As fall approaches, many are looking forward to views of colorful foliage and cooler, more invigorating days for hiking.
One potential drawback to the fall hiking season is that it’s also the beginning of hunting season. Many local area trails, particularly in places like Prentice Cooper State Forest and the Fiery Gizzard, pass through areas where hunting is allowed. But, fortunately, cases of hikers being accidentally shot by hunters are quite rare, and with some common-sense precautions, you should still be able to enjoy the season.
Be aware of hunting season dates where you are. Links to various state hunting regulation guides are included below.
Wear clothing that can be easily seen. It’s recommended to wear a hat, vest or pack cover in blaze-orange, or at least something like bright red, blue or fluorescent green. Avoid wearing black, brown or dark green, or anything that could be mistaken for an animal. While you might not think of it, white isn’t the best choice for deer season because it could be mistaken for a deer’s tail. Also, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy advises not to wear red or blue during turkey season. An assortment of inexpensive blaze-orange hats and vests can be found on Amazon.com.
It’s also recommended to make noise by talking, whistling or other ways that don’t sound like an animal in order to alert nearby hunters to your presence. If you’re approaching hunters who are unaware of you, call out to notify them of your approach.
It’s best to avoid hiking at dawn or dusk, when both animals and hunters are more active and you’re harder to see. I once had an experience where I was coming off a trail just before it got too dark to see. I spotted something ahead that looked like a large animal. After stopping and straining to get a better look, I discovered it was a crouching hunter who likewise had thought I was an animal and was attempting to determine just what I was.
If you hike with your dog, you’ll want to keep it safe as well. While a good practice anytime, during hunting season it’s definitely best to keep your dog leashed and to stay on the trail. You can also put a blaze-orange collar or bandana on your dog.
Personally, my primary concern with hunting is gun season for deer, as the bullets from high-powered deer rifles can travel much farther than arrows or shotgun shells used to hunt birds and small game. So I generally just try to avoid areas that allow hunting with guns.
Unless you’re in an area that’s closed to other users during hunts, you have a right to be there, but so does the hunter. It’s illegal to harass hunters or to interfere with their hunts. Remember, hunters contribute substantially to wildlife and wildlife habitat conservation. For example, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the duck stamp, required for migratory bird hunting since 1934, has raised over $950 million to help protect or restore nearly 6 million acres of wildlife habitat.
Chattanooga-area hunting seasons
Most state and national parks don’t allow hunting, but state forests, wildlife management areas and national forests generally do.
In Tennessee, dove season is already underway, and archery season for deer begins Sept. 23. There is a young sportsman gun season Oct. 28–29 and a muzzleloader season Nov. 4–17. Regular deer gun season runs Nov. 18–Jan. 7. Spring turkey season is March 24–25 and March 31–May 13.
In Prentice Cooper State Forest, the wildlife management area part, west of Suck Creek Road (Highway 27), is closed to other uses during scheduled deer hunts. These are Sept. 16–22; Oct. 5–7, 21–22 and 26–28; and Nov. 3–5 and 25–30. The part of Prentice Cooper east of Suck Creek Road is open to the public during these times, but regular state hunting seasons also apply.
Enterprise South Nature Park has a deer hunt scheduled for Oct. 16–17.
About 7,000 acres of Fall Creek Falls State Park are open to hunting, with archery deer hunts Nov. 4–12 and Dec. 15–17, and a shotgun/muzzleloader hunt Dec. 5–6.
The South Cherokee Wildlife Management Area covers 250,000 acres of Cherokee National Forest and has archery hunts for deer and bear scheduled Sept. 16–28, deer muzzleloader hunting Oct. 23–29, and deer gun hunting Oct. 14–15, Nov. 18–26 and Dec. 11–25. There are also bear hunts scheduled.
Get more information on Tennessee hunting seasons and wildlife management area schedules here.
In Georgia, dove season is already underway, as is archery season for deer and bear, which runs through Jan. 14. Deer and bear gun season is Oct. 21–Jan. 14. Turkey season runs March 24–May 15.
In the 20,657-acre Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area, archery deer hunting is scheduled for Sept. 9–Oct. 13, Oct. 16–Nov. 8, Nov. 12–Dec. 5 and Dec. 10–Jan. 1. Trails are closed for other uses during gun deer season, which is Oct. 14–15, Nov. 9–11 and Dec. 6–9. Also, trails are closed for horse and bike use until 10 a.m. during archery deer and turkey seasons.
Find more information about Georgia hunting seasons and regulations here.
In Alabama, dove season is now underway, with archery deer hunting running Oct. 14–Feb.10 and deer gun season Nov. 18–Feb. 10. Turkey season is March 14–April 30.
In the Little River Wildlife Management Area, part of the Little River Canyon National Preserve, archery deer hunting is scheduled for Oct. 14 through Feb. 10 and gun season from Nov. 11 to Jan. 20.
With the exception of Alabama’s rabbit and squirrel seasons, which run from Sept. 16 to March 4, each state’s small game season ends Feb. 28.
Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog www.Nickajack-Naturalist.com. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.