1. Know when hunting season takes place
In general, hunting season in Massachusetts runs from mid-October to the end of the year. If you want to take a walk in the woods but you’re still unsure if it’s hunting season, remember that all hunting is prohibited statewide on Sundays.
White-tailed deer is one of the most popular species that hunters seek. Deer hunting is highly regulated, with phased seasons that are broken down by equipment (archery, shotguns, and primitive firearms). Shotgun season, which generally runs for two weeks after Thanksgiving, is the most active deer hunting period. Throughout the season, deer hunting is allowed from half-hour before sunrise to half-hour after sunset.
Migratory bird hunting for ducks, geese, and seabirds is another common sport in coastal and waterfront areas from October to the end of January.
2. Be aware of where hunting is allowed
Hunting is allowed at many local properties where people enjoy taking a walk, including state forests, town conservation areas, and land trust properties. The Coalition’s LaPalme Farm in Acushnet, The Bogs and Tripps Mill in Mattapoisett, and Horseshoe Mill in Wareham all welcome hunters, hikers, and other outdoor explorers.
Most properties that allow hunting are marked with signage during hunting season. If you aren’t sure whether hunting is allowed at the property you want to visit, check the property owner’s website or call them to check before you go.
3. Wear bright orange
During hunting season, visibility equals safety for all outdoor explorers. Wearing bright colors will help you stand out among brown and green trees.
Blaze orange – also called safety orange or hunter orange – is best because it’s the most visible color in the woods. Many local and online retailers sell inexpensive hats, vests, and jackets in blaze orange, which will help protect you while you’re outside.
This helpful video shows what you look like from far away when you wear (and don’t wear) blaze orange in the woods:
4. Stay on marked trails when walking
You should always stay on marked trails when walking through the woods to protect yourself and surrounding habitats. But during hunting season, this is particularly important. Hunters tend to keep clear of trails when hunting because they don’t want to endanger people who might be out walking.
Likewise, hunters should also keep to established trails as much as possible when walking to and from hunting locations to avoid accidentally crossing through another person’s hunting area.
5. Make others aware of your presence
We all love quiet walks in the woods. But this time of year, it’s best to make some noise! Talk to your partner or whistle to yourself while you’re walking on trails. If you hear shots being fired, stop and call out “Hikers on the trail!” in a loud, clear voice so others know you’re there.
Hunting tends to be most active around dawn and dusk, when animals are feeding. The low light of early morning and late afternoon makes for low visibility, even if you’re wearing bright colors. So if you decide to go for a walk in the woods during these times of day, put on a reflective vest or carry a flashlight so you’re extra visible.
Lastly, if you’re out walking and you encounter hunters on a trail, give them a friendly greeting. Hunters are important partners in conservation, and many popular sportsmen’s organizations like Ducks Unlimited and the Izaak Walton League of America were founded on principles of wildlife and habitat conservation. Being welcoming helps all of us share the special places we love.
6. Keep dogs visible and under control
If you’re hunting or hiking with a dog, you need to make sure your four-legged friends stay safe in the woods, too. Dogs should wear blaze orange so they aren’t mistaken for wildlife. Vests are best because they’re clearly visible from all angles.
Just like people, dogs should also stay on the trails. Keep your dog on a leash or within your sight at all times. If your dog needs to let off some steam and run free, then stick to Sunday walks.
Here’s one more safety tip before you go: Attach a bell to your dog’s collar, and anyone within earshot of the jingle will hear you and your dog approaching.