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Tips for staying safe when hiking during hunting season

White man with dark beard in blue shirt and hat hiking with backpack

Illinois has some of the most beautiful areas to hike across the state. State parks alone have over 270 trails that total more than 700 miles. Each area of the state offers many different landscapes to enjoy. You may encounter rugged bluffs with waterfalls at Starved Rock State Park in northern Illinois, wooded ridges at Fox Ridge State Park in central Illinois, and huge bluffs of sandstone at Giant City State Park in southern Illinois. I’ve never been disappointed during the many hikes I’ve taken throughout the state.

Fall and winter are my favorite times of year to hike. The bugs are gone, the air is crisp, and there’s a feeling of peacefulness. If you are like me and enjoy hiking during the fall and winter months, you will need to take some precautions during hunting season to stay safe.

Know the hunting season dates.

It seems like there is always some season open for hunting, but the most popular hunting season tends to be deer season. From archery season, firearm, to late winter season, there are many dates to keep in mind.  Archery deer hunting generally starts October 1 and continues through mid-January, while many of the firearm seasons are scattered throughout October, November, December, and on into January. I recommend writing these dates on your calendar to avoid any startling surprises. To see a full listing of hunting seasons and dates visit the Illinois Department of Natural Resources website.

Know where hunting is permitted.

Private lands are open to most hunting seasons but I’m sure the only private land you are hiking is your own. Many of our state parks and public conservation areas offer hunting opportunities. Some areas may be closed or partially closed to hikers when hunting takes place. Be sure to check with the site before setting out on your hike. No one wants to have a negative encounter when trying to take in a little nature.

Hikers can enjoy the trails for most of the 365 days in the year. I think we can share the outdoors with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. But if you must hike during hunting season, go during mid-day when there is typically less activity. Hunters usually set out during the wee hours of the morning and around dusk. Avoid hiking during sunrise and sunset when there is less visibility. Weekends tend to be busier than weekdays too. Remember you also have the option to hike in areas where hunting is not allowed.

Wear bright colors

Make a fashion statement! Sporting a blaze orange hat, vest, or coat during hunting season is one of the most important things you can do to stay visible and safe. If blaze orange isn’t your color, bright red or another bright color is better than nothing. Avoid wearing earth tones and white. White resembles the hind end of a white-tailed deer. No one wants to be mistaken for that!

Be safe with pets

Like hiking with your dog? No matter how well-behaved your dog is, the safest place for them during hunting season is inside. I know, some pets need to get out just as much as you do so take some steps to keep them safe too. Always keep pets on a leash. Many public areas require dogs to be leashed regardless of the season. It’s especially important during hunting season. I also recommend dressing your pet in blaze orange. You could get some cute matching vests and make a statement together!

While I know many of us go outside for some peace and quiet, making some noise while hiking during hunting season might be a good idea. Talk to your dog, whistle a tune, or why not try your best Freddie Mercury impression. That’ll make some noise! I guess you could just round up some friends and hit the trails together.

While hunters may not appreciate your rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, everyone will stay safe and maybe have a laugh. Stay safe!


MEET THE AUTHOR: Jenny Lee is an Extension Program Coordinator for both the Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs in Coles, Cumberland, Douglas, Moultrie, and Shelby Counties. She has a BS in Biology and is working on her MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Biology. She was a former Conservation Police Officer and enjoys teaching others about the environment.

ABOUT THE BLOG: Naturalist News is a blog by University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist staff and volunteers who bring you stories highlighting the individuals, places, wildlife, and plants that make this state amazing. Join us each week to learn something new, be inspired and become connected to your own community by recognizing the amazing ways we are all intertwined. Want to get notified when new Naturalist News posts are available? Sign up here.