We’ve got a lot of season’s it seems here in New England. Especially NH: We’ve got the text book Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter thing going on. But in there, between those lines there’s a bunch of others… Mud Season, Bug season (Which has it’s own subset of seasons, namely Black Fly Season, Horsefly Season, Mosquito Season, No-See-Um Season…), Tick Season, Screened in Porch Season, Oh-Shit it’s almost Winter time to get all those projects done Season, and of course just after that one we’ve got Hunting Season. Hunting in NH like most states is broken down into a series of dates where certain types of game along with certain types of “armament” are allowed to be hunted/utilized. The ones I pay attention to are Bow, Muzzle Loader and of course, Rifle Season. Rifle being the most important as I’d say that is where the majority of the Hunters gravitate towards. In NH, that date started on November 11th and ends on November 29th this year, one week early apparently. Over the years and over the course of living in different states with different laws/rules, I’ve acquired a pretty strong Hunting Season Kit. I’ll go through that in detail below, along with some important things you want to consider IF you intend on riding in the woods during Hunting Season so things stay safe but more importantly, you respect the limited time Hunters have to enjoy their own passion and that’s regardless of whether you agree with it or not.
First some general rules that I was taught about handling a rifle. My Grandfather (Thomas P. Henry Jr. – My father’s father aka Poppy) took it upon himself one summer when I was a kid to take me back to a local Hunting Lodge which had it’s own rifle range to teach me the general rules of safety that surround a firearm. Firearms are tools and in some cases, a way of life, sport and passion. I know this is a topic of hot debate of late, so I’ll do my best to steer clear of that with this post, but for the record I’ve stated *My Opinion at the very bottom of the page.
One key point being the demystification of firearms, so let’s focus on the demystification point, and what my Grandfather passed along to me in order of importance, and I’m most likely missing a few but these are the most important for the conversation:
1. A firearm is NOT a toy. It’s designed for 1 thing and 1 thing only. That’s it. Treat them with the utmost respect.
2. Never store a firearm loaded. Always keep the ammunition separate from the firearm and that includes the clip if it has one.
3. While the firearm is not in use, always have the safety in the “on” position.
4. NEVER point a firearm at another human. Ever. Even if you’re “joking”. It’s not funny.
5. When carrying a rifle, use correct carrying methods (Pop preferred the “elbow” or “cradle” carry methods.)
6. When firing a rifle, anyone around you should be behind you. Never walk in front of someones line of sight if you are around someone using a rifle.
7. When firing a rifle, sight your target AND sight what is in front of AND behind your target (this is an important one for the post).
8. When finished, remove the clip and check the action/breach so that it is clear. Safety is on.
So you’re in the woods and mountain biking. You’ve got your blaze orange on. All the above “should” be on the Hunters “to-do” list… There shouldn’t be a problem. But this is not the case because it’s always that one bad egg out of the bunch who causes problems. So you need to know these items first unfortunately and assume that the Hunters may or just may not be doing these things. The vast majority of Hunters will know where they are hunting fairly well, know the owners of the land and if there are trails present, they should know they shouldn’t be hunting from those trails and should have a good understanding of their whereabouts in relation to the trail network. But again, as a bicyclist in the woods during Hunting Season, you gotta assume all bets are off to stay safe, and it will be that one bad actor who creates the confrontation. (That’s not a dig against Hunters, but I’ve had some run in’s in the past that left me wondering who the heck taught them anything let alone anything about firearm safety…). And out of all the things I have run in to in the woods over 25+ years of riding in the woods, the majority of the time it’s not been Hunters. I’ve spooked all sorts of wildlife from deer, to fox to bobcat, moose, black bears, and pretty much every critter you can imagine (White Tail’s are high on the list and I let them know their hiding spots are safe with me). They’re just as startled as I am and ironically just as curious. But they don’t want any piece of me and we go on our separate ways.
Here’s the first thing you want to do during Hunting Season: Adjust your ride time so that you’re not in the woods when Hunters are in the woods. Speaking with some friends who hunt (I do not), most take to the woods early in the morning or later in the day (say around 4/5pm). Here’s some additional information on times. Me? Well I’m an end of the day type rider and love to get out between 5-7pm which happens to kind of be prime time for hunting in season. So with the lack of light also in the Fall/Winter, I’ve taken to adjusting my ride time to a lunch time ride. I’ve never really been a morning rider so no troubles there. So you want to think about adjusting your time if you typically go out at peak hours for hunting so you minimize your exposure. Let me repeat that in a different way: During Hunting Season, you need to minimize your exposure to potential conflict or run-in’s with Hunters. Also, when you are riding and you hear shots fired you need to be aware of the direction that the shots are coming from and be cognizant of this. During hunting season, you just can’t go out and ride like it’s business as usual. You need to be aware of your surroundings and be ready to adjust the ride based on where you are and where hunters are. I do this constantly (yesterday’s ride I had something planned out but actually adjusted my ride because I knew there were hunters close by the area I had been planning on heading – the trails are pretty vast here which helps for my options.) But having a heightened awareness of location is a key factor to staying safe.
Next, and most important, is your kit. Blaze orange is the go to end all / be all color. I’ve always liked a vest and of all company’s Under Armour makes some really nice blaze orange hunting vests. Specifically this vest (which I own). I actually modified mine and eliminated the side mesh panels to tighten up the fit. The large bellows pockets are great for stowing extra layers, food and gear too. But I’ve recently settled on a blaze orange vest made by Giro – it’s insulated and windproof with a really great neck design specific for cycling. It packs really small and weighs nothing but also is an insulation layer when temps dip.
Layering is key in the fall, and I’ve found my 80’s/90’s florescent jerseys are back in vogue but make really great matches for the blaze orange vest – this way if you do get too hot and have to take off the blaze, you’re still coated in florescent. Since pretty much all my bikes are black, I’ve also gotten into the habit of picking brightly colored water bottles, and I found this shop sells orange! Thanks Swallow Bicycles! That little bit of extra orange on a all black bike helps to make you pop… if the florescent wasn’t already.
Moving past the blaze and florescent, layering is the way to go in the fall. I’ve taken to bibs because in the fall, the bib helps to insulate the back end of your lower back. Some times, I’ll wear 2 jerseys and a vest in the fall as one is too little, but a jacket is too much, but a vest and 2 jerseys is just right. You can also deploy a little trick I’ve learned over the years which is a tried and true insulator which I like to call the “Over Under” Method. So you put on your jersey first, then your bibs on top of that. Yes.. bib OVER the jersey. You just tucked in your jersey. Now put on your armwarmers OVER top of the sleeve. Now put on the second jersey and vest. Pow-you’ve got a layered, over-under seal. No air leaks or exposed skin to chill. If you take off your vest, you still look “cool” for the self conscious crowd. If you take off the jersey, put the vest back on and no one’s knowing anything.
My shorts are an older set of Sugoi’s but they are a bit on the thicker stouter side which helps knock off wind. I usually use knee warmers when temps dip below 40 degrees. Some like to use them when temps dip below 50 degrees. Pearl Izumi’s get the job done for me in a fleecy inside for a little added extra protection (same for the arm warmers). I also like knickers too, and Outdoor Research makes a nice set here called the “Ferrosi 3/4 Pant”. I typically start to wear knickers when the temps are in the 30’s and 20’s but that’s getting out of fall and into winter… Some times, I go a step further and add a wind breaker vest below the insulated vest just in case I get too hot but still need to shed wind. Sometimes I even take off the florescent jersey mid ride and put that over the windbreaker vest – that’s the thing with layering. You can strip stuff off and then even reorder what you brought. Takes some time, but you stay warm and safe at the same time and what you want to be is visible. Wool socks, mid calf specifically, are the best ones I’ve found from Smartwool. Cool in the summer, but warm when wet in the winter. If you do take a dip on a cold day, take your shoes off, take your socks off and wring the socks out and get your feel dry. Put the socks back on even though they are damp and things will still stay relatively warm, but much more warm if you did not wring them out. It’s happened to me.
Gloves I like full fingers I’m typically good till about 30 degree’s, then I have to wear something more substantial. If your finger tips do get cold, stop, put them under your arms or even better stuff them down your pants into your groin area. That’s one of the warmest spots on your body. Let them warm up sufficiently and you should be good to go for a long time (I’ve found my hands get cold first, but if I warm them up like this mid ride, I’m fine there on out).
Helmet? I like a silver helmet since it’s a light color during bug season (the bugs dig dark colors), in sun it kind of reflects heat. Under the helmet, I wear a cycling cap (Chuey!) to keep me warm. You lose 70% of your body heat through your head, so protect the noggin’ and you’re keeping warmer longer.
So in summary, what you really need to do to stay safe during hunting season is first and foremost to minimize your exposure to Hunters. They wait all year for that once chance so be a friend and adjust your ride times accordingly. I pretty much never encounter Hunters after doing this. I hear them but most times I suspect it’s “target practice”. Wear blaze orange and layer up with florescent! There’s actually some stylish options out there now and even hunting vests have gotten a bit more “fashion forward”. When I was younger, it was “Wow, that’s a florescent orange vest…”. Now it seems things are more considered and it’s more along the lines of “That’s a nice vest AND it’s orange!”. Anyway, no reason why you can’t be out in the woods if you know the rules, are aware of your surroundings and if you do happen to bump into a Hunter, introduce yourself, comment on the beautiful weather and ask them if they’ve had any luck. One question I always ask is which way they are headed and then adjust my ride and trails to take me in the opposite direction. Even if words are exchanged, keep to the high ground and keep your cool. No sense in escalating anything since both you and hunters are outside to have fun and enjoy the day. Be safe and enjoy Hunting season on your mountain bike.
*My own opinion being that gun rights, or gun control or what ever you’d like to dub it is an incredibly complex issue that does not have a silver bullet as a solution. Having lived in both rural communities and taken to the big city for close to a decade until returning to a rural community, there is a huge difference between how a firearm is viewed in both of these communities. Thus, good sound legislation regarding background checks, sale of guns, etc. from the Federal level needs action which includes regulation on the sale of fire arms and ammunition whether you are a mom and pop sport shop all the way up to a global manufacturer of fire arms. Better training and education for Law Enforcement needs action to better understand and interact with their public they are supposed to be serving. Health Care, especially Mental Health Care, needs to be bolstered and made more affordable as well as available to all those in need. Education from an early age to demystify guns and their use needs to be implemented so that on all levels we have support, education, understanding and laws in place that help to establish minimum requirements that are required for all. This is not just a state issue. It’s a national issue. Understanding all these issues and stressing action on all these fronts in a cohesive plan is key to a conversation to make headway on this rather complex issue.