Fall is a time of year that gets a lot of people excited. Weather starts cooling down, the leaves start changing, and the endurance sports seasons (in most parts of the country) are coming to a close. This gets folks out doing stuff other than running down a sidewalk or riding down the side of a road. There are many athletes that turn to trail running and mountain biking in the cooler weather to keep healthy and have some fun in the woods. There are other people taking to the woods too. Hunters are ramping up for all sorts of hunting opportunities and making their presence in the woods more noticeable. In this article I will cover some tips and ideas to keep the athlete happy, safe, and most importantly prepared for hittin’ the woods.
First and foremost athletes as well as hunters need to understand that in many cases both parties have a right to be in the woods. One party doesn’t have any more rights than another unless it is pre-regulated by a State Park, Wildlife Management Area (WMA), other public lands, or private property. Most public land that allows hunting will have clear signage that covers dates that hunting is allowed and whether or not there are any trail restrictions for recreational use. An example is Dawson Forest WMA in Dawsonville, GA. During the hunting seasons there are posted times and dates for both recreational trail use and hunting use. Make sure that ANY time of year you observe the posted signs at all public trails and make sure you are allowed to be there. It isn’t just deer/bear season (September-January) that athletes must think about but also turkey season (March-April), squirrel season (August-February), and especially areas that allow hunting of invasive species like feral pigs and coyotes (356 days a year). In almost all areas of National Forest property hunters and recreational trail users have open access to legally use the land. This means that the chance of both parties coming into contact is much greater than other areas. Again, make sure you do your research on the area you plan to run or ride or hunt. It is your responsibility to know the rules.
Another important thing is to make sure you are staying within the boundaries that you are legally allowed. It is often easy to cross the invisible boundary of an area and cross into private property. Remember that most parks are originally owned by private individuals and the trails and paths that we use for running and riding may have been originally created by them and may still lead off the park property. While most places will have clear markings of their boundaries it is often easy to miss them when you are off in la-la-land on your 18th mile of a long run. An example of this is at Sweetwater Creek State Park in Lithia Springs, GA. There are trails in the park that come into contact with trails that lead out of the park to private property. There are folks that use those private property trails for exercise and hunting. This is one of those areas that both hunter and athlete need to be extremely careful in their activities. Even though the land is private it is not regulated by the owners to prohibit the activity of the athletes so there are many folks that venture over the park boundary. In other cases crossing the boundary also means violating your legal right to be there. Do your best not to make this mistake. Both hunter and athlete have the responsibility to know the boundaries of the area even when they are invisible.
So what do you do if you come in contact with a hunter while out on a run or ride? BE RESPECTFUL. Do not be a jerk and act like they shouldn’t be there, that they scared you, and/or that they shouldn’t be hunting. While hunting may not be your cup of tea, the woods are not a place to have that discussion. Remember that in most cases both hunter and athlete have the right to be in the woods. Use etiquette and be kind even if the other party is not. As an athlete you don’t want to get caught looking down the barrel of some idiot hunter that thinks you shouldn’t be there. As a hunter you don’t want your entire day busted by a crazy athlete that thinks you shouldn’t be there or thinks you are a bad person for killing woodland creatures. In most cases a quick hello and keep moving will suffice but it wouldn’t hurt to quietly ask the other party to confirm your whereabouts and confirm the regulations of the area. You never know who may or may not have misread a sign or online resource. Either way, I can’t say it enough, BE RESPECTFUL.
Finally I want to share some tips for the athletes out there that will be hittin’ the woods to help remind them to be safe and conscious of their surroundings.
• Be aware of hunting seasons in the area where you are working out.
• Wear a hunter orange vest or jacket, helmet cover or hat, and be especially careful at dawn or dusk, when many colors such as red and green appear brown.
• Avoid wearing white, especially mittens or hats. They can resemble a deer’s tail through trees. Avoid wearing black. Black can resemble a wild pig or a bear. Do not wear brown. Brown resembles deer, bear, wild pigs, and coyotes.
• If you take a pet with you, ensure the animal is wearing a brightly colored blanket or T-shirt (preferably orange).
• Wear bright colors like yellow, blaze orange, bright blue, and pink. Remember you’d rather be alive than fashionable.
• Be aware that you may be sharing the forest with other hunters, athletes, as well as hikers, and birdwatchers.
• Avoid working out at dawn or dusk if possible. These are the times that hunters have the hardest time seeing and yet the times that the hunters are most likely in the woods.
• Remember to always stay in touch. If you aren’t working out with someone else or a group make sure someone knows when and where you are working out. Give that person a call or text to let them know you are finished too.
• If you are checking out a new trail make sure you find and read any signs that are posted. If there are not any visible signs try finding a phone number and call the property managers or call the Department of Natural Resources to verify the trails are open for recreation.
• Stay on the beaten path. Don’t wonder down trails that look like they are not heavily used.
• Avoid wearing headphones. This is something I have a hard time doing but if you must then only wear them in one ear and make sure you can still clearly hear your surroundings.
Well I hope that you are as excited as I am to get in the woods and chase your dreams. Mine happen to be deer, pigs, and squirrels but I’ve been known to run and bike a few miles on the trails too. Be safe, be respectful, and be prepared.