or bunnies? It is best to keep your dog on leash during all walks. There are leash laws in all National parks and Forests as well as in most counties. Also your dog may be mistaken for animals such as a coyote. Never hope a hunter will see you far behind your dog. Do not use long lines or extending leads when walking in hunting areas for the same reason. Dogs that are ranging out are at risk of being snared in traps. Yes, many areas still permit their use.
I remember a furious rant by a dog owner whose dog was badly injured by a leg hold trap. I asked her was she walking in an area where trapping was permitted. Yes. Was her dog off leash. Yes. So she was allowing her dog to be loose in an area with permitted trapping and she was angry at the trappers. Her dog’s risk would have been reduced had be been on a six foot lead and/or had the owner chosen to walk in an areas where trapping was not allowed. It is the owner’s responsibility to know what is allowed, when and where. This dog owner knew she was letting him run loose in a trapping area during trapping season. Yes, there will always be some hunter or trapper who hunts or traps in areas where it is not allowed. However, dog owners have the responsibility of knowing what is allowed, where, and when.
As dog owners we are ultimately responsible for the safety of our dogs and the safety of those around us. If you like to be out in the woods with your dogs, take a few minutes and research different hunting laws and times where you live.