If you remember one rule for hiking during hunting season, it's this: Subtlety sucks. In a year when Washingtonians have taken to the trails in huge numbers, it's important to remember that saunterers aren't the only folks in the woods this time of year. To stick out when there are weapons about, think loud voices and louder clothing.
Washington hunting seasons generally start in August and go to spring, so now's the time to make the fashion statement "Hey, I'm not dinner." Bright clothing and packs are great, says new hunter Amanda Lipke, a Gig Harbor mom who also helped start a 42,000-person Facebook group for outdoorsy women. Orange or pink bandanas on pets are especially useful, as is keeping them on leash. Chatting while on the trail or using bear bells makes helpful noise.
But that's not to say hikers should fear stumbling into a marksman's sights on a popular route. "They're not sitting on a trail waiting for a bear to come along," says Lipke. "They're using main trails to get to a backcountry spot." Plus, the vast majority of hunters take care before they pull the trigger. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that last year there were a whopping five total incidents among licensed hunters in the state, none of them fatal, most involving hunters accidentally shooting themselves. The previous year there were three.
Still, it helps to know if there might be hunters near a hike. Various windows open for different combinations of animals, weapons, and regions around the calendar (summary here, plus a WDFW map). And it's specific. For example, archery season for antlerless elk—in a particular 20-by-10-mile plot of land east of Clarkston—goes exactly 19 days starting in late November this year. There are rules for popular prey like bear, elk, and deer, but also raccoon and pygmy rabbit, mourning doves and snipe (meaning that a snipe hunt is a real thing, contrary to what we learned falling for summer camp pranks). Don't want to deal with any of it? Zero hunting takes place in the state's three national parks and more than 100 state parks.
Best practices aside, it can feel like there's a rift between the folks who look at deer and the ones who seek venison sausage. "The biggest misconception with hikers and hunters is that the land isn't shareable," says Lipke, even though there's overlap between the two groups. In fact, hunters may be the reason there's a forest to hike through at all; not only do permit and tag fees fund land access and restoration projects, but so does a tax on hunting and fishing purchases. "Hikers don't get taxed on their gear," she says.
That could change. In 2018 The Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane reported that an 11 percent drop in state hunting license sales in the previous decade left the WDFW with a budget deficit. House Bill 2122, first introduced to the state legislature last year, would add a 0.2 percent tax to "hiking, camping, and watersports" equipment priced over $200—and the only people exempt would be folks with a hunting or fishing license.
The biggest point Lipke stresses is about peaceful cooperation. "Public land is meant for everybody. Whether horseback riding, biking, hiking, climbing, fishing, foraging, or hunting." And hey, some of us look great in orange.