5 Tips to Stay Safe on Horse Trails During the Hunt

I’m sure that your parents gave you the same warnings about playing in the woods during the fall and winter. “Hunting Season, stay out of the woods and keep the critters in” they said.

Autumn’s crisp temperatures, golden foliage, and glorious weather beckon both hunters and horse riders alike to enjoy the season in the outdoors.

Don’t miss the fun of a fall ride, when the air is crisp, the bugs are gone, the crowds are scarce, and — with the leaves off the trees — the views are terrific. A little extra planning and preparation will help ensure an enjoyable outing. The Five “B”s will help ensure a safe hunting season ride.

Be Knowledgeable – Before you load the horse in the trailer familiarize yourself with where and when hunting is taking place so that you can plan your ride accordingly.

A quick call to your state’s Natural Resources, or Fish and Game, department will arm you with information on what game is in season and the dates when hunters will be out in force. Knowing the season’s dates will give you valuable ammunition in planning a ride. Where I grew up in Ohio the deer season is short and fierce. Simply doing arena work and skipping the trails on opening day was sufficient. Here in Washington hunting seasons run from late August through after Thanksgiving and that’s entirely too long to stay off the trails. During this time of year, I try to ride in more open areas where hunters should be able to more easily see me. It’s also a good time to stick to well-traveled trails and avoid cross-country travel through brushy areas.

Be-PreparedBe Prepared – Is your animal ready for the sounds and sights of hunting season?

For the unprepared, the first notice of hunting season is the loud report of gunfire. We’ve all heard, and some have experienced, the old story of the dude asking if he can shoot from horseback and the reply yes, once. Although I’m sure that they exist I don’t know any horse, or mule for that matter, that is 100% ok with gunfire. Heck, I get antsy when I hear it. That being said I’m happy as long as long as my animals tolerate the sound of gunfire. Getting to that point takes time and patience but it can be done. Lots of riders start this training with a cap gun and slowly work their way up to louder devices. Find your local mounted shooting club for help in how to do it.

Hunting season brings not only loud noises but also new encounters on the trails. After we’ve trained hard all summer getting our mounts used to bicycles and hikers we now need to be concerned about meeting trains of pack mules or ATVs ferrying hunters into and out of hunt camps. In addition to the pack trains and ATV’s we’ll also want to be prepared for when the earth rises up and starts talking; as when a camouflaged hunter stands up to say hello as we ride by. I’ll always remember the rodeo that happened the time a tree waved and a very well camouflaged turkey hunter said hello. I’m not sure who was more startled me, or my horse!

reflectiveBe Bright – Being visible is your greatest ticket to safety. Hunters are scanning for game animals that largely come in shades of brown or black. You certainly don’t want to be confused for a deer or other prey so make sure to stand out with bright colored clothing for you and your mount. Blaze orange is a long time standby and is required for hunters to wear in many states. With a brightly colored jacket or vest you’ll stand out from the background and be easily recognized. What ‘s good for the rider is good for the horse too. There are a number of suppliers of brightly colored tack and riding equipment made just for horses and mules that look like nothing normally found in nature and will keep your trail buddy from being mistaken for a game animal. When I lived in a more rural area where hunting occurred near my property I kept blaze orange on my animals even when they were in their pasture and paddock areas. Better safe than sorry.

bellsBe a Little Noisy – I become a bigger fan of bells during the hunting season. Just as I use bells to prevent a surprise meeting with an ursine family during spring and summer, I keep them on during hunting season least I accidently fall prey to something other than the local bear population. Between the bright colors and the soft jingle of the bell attached to my girth everyone in my immediate vicinity knows that I’m nearby. One point to consider is that while we want to remain as safe as possible we don’t want to interfere with the hunt either (in fact to do so is illegal). Creating an excessive amount of noise isn’t going to make you any safer and could give a bad impression of the equine community at large.

friendlyBe Friendly – Should you come across a hunter on your ride, you may want to give them a quiet thank you for their contribution in keeping your access to the trails open. The primary drivers in creating the National Forests, Wilderness areas, and many public lands, were the naturalists and hunters of the early 1900’s. So although hunting may not be your sport of choice, the contributions of hunters greatly add to the preservation of wild areas that we all can enjoy.

So there you go. Riders needn’t fear the autumn woods. Horse riders and hunters alike share a love of the outdoors and should be working together to understand our shared values. Outdoors people are on the same side when it comes to responsible use of public land across the U.S.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed these hunting season Tips to help keep you and your mount safe during hunting season. As always for more information on this topic as well as many others of interest to trail riders please visit www.TrailMeister.com the largest directory of horse trails and camping areas in North America.


This article was originally published in the October 2014 West Coast Horsemen Magazine

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