Walking back to the car from Bushwhack Rocks yesterday, I heard footsteps ahead of me, and looked up to see a man with a rifle walking up the fire road. Two days earlier, I was driving back down from the rocks and saw another man with a gun waiting for his turn at the spring. Evidence of a militant uprising in Frederick? No, just a few gentlemen out for an afternoon hunt.
One of the delightful quirks of our Mid-Atlantic woodland bouldering is that our prime season tends to coincide almost exactly with hunting season. Although the official hunting seasons in Maryland are year-round for some animals, most are concentrated between the beginning of September and the middle of March. What I tend to pay the closest attention is the deer season, since that's the animal I'm most likely to be mistaken for. Fortunately, that season will end on January 31.
Just a few tips for those of you venturing out into the woods during this time of year...
1. Bright colors are always a good idea. This was actually a consideration in the color scheme for my crash pad, as I can flip the Shorty pad over to have a lovely 2'x3' red rectangle on my back. While I'm usually all about blending in and not creating a visual disruption for other forest users, now is clearly an exception.
2. Talking to each other while walking also helps let hunters know that you're not deer. Normal outdoor conversational volume should be sufficient.
3. Consider leaving your dog at home, or failing that, make sure to keep them close at all times. If they're willing to wear an embarrassing pink scarf around their neck, even better.
4. While we may think of a particular place as a climbing area, to others it's a hunting area, and there's a good chance they've been going there longer than we have. And they have guns. If they seem upset about your presence, or why you're walking through the woods with mattresses on your backs, by all means explain what you were doing but do so without becoming argumentative.
5. If you happen to have the hunting schedule memorized and think that someone you encounter is hunting illegally, also best not to confront them about it. The Maryland Natural Resources Police have a 24 hour poaching hotline at 1-800-635-6124, and I guarantee they're way better equipped to handle the situation.
When it comes down to it, hunters are just another group like us that prefer to spend their free time out in the woods. I guarantee they're also just as afraid of mistakenly shooting a person as we are of being shot. With a little awareness and willingness to be proactive about our safety, there's no reason both groups can't coexist.
Have fun and stay safe!