It’s deer-hunting season: Put on blaze orange before you head into the woods

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rifle/shotgun season for deer, by far the busiest hunting season of the year in New Hampshire, starts Wednesday. Officials urge people to wear "blaze orange" in the woods this time of year, just in case - which gives us an excuse to rerun this article about the value of wearing blaze orange. It was originally published Nov. 28, 2011.


When New Hampshire’s deer-hunting rifle season opened (in 2011) with a fatal accident in the North Country, one piece of information stood out: The Massachusetts man who was shot by another hunter wasn’t wearing blaze orange.

By making that choice, he missed out on one of the two main reasons hunting accidents have become much less common in New Hampshire over the past three decades: The widespread wearing of a color engineered to be visible in all but the thickest of woods.

“Even the old-time hunters come in with the bright orange all over them,” said Don, a manager at Old Tyme Army Navy on the Milford Oval, who declined to give his last name.

“They see it as a necessary evil, and the good ones, the ones that don’t mix Budweiser and Winchester,” prefer to head into the woods wearing blaze orange, he said.

The color is valuable to hunters because people notice but deer don’t. Deer cannot distinguish among orange, red, yellow and green, which all look like the same shade of gray to them.

Turkeys and waterfowl do notice blaze orange, which is why those hunters are less likely to wear it.

In a sign of the color’s effectiveness, New Hampshire has seen 31 reported firearm accidents involving hunters since 2000, according to a state Fish and Game database. In two-thirds, the victim wasn’t wearing blaze orange, including all the accidents classified as victim “mistaken for game.”

Of the 11 accidents in which the victim was wearing blaze orange, seven were variations
of “careless handling” and in most, the hunter shot himself.

Still, the use of orange is optional in New Hampshire. Three times in recent memory – 1991, 1993 and 2006 – the state Legislature has rejected bills that would require hunters to wear blaze orange, which seems unlikely to change anytime soon, particularly since the hunting community embraces the “live free or die” ethos.

“They know blaze is a good thing and they wear it, but they don’t want to be told they have to wear it,” said Don, summarizing the point of view.

He added that he agrees with keeping it optional, even though he said he wears it himself.

The color is no guarantee of safety, of course. Maine’s deer-hunting rifle season also opened with a fatality this year, and the victim was wearing blaze orange. More important than clothing is behavior.

“Hopefully, guys aren’t shooting at a bush that moves, but sometimes they do,” said Bob Williams, owner of Affordable Firearms in Pelham. “If you want to take a hike in the woods, I’d certainly wear it.”

This understanding is why hunter-education courses have become obligatory, even in New Hampshire, before you can get a license. Most hunting officials say the spread of such courses in the 1990s is the main reason hunting accident rates have fallen sharply.

Still, the color can certainly help. Many outdoor groups encourage its use in the fall and winter.

“That’s the point when hiking in the fall,” Rob Burbank, Appalachian Mountain Club public affairs director, wrote on the AMC Web site. “It’s hunting season, and it’s important to be visible in the woods. There’s no better way than by wearing blaze orange … the color which excites the visual spectrum to such a degree that you pretty much have to stick your head in a bucket to miss it.”

The color, also known as “safety orange” or “hunter orange,” is used in many fields, from construction sites to airplane design to ship markings, and is so important that there are federal standards about its appearance and reflectivity.

Numerous studies by outdoor and wildlife groups, and in one case by the Southern California College of Optometry, have shown that blaze orange can be seen more quickly and more readily than other colors, making it easier for other hunters to realize that they’re seeing a person and not a target.

That’s why New Hampshire’s hunter-safety course, required for getting a hunting license, emphasizes wearing the color.

“In all our classes, we address hunter orange and strongly recommend that you wear it,” said Laura Ryder, hunting educator with New Hampshire Fish and Game. “From what we’ve seen, there’s just a huge amount of participation with hunters wearing orange. I drive around and see them in orange all the time.”

Three-quarters of the states require hunters to wear some form of blaze orange during deer season, and sometimes other seasons. Vermont doesn’t require its use, but Maine and Massachusetts do.

State laws differ, but often include specific requirements about the number of items that must have the color, the number of square inches of blaze orange that must be visible or, in the case of Arkansas, even a description of the color that specifies it has a “predominant light wavelength of 595-605 nanometers.”

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua


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