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Bear Season is Here

Posted by katwilo2 at Aug 04, 2009 03:50 PM |
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This past Saturday was the opening day for bear season in Washington.Bear in Woods  

I wasn't thinking about that as I turned off Cascade River Road and set out on the Hidden Lake Lookout Trail around 10 am, but I would soon be reminded of it.

As the forest gave way to meadows, about a mile and half in, we came across two people standing by the trail not hiking uphill or down. When we got closer, I saw that the reason they were stopped there was a small black bear, shot dead.

After we hiked a short distance up trail, I stopped to check in with my hiking partner, who was a hunting guide many years ago. He was concerned for our safety and we discussed turning back. In his opinion, these hunters were needlessly endangering the other trail users. Here's why:

  • From the number of cars in the parking lot and the reviews we'd read, we knew this was a popular, high-traffic area.
  • These hunters were field-dressing the bear just off the side of the trail, which suggests they'd also shot it just off the trail.
  • This was a small bear, which was a bad sign to my ex-hunting guide partner. To him, it meant that these hunters either didn't mind shooting a juvenile rather than choosing and harvesting an adult bear or that they were poor judges of size at a distance. In either case -- not too great.
  • The brush just beyond the creek where we met the hunters was unusually tall and close to the trail. At several points, we were completely enshrouded by gangly wildflowers and shrubs.

As we looked down the valley from a vantage point further uphill, we could see that the trail continued to switchback in close proximity to the creek. I was surprised to learn that the hunters we saw could have shot that bear from this distance. From this spot, the hikers we saw were indefinite blotches on the landscape and, because of the brush, we could barely make them out on the straight-aways and would just see them as they moved through a switchback.

For me, this incident was a sobering reminder that, as a hiker going out into the wild, you have only yourself to count on when it comes to your own safety. On this hike, I was in a light pink shirt and my partner blended in rather well in a green shirt. We both wished we were wearing something brighter. Nothing on the trailhead bulletin board had caught our eye to alert us that it was hunting season. Land managers don't tend to post signs at trailheads where hunting is allowed. (Generally, that's going to be anywhere except National Parks.) Likewise, you can't rely on the hunters to ensure your safety, as, unfortunately, not all hunters will be following every safe firearm handling mandate (make sure the area behind their target is clear, fully identify the target, properly judge distance and size, etc.). Others may obey all the rules, but not go above and beyond to ensure the safety of others. From what we could tell, these hunters weren't doing anything illegal, but that still didn't make it smart.

Here are the key safety tips for hiking during hunting seasons.

  • Find out if the area you are planning to hike in is open to hunting and if it is frequently hunted.
  • Be especially careful hiking at first light and at dusk. These are prime times for animals to move toward food and water. Hunters will also be out at this time. Additionally, it can be harder to see anything in this light.
  • Wear bright clothes, particularly orange. Avoid wearing brown and black.
  • Finally, make yourself known as a person by talking loudly.

At some point, everything moving through the wilderness, from animals to hikers to hunters, will take the path of least resistance.  As such, the trail becomes the natural place for encounters, and, potentially, conflicts or accidents to occur.  Keep hiking, just be aware of your surroundings.

Comments

Hunter Responsibility

Hunters and "sportsmen" will get this, the idea that one's liberty to enjoy the outdoors should not be infringed upon by the FEAR of those who are thoughtless and irresponsible. Although AWARENESS is paramount in the wilderness, I do not think anyone is served by the guidelines: "Wear bright clothes, particularly orange. Avoid wearing brown and black."; or "...make yourself known as a person by talking loudly." I have yet to see a hiker of any sort dressed as a deer, elk, cougar, or bear; nor do any of them in the least resemble such beasts. Making myself into a visual and auditory nuisance is contrary to the values I seek in wild places. Furthermore it only enables those with guns to abdicate their responsibility to avoid busy trails and positively id the target. It would be like suggesting all pedestrians using a crosswalk wear orange vests for fear of being hit by a motorist, even though that is much more likely than being shot at in the Cascades. No, I say the emphasis should continue to placed on hunter safety and responsibility, through laws, training, and enforcement. We should not have to march about in bright colors yelling at each other to enjoy the outdoors.

Posted by:


D. Inscho on Aug 04, 2009 09:04 PM

Bear hunting

This story sounds like they happened upon a bear that was shot dead and then left to rot? Is this the idea behind hunting and shooting animals? If this is true, this is not justifiable hunting and killing. I can see it if you were hungry and had to hunt to find food to eat but to just go around killing something and taking a life, this is wrong!

Posted by:


katwilo2 on Aug 04, 2009 09:30 PM

bear hunting

Hi Kathleen,

To clarify, the bear was in the process of being carried out. Sorry that this wasn't evident in my report.

Posted by:


Lace Thornberg on Aug 05, 2009 12:27 PM

The Color Orange

Being a hiker and someone who has taken hunting safety classes the color orange really does have a special place in forest safety. Hunters are trained to wear orange themselves to not become targets of other hunters. Yes, it is the responsibility of the hunter to assure their target 100%, and wearing a orange hat (safety yellow will also work) will help that hunter do that. If we argue about what safety protocols to use we will not find consensus. If a hunters instinct is to avoid orange when pulling a trigger, why would you philosophize about fashion statements? Meet halfway with the hunting community and use the training they advocate for that works, you rarely hear of hunters shooting each other. The goal is to avoid a tragedy.

Posted by:


Munin on Aug 05, 2009 04:14 PM

I get it; orange is safe

But your attempt to reduce the argument to a fashion statement only underscores the weakness in your position. My point is that the hiker has always borne the "burden of accommodation" to other higher impact users: motorized, cycle, equestrian, shooters. The values hikers typically seek are easily diminished by these others. Wearing orange and talking loudly runs contrary to those humble values. Whether you like it or not, you, and the WTA poster are advocating delegation of safe hunting responsibility to the lowest impact user. The hunting community needs to police their own potentially menacing presence, not delegate that burden to others. If in time the hunting community demonstrates it cannot manage the hazard they present in the outdoor community, I would hope we as a society would re-examine public land use and firearms guidelines.

My other point is, hysterical fear can do funny things. Faster than the radical right surrendering their constitutional rights to privacy for the "war on terror", WTA blogs have twice now advocated hikers talk loudly and wear orange while out on the trails. Enabling unsafe behavior puts us more at risk in the long run.

(WWTT?)What would Thoreau think? Hell, Henry David would not suffer "bright and loud"; and he certainly would not allow fear to dictate the Whats, Wheres, and Whens of his "strolls in the wilds" as he called them. We can do better. Fear is a burdensome thing to carry, especially in The Wilderness.

Posted by:


D. Inscho on Aug 06, 2009 07:58 PM

Some Clarification

Thanks to all for their thoughtful comments.

I can understand how this might not be clear, so I’ll just take a moment and reiterate it: The ultimate responsibility for the safety of others when one is carrying a gun rests on the carrier of the gun. The person carrying the firearm is bottom-line accountable for the trajectory of his or her bullet, no matter what they’re shooting at. We are firm in the conviction that, no matter what color a hiker is wearing, hunters should have the steadiness of mind and restraint of character to not pull the trigger on their firearm until they are absolutely certain that their bullet will not hit anything but its intended target. Further, the responsibility of choosing an appropriate place to hunt—for instance, not along a trail, down a switchback-laced hillside, or close to a developed camping area—lies entirely with the hunter.

But the sad reality of life in the woods is that there are people in all walks of life who will not take that responsibility, whether armed or not. And in light of that fact, hikers have to take steps during hunting season—and particularly on the season opener—to make sure that they are clearly distinguished from game animals. Those steps include wearing brighter colors, not fading into the natural background, and, when in high brush, talking to one another or singing to oneself.

I wish we were not burdened with these cares, whether by the motorized community or by irresponsible hunters. But that’s not the case. For the sake of our own safety, we have to take care of ourselves in the backcountry.

I’m eager to hear more about what you have to say. Please don’t hesitate to contact me via email at jonathan@wta.org, or by phone at 206.625.1367.

Jonathan Guzzo, WTA Advocacy Director

Posted by:


Jonathan Guzzo on Aug 07, 2009 09:06 PM

Clearly distinguished

Anthony, of course I cannot agree; you have not addressed the long-term dilution of the safety standard; hominid hikers do not in the least resemble game animals, especially on busy trails. There is no excuse. And we, as humble hiking travelers, should not cower in the face of something that is thankfully a rare occurrence. Let us not over-react; let us assert our quiet, peaceful, place in quiet, peaceful places.

Posted by:


D. Inscho on Aug 07, 2009 10:22 PM

Clearly distinguished

Jonathon, sorry.

Posted by:


D. Inscho on Aug 07, 2009 10:24 PM