It’s hunting season, and this year I’m working through my end-of-semester stress with a rifle. I’ve never been a hunter before, but, as a native Vermonter, deer camp, hunter-safety orange, and the first rule of gun safety (always point your muzzle in a safe direction!) have been in my vocabulary since childhood. As I prepare for my first rifle season as a hunter, I have been surprised to find that many of my classmates did not grow up around hunting, and haven’t really thought about what it might mean to them. Staying safe during hunting season really boils down to three main points, and shouldn’t be intimidating or frightening.
- Be visible. Wearing hunter-safety orange any and every time you go out in the woods during rifle season is a must. A lot of people think wearing any bright color will do, but almost nothing is more visible and recognizable as human in the late fall forest than hunter-safety orange.
- Be respectful. Few things are more frustrating for a hunter who has been shivering silently in a tree stand since dawn than a person or dog thrashing obliviously past. If you think there might be a hunter already in the woods it’s best to stick to heavily traveled trails or to just avoid the area during rifle season altogether. Less about safety and more about etiquette, respecting other legal uses of the forests you love is a condition on which your own access depends.
- Take it seriously. “It won’t happen to me” is the wrong approach to safety during hunting season. Spend 8 hours looking for deer in the woods and your brain will start to make them out of everything – tree branches are antlers, the crunching leaves under a retreating rabbit are footsteps. I am not condoning the actions of anyone who would pull the trigger before being absolutely certain of their target, but I am saying that it is wise to set yourself up for success. Never assume your safety is someone else’s responsibility.
I love hunting season; it is full of memories of excitement and anticipation for me. When my dad got a deer it was a big deal, and I couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement, even during my 10 years as a recalcitrant teenage vegetarian. The deer would hang from the rafters of our garage for a time, while it was disassembled into small freezer paper packets labeled in my father’s shaky hand with strips of masking tape. I was in rapture of these deer, their beautiful fur and antlers an endless source of fascination for my young mind. The resulting packets were a staple of my childhood winters, when at the hands of my mother they would blossom into venison stews and chili that bubbled alluringly all day in the crockpot.
My dad hasn’t gotten a deer in quite a while now. He hunts less than he used to, and many of his cousins and hunting buddies have moved out of state. I’m not quite ready to let go yet though, so I’m putting down my books and picking up a rifle this year, and I’m going hunting with my dad. No one is more excited than he.
Shelby is a first year graduate student in the Field Naturalist program. She is very much an animal lover, but reserves the right to occasionally kill and eat them. She is also a very good shot.