Safely Hamming In the Woods In Hunting Season

In recent years it's become popular to operate amateur radio while hiking or in wilderness areas, with activities like the Spartan Sprint and Polar Bear Moonlight Madness. On one reflector last week the topic of hamming in the vicinity of hunters came up. (Unfortunately the moderator squashed the discussion.) Non-hunters often are scared of hunters and fear being harmed, and often in my opinion due to lack of knowledge of the law and some simple common sense practices. There's a lot of misinformation going around which doesn't help the situation. Here are some common hunting myths:

Hunters often shoot at noises. It's illegal (and extremely stupid) to shoot at noise and you would be hard pressed to find any hunter worth their salt who shoots at noise. Anyone who does such a thing isn't a hunter, they're a criminal.

Hunters dislike non-hunters in the woods. Hunters don't want non-hunters to disrupt their hunting, but the more people who enjoy the land means more funding and protection for public wilderness in the future.

Hunters have more rights to be in public woods than non-hunters. At least here in Pennsylvania, all citizens have the same rights to use state land.

Hunting is inherently unsafe and/or is unsafe to non-hunters. According to the 2008 PA Hunting Shooting Incident Report there were 35 hunting-related shooting incidents, 3 of which were fatal. 40% of the total accidents were self-inflicted (not involving anyone but the hunter/victim himself). In only two of the total incidents the victim was a non-hunter, none of which were fatalities. Last year there were 3.84 incidents per 100,000 hunters, nearly the lowest rate on record. The chances of getting injured while hunting or doing a non-hunting activity in a public hunting area is quite low, arguably safer than walking down the street in many urban areas.

So what should you do to safely and successfully operate amateur radio in the woods with hunters around?

When in Rome, do as the Romans do; wear fluorescent orange like hunters do. Hunters may not know of hams, hikers, geocachers, mushroom hunters and mountain bike riders in the woods, but they know how to positively identify humans wearing fluorescent orange. Go to Walmart and buy a fluorescent orange hat and vest combo and wear it in the woods during hunting seasons. This hunting season I bought a new hat and vest set at my local sporting goods store for a mere $8. If a hunter sees orange and it's on you, you're a human, plain and simple. Also, if you want to put orange tape on a tree for good measure, it doesn't hurt, but do it 360 degrees around the tree and up as high as you can get it. But absolutely have an orange cap and a vest on and you're safe in nearly all circumstances. Don't wear red as red looks like brown 100 yards away and certainly don't wear just brown in deer season or just black in beer season.

I'm amazed that in 37 years of hunting, I can't ever recall seeing a non-hunter in the woods who wore fluorescent orange. It's such a small investment and exponentially increases one's safety in the woods in hunting seasons.

Know what the hunting seasons are. Google for your state's game commission or fish and wildlife department website and know what's in season before you out.

Look for hunters before setting up. When you go to setup your operating position in the woods, stop for a minute. Look around 360 degrees. Do you see any orange? If not, wait another minute or two and do another 360. If you don't see any orange, setup your station. If you see orange, relocate. If you're having difficulty finding a location without hunters in it, or you're hearing a lot of close gunfire, you may want to reconsider whether this is an area you want to operate from.

In Pennsylvania, turkey hunters and late season (post Christmas) muzzleloader hunters are not required to wear orange while stationary (although they must have an orange tree marker in place), and they're usually camouflaged, so you may not see them. If you're wearing orange they will see you and they will probably flash orange to make their presence known as they don't want you in the area scaring the turkey away any more than you want to be in their area and in potential danger.

If you take a dog with you, put an orange vest on the dog as well. However, it's a very bad idea to let your dog run loose during hunting seasons. Leave Fido at home during hunting season.

If you hear close gunfire while operating, don't panic. Just stay put and listen. If you see orange from another hunter, take your orange hat and wave it so they're sure to see you. If you are very concerned, let out a yell or a whistle. Whatever you do, don't get up and approach the hunter or pack up and leave until several minutes later. Stay cool, stay put, and wait a bit.

It's quite easy and simple to enjoy the woods in hunting seasons. Buy an orange vest and use some common sense.
Anthony Good, K3NG, is a regular contributor to and writes from Pennsylvania, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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