A twig snaps, sharply breaking the quiet, and I wince a little as I turn back around to pay attention to where I am walking in the wee hours of daylight. Otto snickers at me from behind. It’s his fault really. I was actually very quiet up until the point where he lightly tapped my shoulder with a stick to make me aware of the developing incredible sunrise on the skyline behind me. One of the best I have ever seen. Later that day and through the weekend, area social media pages lit up with hundreds of images of the same sunrise. We weren’t alone viewing nature’s splendor that early November morning, but we were alone, in that area of the Rio Grande National Forest.
When I am hunting, that is exactly how I prefer to be — alone in an area that I am hoping will have the animals I plan to harvest that year. Having hunted for most of my life, I am not surprised, however, when I happen upon or see other folks. Most often they are hunters too. But I occasionally run into a non-hunter enjoying the amazing scenery and recreational activities our public lands have to offer.
By now, most of us are well-aware that the national forest is a melting pot of users out there. Called multiple-use, the concept is the foundation of what makes our public lands wonderful. The lands are available for grazing, mining, logging and a multitude of various recreational uses. We visit knowing that we will sometimes encounter other users or livestock out there. That’s just fine by me.
When Otto and I headed down for lunch that warm fall day, we ran into some hikers heading for one of the peaks in the area. Our meeting was friendly and comfortable. To make it so, we both stood with our firearms slinged on our backs and slightly turned away and on the opposite side of our body from the visitors. We made a conscious effort to be friendly and were met with the same attitude. We spoke for a few minutes and went our separate ways. We had no idea of whether those folks supported hunting or not and it really doesn’t matter. Each party was respectful of the other’s chosen activity for the day. You hear that an increasing amount of non-like activity meetings are going like that. And that is refreshing.
I’d like to offer a few tips on how to make any potential meetings in the forest during hunting season more pleasant. For the non-hunter, the first thing I recommend is to know when hunting seasons are going. There are many days in the fall when seasons are not on. If you want, you can limit your activities to those days. The second thing is to wear bright colored clothing when you do venture out during a designated hunting season. Try not to choose earth tones as they still can blend in during various light situations. Get an orange vest for your pets too. Third, choose trails and areas that are less likely to have hunters. Finally, it doesn’t hurt to make some noises when walking through the woods, to let hunters know you are there. If you do hear shooting close by, raise you voice and make your presence known.
For hunters, my first tip is to be familiar with your hunt area. It is highly unlikely that animals will stay for long in high use areas, especially during that time of year. Second, stay alert at all times. Sounds you hear may be a hiker and not the animal you are hoping for. If you hear other voices, try to respond so that they know you are in the area. Third, and the most basic of shooting rules, clearly identify your target and what is behind it, before shooting. This is sure to prevent unfortunate accidents or fatalities. Finally, be open and friendly when meeting other users on the trails. You might even meet someone that will become a good friend.
I often talk about how all users of our public lands have responsibilities to the land, themselves and other users. A little extra awareness during the fall hunting seasons will go a long way in creating a world where we can all enjoy our desired activities as those around us enjoy theirs.
Gregg Goodland is the Public Affairs Officer for the Rio Grande National Forest. An avid outdoor enthusiast, you’ll find him enjoying all public lands as often as possible.