Friday, October 22, 2010

Hikers, hunters should stay alert


For many Idahoans, fall marks the opening of most of Idaho's big game hunting seasons. The earliest big game hunts start in August; some of these are intended to address chronic depredation issues (wild deer and elk causing damage to farmers' crops) or offer opportunity in areas that are hard to access later in the season. At the end of August, many archery hunts open. These are "general hunts," for which any hunter with a valid hunting license can purchase a tag. Hunting opportunities for bears and cougars also begin at the end of August.

Most of Idaho's "any-weapon" seasons for deer open Oct. 10 and extend through the end of the month. It's during this time that residents are most likely to see hunters driving into and out of backcountry hunting areas like the East Fork of the Big Wood River, Trail Creek and countless smaller drainages. Many draw-only hunts extend through November, with a few hunting opportunities available as late as December.

We often receive questions from non-hunters about whether it is safe to venture into the hills during hunting season, and what to do if they observe behavior they believe is illegal or unethical. Most hunters strive to get away from people during hunting season, as the best hunting is usually far from where most people are, so there are seldom close encounters with hunters on frequently-used trails.

However, it is a good idea to take one or two simple precautions when hiking during the fall. It may be unattractive, but wearing a bright orange vest or pinning a large piece of orange cloth to a backpack will make a hiker more visible to hunters, and will readily identify hikers as people. Similarly, outfitting your canine companions with a bright orange bandana will increase their visibility.

Finally, if you observe hunters behaving illegally or unethically, or if you just have questions about hunting seasons or wildlife, please call your local Idaho Department of Fish and Game office at (208) 324-4359 to describe what you've seen. Staff members are well versed in our big game hunting regulations, and will be able to direct your concerns to the appropriate officers. During weekends or after hours, you can report suspected hunting or fishing violations by calling Fish and Game's toll-free Citizens Against Poaching hotline at (800) 632-5999.

Regan Berkley is a regional wildlife biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

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