Help my dogs share the woods with bowhunters.
September 17, 2012 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Please help me assess and mitigate the risk to my dogs from bowhunters during deer season.

I run with my two dogs in a county park in central Wisconsin that has open bowhunting during the deer season (basically now until early January).

My dogs are about 50lbs each, they run on extending-reel leashes about 15ft long. We stay on established trails but they often poke into the bushes a bit.

I've never seen a hunter or evidence of hunting in this park, but there are small signs informing the public that the park is open to bowhunting.

Should I worry at all about my dogs being mistakenly or accidentally hit? If you tell me there's basically less risk than driving my car to the park, fine. If you tell me there's enough risk to take precautions, what should they be? Orange vests? Just orange collars? An orange hat for me? Bells, kevlar, what else?

[To be clear, I'm not opposed to hunting, bow or otherwise, and it's a big part of managing the deer population and our problems with chronic wasting disease. I just want to be sure my dogs and I are safe.]
posted by Mngo to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would put orange safety vests on them and you should consider it for yourself, too. If your pups will wear bells, that's handy for a bunch of reasons, so I'd do that, also. Bright hats in the woods are never a bad idea.

The onus is supposed to be on the hunters to understand they are in an environment where not everyone will understand being at risk, but it's far better to be safe than sorry.
posted by batmonkey at 9:09 AM on September 17, 2012 [13 favorites]

Orange vest? I'd probably wear one myself as well.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:10 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is very little risk of someone mistaking one of your dogs for a deer and shooting it. The risk is in a stray arrow hitting one of you on the way to somewhere else. If hunters know that there are walking trails there, they should not be shooting towards them, so the risk of getting hit sounds pretty low. much lower than the risk of an accident happening on your way to the park

Wearing orange during hunting season is always a good tip, but does it really mitigate the small risk in this situation? I'd say not.
posted by sarahnicolesays at 9:13 AM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely orange safety vests that they can't squirm out of. I had a baby deer-sized dog in a rural area where local hunting season laws were more of guidelines than actual laws, and you bet your butts he was wrapped up in the brightest, most eye-searing shit I could find at all times.
posted by elizardbits at 9:23 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Orange vests for all concerned. You can get hunting dog bells that hang on collars too which would help hunters know you are coming before they see you, which would hopefully make them be more careful.
posted by wwax at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2012

I grew up in the North Woods. We had large dogs (family pets that loved hunting with my father) that were always off-leash on our large, wooded property.

My dad put orange vests on our dogs all through hunting season- if there is hunting in the area, it absolutly is a risk that they will be mistaken for deer. Inexperenced hunters and just *surprised* hunters can make that mistake.

that being said- you can find out what hours are best to avoid the park and other ways to lower the risk.
posted by Blisterlips at 9:29 AM on September 17, 2012

I keep my dog in an orange reflective collar and I wear a safety orange hat. I also like to talk to hunters I see getting set up by their vehicles, usually it is nice to talk a bit and makes me feel a bit better. Sometimes (this happened a week ago) I decide to cut the walk short after talking to a pair of guys that didn't seem to know where they were headed or how to put on all the gear it looks like they just bought at Cabella's that morning.
posted by JayNolan at 9:32 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This isn't a solution to your problem, but you should also know that starting January 1st, Wisconsin state parks will no longer be considered wildlife refuges and will be open to ALL hunting and trapping (in season) with the only restriction being a 300-foot buffer zone around campgrounds and picnic areas. If you ever take your dogs to state parks, make sure you take the same (or really, additional) precautions in those areas, since there could potentially be dog-mangling traps on hiking trails. You can read more about it here. Most people don't know this was recently pushed through.
posted by juliapangolin at 9:51 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

How common are other people on these trails? I hunt some, but grew up in East Texas and know a ton of hunters of varying levels of commitment. From my experience the bowhunters are usually the more "serious" hunters, who also douse their clothes in scent blocking stuff and get mad when there's stuff causing artificial noise near the deer stand, so I can't imagine any of those hunter friends hunting in a park where any person running on a trail could scare a deer away.

If you're the only one on these trails ever and you would think it normal that the hunters not realize people are running on the trails, then I might invest in vests and whatnot, but I would think your chances of an accident are pretty low, especially if they stay within 15 ft of the established trail.

Is there a park ranger you could call and ask about the extent of bow hunting in the park? There really may not be anyone hunting there and a ranger would probably know.
posted by DynamiteToast at 9:54 AM on September 17, 2012

Growing up (in a different wooded northern state), we knew of someone who was shot by a hunter while standing on the back deck of her house. Obviously that was an extreme case, but in general, being on the trails doesn't make you safe. It can be hard for hunters to differentiate "trail" from "woods" if they're standing back from the trail looking towards it at a 90 degree angle.

I personally would wear an orange vest and would provide the dogs with either a vest or a wide collar. We used to buy a big piece of neon orange fabric to make a big dog-scrunchie with a piece of elastic for the dog to wear around her neck. A narrow collar likely wouldn't be enough orange.
posted by pie ninja at 10:05 AM on September 17, 2012

My dog and I hike on national wilderness and TVA lands where hunting is permitted. Both my dog and I wear blaze orange; she has a vest from Ruffwear that has held up very well and I have a vest and baseball cap. I also bought an orange Camelbak so I'd be orange on the back, too.

We rarely encounter deer hunters (or they don't make their presence known to us) but we see bear hunters in the backcountry pretty frequently in the fall. I have never regretted all the orange; in fact, it's a bit of a uniform around here.

A word of advice, too: do not trust hunters to abide by calendars and range limits. Poaching is rampant, around here at least. Assume you will encounter hunters whenever you are in the backcountry.
posted by workerant at 10:12 AM on September 17, 2012

My dog (German Shepherd) has an orange vest for hunting season. I have a neon red coat. Better safe and goofy looking than sorry.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:17 AM on September 17, 2012

Bells. If the trail you use is not a popular trail, bells on leashed dogs seem to me like a good option. As noted above, the danger is more from a stray arrow than a mistaken shot.

That said, I once saw a half-dozen bow hunters standing in the back of a pickup, which was slowly moving along a forest service road. They were real deerstalkers alright, all cammied up, standing with nocked arrows, peering into the woods for the perfect shot....
posted by mule98J at 10:25 AM on September 17, 2012

I was also going to suggest an orange jacket for your dogs. My dog has the same ruffwear orange vest as workerant's dog (seems to be this one). It also acts as a light rain jacket if you happen to have a dog who is reluctant to go out in the rain. I've been happy with the quality in the couple years since I bought it.
posted by medusa at 11:09 AM on September 17, 2012

I would wear orange and put something orange on the dogs. I horseback ride in an area populated by very responsible hunters that expect people and horses, and have still had close calls and heard of others.
posted by sepviva at 5:22 PM on September 17, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the input. I think the risk is pretty low, but we now have orange collars and a hat, and a bell that is by turns adorable and annoying.
The best news is that they finally opened the new off-leash park down the road from the park in question, so I'm actually probably going to run them there at least during hunting season. But given that I go to a lot of different, parks, and following juliapangolin's information, I'm going to keep the gear handy in the car.
Thanks all!
posted by Mngo at 8:42 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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