By Bob Quarteroni
Monday marks the start of deer season in Pennsylvania. And a story from last year sticks with me.
“NORTH HARMONY, N.Y. (AP) — Authorities say an Ohio man shot a pickup truck he mistook for a deer in Western New York. The shooting Friday was the second hunting accident in Chautauqua County in three days. Police say 43-year-old Rosemary Billquist was shot and killed Wednesday by a man who thought she was a deer. The Post-Journal of Jamestown reports that Friday’s incident happened around 11:30 a.m. in North Harmony. Sheriff’s deputies say Marvin Miller of Middlefield, Ohio fired a high-powered rifle at a pickup truck. They say Miller told authorities he had mistaken the truck for a deer The sheriff’s office says the bullet entered the engine compartment and disabled the truck. Miller was arrested on charges including reckless endangerment.”
So many questions. For one, did Miller think the truck’s antenna were antlers?
In any case, this again illustrates the fact that some hunters — very few of them, I hope — have a lot of issues when they are afield.
That being the case, it’s probably good to review some of the things you need to know and do to be safe during hunting seasons — or, how not to be mistaken for a F-150 pickup.
While the diversity and sheer number of the various hunting seasons can make your camouflaged head spin, the mother of all opening days – the one that sees schools and businesses closed in a tradition-bound ritual — is the first day of firearm deer season, this year Monday, Nov. 26.
On opening day, officials say about 45 percent of the season’s buck harvest (or kill in real-world terms) is usually taken, which means lots and lots of bullets flying through the Commonwealth’s frosty air.
And I mean lots: While the number of hunters continue to decline, more than 900,000 Pennsylvanians buy hunting licenses, with the vast majority using them to seek king deer.
The two-week statewide general firearm season ends Dec. 8. In most areas, hunters may take only antlered deer during the season’s first five days, with the antlerless and antlered seasons then running concurrently from Saturday, Dec. 1, to the season’s close.
So this is easily the most dangerous time of the year to be in the woods. If you don’t have to be, don’t. But if you must, remember some very important things.
*First, of course, orange is the new orange. Hunters have been so indoctrinated with the fact that orange means no that it’s far and away the most important thing you can do when you are in the woods at the same time as hunters.
Hunters must wear at least 250 square inches of hunter orange on their heads, chests, and backs and you should do the same.
And don’t forget your dogs. I’d would never take Opie and Molly into Penn’s woods during hunting season without their fluorescent orange vests.
And while I love to let Molly and Opie run free – the happiest time in their lives – during hunting seasons they must be leashed for their own good, and yours. Dogs are far more likely to be accidentally shot than people are.
*Hike, or ramble, where hunters aren’t allowed. It’s really the only way you can be just about guaranteed you’ll be safe. And there are plenty of gun-free places to go.
A good example is Harrisburg’s Wildwood Park, which doesn’t allow hunting. Visitors can hike a three-mile trail that encircles the lake, with several paths looping through the woods and into hidden nooks of the park.
Hunting is also not allowed at Detweiler Park, the largest of eight parks owned and managed by the Dauphin County Parks and Recreation Department. Visitors are encouraged to explore the more than seven miles of trails winding through varied habitats. It is located on Peters Mountain Road in Dauphin.
Generally, town and city parks, conservation areas, and national parks cater more to hikers and, with some small exceptions, you shouldn’t find hunters there.
*The deer are silent, you shouldn’t be. You don’t have to be obnoxious, but be vocal enough, conversing and laughing, so hunters become aware of your presence. And bear bells for you and your fur babies are a good idea.
*Don’t hike at dawn or dusk. Deer are active then, which means hunters are also. Combine that with the dim light conditions and it’s especially dangerous.
*Stay on the trails. You’re far less likely to get in trouble if you stay on the marked trails. Conversely, you are asking for trouble if you decide this is the time to go bushwhacking or exploring because that could lead you right into hunters in the deep woods.
*Know when the different hunting seasons are and try to schedule your hikes around them. No matter how safe, cautious and proactive you are, you are rolling the dice than none of the near million hunters out there is going to make a fatal error.
It may seem unlikely that you, dressed in orange, talking and laughing and jingling bear bells could ever be mistaken for a deer.
But then remember that pickup truck.
Bob Quarteroni, a frequent PennLive Opinion contributor, is a former columnist and editor at the Centre Daily Times. He lives in Swoyersville, Pa. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His nature blog is http://www.bobqnature.com.