This coming weekend is opening firearm season for deer hunting in Indiana. Being respectful and courteous is the way we can all share the woods and enjoy fall at the same time. Although I don’t particularly like the chilly weather, my horses do. Without the heat and the flies, fall is the prime time to go trail riding and to enjoy the great outdoors. The beautiful colors throughout the woods attract so many people (hikers, bikers, ATVs, horseback riders and hunters), so we need to be courteous in order for all of us to enjoy our hobbies safely. This is definitely a time to review a few safety tips to help keep you safe.
• Be visible—this is a good time to wear orange! You want to be seen from far away. Hunters train themselves to see that bright orange. Lots of reflective orange riding gear is available such as vests and helmet covers for all types of riders. Make your horse visible too; there are reflective halters, browbands, breast collars, splint boots and even sheets. Cyclists also have nighttime equipment available that can be useful such as blinking LED lights that fasten to their ankles.
• Make noise—put a sleigh or cow bell on your horse’s breast collar or your stirrups. Or you might sing or talk to your horse. This may be why I get so many invites to ride during deer season. I love to talk and sing while going down the trail. You can also carry a whistle in case you need to sound an alarm.
• Don’t ride alone—you’ll be more visible and make more noise if you go out with a buddy. If you do ride alone, it is always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and when you will be back.
• Keep dogs safe—leave your dog at home during the hunting season. A wandering dog during this time is a tragic accident waiting to happen. Otherwise, orange vests for dogs help make them more visible. • Carry a cell phone on you—not on your tack. If you and your horse part ways you’ll want your phone within reach, not heading down the trail at a full gallop.
• Choose your route–avoid riding in known hunting areas. A horse traveling through the trees might be mistaken for a deer, so if possible, ride on open trails to be visible.
• When riding on public lands that permit both hunting and riding, be respectful of hunters and their rights to be there.
• Avoid the prime hunting times of dawn and dusk hours for your safety and out of respect for hunters. The lower light of dusk and dawn makes it more difficult for everyone to see. When you notice someone in a stand or blind, try to move through as quickly as possible. Sometimes my horse does this on his own because he gets spooked if he sees something strange in the tree, especially if the tree monster moves.
You need to be careful everywhere though, not just in the woods. Be especially cautious on the roadways, as deer (and other animals) will be more skittish than normal. Everyone who enjoys the outdoors needs to continue to work together to maintain all uses of public and private lands. Treat hunters with the same reverence as they do their sport and everyone will be happy. And remember, it will all be over soon.