Many people give up trail riding during “hunting season” or only go out on Sundays, because they think that hunters and trail riders cannot coexist safely. When most people think of hunting, they think of the big game: deer, which has three seasons, bow, muzzle loader, and shotgun. However there are also seasons for upland game (rabbits, quail, pheasant, and crow), forest game seasons (squirrels, wild turkeys, grouse), fur bearer seasons (fox [grey and red], beaver, coyote, muskrat, mink, nutria, otter, raccoons & opossum, skunk & long tailed weasel), not to mention migratory bird seasons (woodcock, mourning dove, clapper and king rails, sora and Virginia rails, common snipe, Canada geese, and teal). Not everything can be hunted in every county, but generally something is always in season.
So why do we get the most nervous during deer seasons? During the bird seasons, hunters shoot up, during the game seasons, hunters shoot at the ground, but during deer seasons, they aim for somewhere in the middle. However, any hunter will tell you that it’s impossible to mistake a horse and rider for a deer. Responsible deer hunters wait, attuned to every woodland sound, and watch for quarry, which moves virtually silently through the forest. Consequently, hunters will tell you, a horse sounds like an elephant.
So, if something is always in season, do we give up trail riding? Not likely. So how can we coexist? Easily, and the hunters have to do most of the work. In general, it is illegal to hunt or trap without a license in your possession; hunt on Sunday (except for persons with a Falconry permit, or an organized fox chasing pack); carry a loaded firearm in or on a vehicle; shoot on, from or across a public road; hunt or shoot wildlife within 150 yards of an occupied structure or camp without permission of the owner/occupant; cast rays of artificial light from a vehicle on woods, fields, orchards, livestock, wild animals, or buildings (spotlighting, although there are some exceptions); target shoot on state lands except in designated areas; construct permanent tree stands on state-owned or controlled properties; or trap on state lands without written permission. There are also laws for hunters about their weapons, the time of day they can hunt, what they can take, how much they can take, what they must wear (hunter fashion police?) and how much they have to pay to do it. Whew!
Are there rules that apply to trail riders? Certainly rules about trespassing on private property apply. Did you know that blue paint stripes 2″ wide and 8″ in length indicate that hunting is not permitted? And no matter what your personal feelings about hunting, it is illegal on private property or on property managed by the Department of Natural Resources to “interfere intentionally with the lawful taking of wildlife by another person; or harass, drive, or disturb any game animal intentionally for the purpose of disrupting a lawful hunt.”
Common sense tells us to wear hunter orange, a cap, a vest or some other garment worn above the waist, for the same reason hunters are required to wear it. Because it is not a color found in nature, there is no mistaking it for what it is! Many people also put bells on their horses so that hunters can hear them coming. This is not intended to “intentionally” interfere or disturb with the hunter’s lawful pursuit of game, but to have a little extra sound system to warn the hunter of the horse’s presence, although chances are quite good he already knows the rider is there. Etiquette (and good sense) would dictate that once the trail rider and the hunter become aware of each other’s presence, the trail rider should move on.
Should you wear orange and bells on Sunday during “deer season”? Probably not a bad idea. Just as there are trail riders in this world who leave garbage, wreck private property, and have no respect for others, there are some people who poach. Hunters say poachers are the exception. The Department of Natural Resources even has a “Catch a Poacher Hotline” for each county. Check your phone book for your county’s number. Anonymity of the caller is guaranteed.
What are the deer seasons? Maryland is divided into four “Deer Management Regions” Region A is Garret, Allegany, and western Washington Counties; Region B is Carroll, northwest Frederick, and eastern Washington Counties; Region C is Anne Arundel, Baltimore, the rest of Frederick, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties; Region D is Calvert, Caroline, Cecil, Charles, Dorchester, Harford, Kent, Queen Anne’s, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties. Each region (and sometimes sections within regions) has different dates, but plan on deer season for bow, muzzleloader, and firearms to be from September 15 through January 31, and sometimes, the seasons overlap. If you want to know who is hunting what when, your best bet is to contact the Department of Natural Resources at 410-260-8540 and get their booklet Hunting & Trapping in Maryland or at their web site: http://www.dnr.state.md.us
What should you do if you are trail riding and see foxhunters? If the foxhunters are coming towards you at a walk or slow trot, the best thing to do is to stay where you are, greet the field master when they get closer, and ask where he or she would prefer for you to go so that you don’t cross the line of scent. The master will appreciate your conscientiousness, and may even ask you to join the field (which is a bonus, because other guests have to pay a capping fee!)
If they are coming toward you at a gallop, chances are they are on a run, so the best thing for you to do is to move your horse as far off the trail as possible, but point him in the direction of the horses so that he does not kick out at them. (Remember that slower trail riders yield to the faster riders.)
If you just see one or two foxchasers, standing or moving, they are probably staff, and only they know where they are going, but they probably know where field and the hounds are, so it is best to ask them where they think you should go to stay out of the way of the hounds and the line of scent, and then everyone can enjoy their day on the trails.
Tips for Trail Riding during Hunting Season (those marked with a * should be practiced throughout the year)
· Wear some garment above the waist of hunter (fluorescent) orange, e.g. cap, vest, shirt
· Put bells on
· Put an ID tag on your horse’s bridle in case you get separated from one another *
· Carry a cell phone or CB radio (on your person, not attached to the horse) and the Catch a Poacher number for your county* (You can also go to deer checking stations)
· Let someone know where you are going and how long you expect to be gone *
· Be polite to anyone you encounteryou represent the riding public *
· Do not disturb hunters in legal pursuit of their quarry (it’s illegal)
· Do not attempt to apprehend those involved in illegal pursuits *
· Remember that we have limited resources, and must share them with other users *
· When you come across anyone hunting with dog (hounds, beagles, retrievers, spaniels, etc.), is common courtesy not to trample the scent or dog (s). Ask the handler or master where you should go so as not to ruin their day’s sport.