When it comes to hunting, people tend to fall decisively on one side of the line or the other; they either do it and they love it, or they don’t care for it at all. Regardless of what each of us thinks about it, we must keep some key things in mind for our pets’ well-being.
Hunting season happens in just about every part of the United States, and in more rural areas, it likely goes on regularly outside of those clearly defined dates. While we may not individually condone it, we must prepare for it because the consequences of carelessness could be fatal to our pets.
“I experience this conundrum every year,” Dr. Brian Collins, head of the Community Service Practice at Cornell University’s Hospital for Animals, told the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “I worry about safety in the woods during hunting season. For people whose animals go into the woods or live close to hunting areas, there are several things that can help minimize the risks the season brings.”
Know the Dates
For those of us who don’t hunt, there are several different dates to know revolving around hunting. These dates are determined on a state level. To find out what dates the various hunting levels are allowed, visit your state’s official website. As an example, in Massachusetts, the 2017 dates are:
- Archery season: Oct. 16–Nov. 25
- Shotgun Season: Nov. 27–Dec. 9
- Primitive firearms season: Dec. 11-30
Hunters in Massachusetts are also prohibited from hunting on Sundays, restricted to daylight hours only and must be licensed. However, regulations and dates vary by state.
This is not the time of year to allow your pet to run off-leash. Even the most well-trained dog in the world has a bad day or moment that causes them to disregard a return command.
Adding to that, wild animals are just as intriguing to your pets as they are to the hunters, meaning if there is a deer, water fowl or other animal in the area, both pet and hunter will be drawn to it.
For dogs who were bred to hunt, the lure of these wild animals may be irresistible. As a dog walker, I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen dogs being walked off-leash who refused to return to their walker when commanded. Don’t risk it.
Stay out of secluded, wooded areas if at all possible. Stick to walking on safe roads or down at the beach if there is one nearby. Even wooded areas that are close to neighborhoods may not be entirely safe. Hunters have rules they are supposed to follow, but that doesn’t mean all of them will.
Ponds and marshes will also be attractive to hunters for the water source and the game that is drawn to those areas.
You can purchase reflective gear for yourself and your pets almost anywhere, including online. This gear is a must; it tells hunters from a long distance away that you and your pet are not game.
Recently, in Truro, Massachusetts, a weimaraner named Henry was shot by a hunter. The dog’s human had been out walking in the woods with no reflective gear and his 2 weimaraners off-leash. These particular dogs are typically light brown in color. They crossed paths with a hunter, and 1 dog was accidentally shot.
Thankfully, Henry survived. The hunter was at fault for not making sure of his target, but from a distance, these dogs — particularly with their coloring — can easily be mistaken for deer. Also, the dogs’ human took no precautions to ensure his pets were safe.
A simple vest and a leash on his dog might have avoided the whole situation.
While dogs are often at risk for being accidentally shot, horses can be at risk as well. The USDA offers the following tips:
- Avoid active hunting areas when trail riding.
- Wear blaze orange/bright clothing.
- Braid colorful ribbons into your horse’s mane and tail.
- Keep horses stabled during hunting hours or hours with dim lighting, like sunrise/sunset.
- Post clear “No Hunting” signs around your property.
- Paint pasture posts bright orange.
- Put brightly colored bridles and blankets on your horses.
Often, people with horses live on rural property that borders wooded areas, so take extra precautions to keep your horses safe while outdoors.
Bright-orange vests are a great way to keep your dogs visible in the woods:
Even cats can be at risk this time of year. If you have cats who prefer (and will accept nothing less) than being outdoor cats, you may want to try to entice them inside as much as possible.
You can also give them a belled and/or brightly colored collar. They may not thank you for scaring off the bird they were trying to catch, but it could be the difference between staying safe or being shot.
Mistakes Can Happen
By and large, most hunters obey the laws and are careful about how and what they hunt. But even the most careful hunters can make mistakes.
Additionally, there will always be people who don’t follow the rules. And those types of people are the ones who may accidentally shoot your pet and then leave because they’re afraid to get caught. We need to prepare for that as best we can.
If you suspect hunters are in an area that they shouldn’t be in, are drinking excessively while hunting or otherwise in violation of regulations, you can and should report them to your local authorities.
In many states, this will be the Department of Natural Resources, but if you aren’t sure, you can always contact your local police department. They will know who to contact and how to handle the situation.