Reader Participation Day: Does Hunting Season Move You Out of National Forests and Into National Parks?

With hunting season opening in more areas across the country as the days tick by, are you staying out of national forests and heading into national parks when you head out onto the public landscape?

I can recall mountain biking in a national forest in Utah one October when a deer, freshly wounded on the top of its back by an arrow, darted in front of us. Not only won't you see that in a national park, but you also won't come close to being shot, since hunting is prohibited in the parks.

In light of such scenarios, do you prefer national parks over national forests in the fall?


Definately, I like to walk my dogs and during the best season of the year I don't feel safe. Walking during hunting season with or without my dogs is unsafe. Unfortunately I can't walk them in the National park either because they are not allowed. I wish there were a few dog permitted trails. Being female, the dogs give me a little sense of security which allows me to hike more often than I could without them with me. There should be weeks for hunting and weeks for the general public to use public land during all of the seasons without the fear of hunters. Why should they have the best season of the year to themselves?

Since I've only just gotten into hiking, I hadn't given this much thought before. However, it was more than a little creepy to hear gunshots while hiking in a state park this past Sunday. It did make me uncomfortable, and I would definitely retreat to a national park if I lived closer to one.

Hunting season has caused me to leave South Carolina. And take up temporary residence in South Dakota.

At CARE, we're so close to National Forest land and BLM that we can sometimes hear the gunshots. The other day I was assisting campers when a single rifle shot rang out. Every visitor there stopped and started looking around with big eyes. I wasn't the only one who didn't like hearing that sound in the park! I have nothing against hunting. In fact I love eating wild game very chance I get. But National Parks are one of the few areas I feel safe enough to walk around by myself and not have to worry. When I go home to visit my family during hunting season, I have to wear orange (not flattering to my coloring!) just to walk around my parents property.

After working for both USFS and NPS, I'm willing to hike in either agency's lands during hunting season. But, if it is land that allows hunting (some NPS sites have hunting seasons too) then I like to wear bright colors. It doesn't have to be head to toe orange as long as the color is non-deer-like. In fact, I was just hiking yesterday in my local national forest with my dog who wore his orange bandana at times.

Please remember that hiker Meredith Emerson hiked with her dog and she was still killed in spite of that fact. Be safe!

Kurt, I think it's irresponsible of you to paint "hunters" with such a broad brush here. I have never felt at risk from bow hunters, for instance, but I do pay attention when rifle season opens. And I don't worry much about rifle hunters deep in the backcountry, but I do watch my step when close to roads. "Hunters" are not a homogeneous group any more than "black people" are.

As for shifting into the parks during hunting season, I hike with dogs so I basically never recreate in national parks (even though I work for one). What I do during deer season is shift up or down in elevation or into different habitats that aren't productive areas for hunting and so don't see much hunting pressure. And when I do encounter hunters in the backcountry, I try to engage with them. Surprise, surprise, they usually turn out to be really nice people who readily share their campfires and candy bars with stray hikers, and they're happy to tell you where they hunt and where you can go to avoid them. A few years ago the Washington Trails Association newsletter had a really good hunter-written article that explained where hunters tend to go, how to avoid crossing paths with them during hunting season, and if you are in hunting territory how to make it easy for them to know you're there. I would like to see this sort of information more available in the hiking community. I too used to be frightened of "hunters", but more and more I am finding that in many settings this fear is largely unfounded.

I am not a hunter myself, and I'm well aware that hunting accidents do occur, but I hardly think it's necessary to stay out of the National Forests entirely during "hunting season." There's a lot more empty country to explore in the National Forest system than there is in the few National Parks big enough to have a backcountry. As far as being endangered by irresponsible gun owners, I believe that National Parks are more likely than most National Forests to attract clueless city people, the very sort who now may be packing a concealed weapon...and who may never have aimed it at a wild animal before. The people who decide to shoot a bear because it sat down at their picnic table (which has happened in my area already, though not yet in my park) worry me more than do the vast majority of backcountry hunters.

Also, I leash my dogs when hunters are in the area. Hunters don't need my dogs disturbing their hunt any more than I want my dogs to encounter stray bullets.

But wait, there's more! I just checked today's paper only to find an article that says there ARE hunters in the backcountry of my park. "Poachers sentenced for killing deer in Yosemite":


Having written, and read, a lot over the years about hunting accidents, most of which occur on public lands other than national parks, I'd venture that it's much safer in parks than forests during hunting season. That's not to paint a broad brush "irresponsibly" as you believe. It's just measuring the odds.

And it's not to imply that hunters as a group are irresponsible. But accidents can happen. Rifle shots can travel well over a mile, and my experience with bow hunters shows that not all pay close attention to who might be in the immediate area where they're hunting.

And I would agree with you that most hunters are great folks. Don't interpret this week's survey as a slam against hunters or hunting.

There's a huge difference between the durations of hunting seasons in the west (relatively short) and the southeast (4-6 months), and differences in deer hunting with dogs, etc.. It's pretty easy to pick times and places to hike between bow, black powder, and regular hunting seasons out west. And at least back when I was helping with vegetation plots in North Carolina, there was no hunting on Sundays, so I had a strong preference for hiking or sampling plots on Sundays.

The avoidance works both ways: I didn't bother the hunters (I'd be upset, too, if I froze in the early morning in my stand only to have a non-hunter walk through scaring off any deer for the rest of the day), and they didn't bother me. Then again, the only time I was actually shot at it wasn't someone out hunting, it was a bozo who shot off a dozen rounds of his rifle at us from the deck of his single-wide about 350 yards away when we were on adjacent TNC lands (with permission and a TNC botanist). Even the outer coastal plain has topography when you get down on your belly because the sapling next to you just got hit by a bullet.

I used to hike mainly in national parks during hunting season. But now with firearms allowed in the parks, I'm sticking to the few remaining places where no firearms are allowed, such as certain state parks.

Bob, I spent this past Saturday night in the Super 8 in Mitchell, SD. I didn't think there were that many pheasants to attract that many hunters! Pheasant hunting apparently is a religion there.

My husband and I live on an 80 acre farm in south central MI. We do not hunt and until the last 20 years had no problem with hunting. There are now Hunting blinds in tree stands on all sides of our farm from our neighbors - 8 total. We have to work outside during hunting season.
We hear gunshots daily and this is no exaggeration. Many, many gunshots and it makes me crazy. I carry earplugs all the time now and worry we will be killed. We've been shot at twice. Truly, I'm not exaggerating. Once while I was checking the beehives and once when we were by the barn. That time a man and his wife were spraying bullets trying to get a deer on our fence line.
So we finally get a break around the end of October, into the first week of November and go to Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness area, only to encounter hunters. So we go to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park only to be told that hunters can hunt anything legal any time at the park if they obey State and National laws. I have been unable to find any public land that is closed to hunting in Michigan.
I am afraid to let my grandchildren roam our property from late August to January (and then there is still rabbit hunting to our east and a hunting club that releases chuckers and pheasants across the street all winter and summer. I thought I'd take them to a national park as all the state parks allow hunting. But they allow hunting in national parks and amazingly in wilderness areas too.
No public land is safe (and you don't see any animals anymore and we did 20 years ago), Even if there have been no incidents in these parks you still hear gunshots and you don't feel safe.
There is too much hunting pressure in MI. Many animals are locally extirpated like coyote and fox. The DNR officer I called says he shoots coyotes. Meantime, we are up to our neck in rodents. Yes, I know there are coyotes in cities but not in my rural area and they should be here. Our one escape is National Parks and forests and that is not an option in MI. If anyone knows of any public land that is closed to hunting, I would like to know. Again, we are not anti hunter but there are many bad hunters out there and no rules any more and no place to feel safe in this beautiful fall weather. Some public lands should have at least some areas (not just camping areas) closed to hunting.

@ Dave O: According to newspaper reports, the South Dakota pheasant population was 8.65 million this year. (There have been years with lots more than that.) Sport hunting is tremendously popular in South Dakota, not least because it brings a lot of money into the state.

@ K: You said that: "...they allow hunting in national parks...." This needs some clarification. Although sport hunting is allowed in some of the National Park System's 393 units, it is banned in the vast majority. That includes all 58 of the National Park-designated units (such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Grand Canyon). People who want to avoid hunters in the parks should do a little research beforehand to find out whether and when sport hunting may be allowed in the specific parks they want to visit. If the park's website is unclear on the matter, just phone and ask. BTW, I was born and raised in Michigan, hunted all kinds of game all over the state, and have a pretty good feel for the problems you've encountered. I quit deer hunting on public land in Michigan because it's just too dangerous.

Our one escape is National Parks and forests and that is not an option in MI. If anyone knows of any public land that is closed to hunting, I would like to know.
Isle Royale National Park. It may technically be in Michigan, but if you looked on a map you'd think it was part of Minnesota.

If you hear shots in a National park, it my be government paid sharpshooters. They are paid to thin out the herds because hunting is not allowed and the animal population exceeds the capability of the area food sources. They are even authorized to hunt at night using spot lights.

If you hear shots in a National park, it my be government paid sharpshooters. They are paid to thin out the herds because hunting is not allowed and the animal population exceeds the capability of the area food sources. They are even authorized to hunt at night using spot lights.
There are a lot of reasons why one might hear shots at various times. Some parks have bear hazing personnel that fire pyrotechnic devices, paintball guns, and rubber bullets. I remember hearing some of the sounds, which were a lot like gunfire.

At Point Reyes NS, the former superintendent authorized a professional hunting company to employ sharpshooters from helicopters to cull nonnative deer.