Peculiar Pittsburgh

Hunting season in Pennsylvania: Why orange really is the new black

Here’s what you need to know about hunting seasons and staying safe.

Deer hunting starts today.

Deer hunting starts today.

Ted / Flickr
MJ Slaby

When it comes to safety, hunters are the first ones to make sure other hunters are following the rules.

That means everything from wearing fluorescent orange to making sure everyone comes back to the hunting camp before leaving at the end of the day, said Randy Santucci, the southwest regional director for the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, an advocacy organization for hunting, fishing, trapping, and shooting.

Safety is ingrained from the beginning, he said, adding that he and other hunters wouldn’t be in the woods if they felt unsafe.

Today is the first day of deer rifle hunting season — and it’s basically an unofficial holiday in Pennsylvania. Kids are even out of school. (Don’t ask why though.)

Reader Jean Carr had a few questions about hunting seasons, so she sent them to Peculiar Pittsburgh, a series where readers submit questions and The Incline staff searches for answers. Ask us here.

When do hunting seasons open and close? Is there anyone keeping track of dogs or people shot at?

To answer her question, The Incline turned to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. Here’s what they said.

Seasons and statistics

Hunting seasons in Pennsylvania vary based on the animal and weapon. In general, seasons range from September to January. There are some spring hunting seasons, including one for turkeys (which also have a fall season). But it’s deer rifle hunting that’s the most noticeable, maybe because of students’ day off.

Read the full list of Pennsylvania hunting seasons here.

When it comes to tracking incidents, the game commission tracks what it calls hunting-related shooting incidents where “a person is injured as the result of the discharge of a sporting arm while hunting or trapping.”

In 2016, there were 25 incidents, according to the most recent report from the game commission. All were non-fatal. Read the full 2016 report here.

Nine were self-inflicted, and 23 of the 25 injured were hunters. Most injuries, 15, were caused by a shotgun, followed by a rifle, 7. Only one injury was from a crossbow. The most common injuries were caused by:

  • 11 victims in the line of fire
  • 5 unintentional discharge
  • 4 hunter slipped and fell

The report does not include where in the commonwealth these incidents happened, and the game commission doesn’t track incidents involving pets or livestock.

While the 2017 report is not complete, Travis Lau, spokesperson for the game commission said there were 24 non-fatal incidents. Based on the previous year’s report, that makes 2017 the fifth year in a row that there were less than 30 hunting-related shooting incidents and the third year since 1915 with no fatal accidents. The others were 2012 and 2016.

The International Hunter Education Association tracks hunting incidents in the U.S. and Canada together, and on average, fewer than 1,000 are accidentally shot with less than 75 fatalities in a year.

“The safety record in Pennsylvania is exemplary,” Santucci said, adding that he credits that to safety courses that every hunter takes, as well as hunting apprenticeships. Hilly terrain also means hunters don’t take long shots aimed hundreds of yards away, which decreases incidents as well.

Per the game commission, the number of incidents has dropped nearly 80 percent since hunter education training started in 1959.

When it comes to archery, Santucci said he hopes people don’t default to calling the police when they see a hunter near their home. Archers can be up to 55 yards from an occupied building, he said.

Occasional accidents do happen, likely due to someone not identifying a target or when they are loading or unloading a gun, Santucci said. But this is rare. He said even rarer is that someone is hit by a ricocheting bullet.

Hundreds of thousands of hunters go out each year, and people never hear about how safely everything went, Santucci added, saying that just because a few hunters are unsafe, doesn’t mean all, or even most, are unsafe.

“Don’t lump us together because we’re all wearing an orange coat,” he said.

Orange is the new black

When it comes to staying safe in the woods, the biggest thing Santucci said hunters and non-hunters can do is to stay visible by wearing bright, fluorescent orange. And not just any shade of orange — hunters’ orange is a “flashbulb,” and there’s no mistaking it.

Of the 25 incidents in 2016, only two were due to someone being mistaken for game, a record low, per the game commission. In one of those two cases, the injured person was not wearing orange.

Hunters always identify their targets, so if they see orange, they aren’t going to shoot anywhere near it. That means that if they see a person wearing that color, hunters look in a totally different direction, Santucci said, adding that means dogs on leashes aren’t going to be mistaken for deer or other game, either. But if a dog is running free and could be mistaken for a coyote, he recommends that owners put an orange vest or collar on the dog just in case.

If you want to stay safe in an area where there might be hunters, he said even just wearing a hat is enough, but you can wear a vest, too.

Hunters must wear the color on their heads, shoulders and back, Santucci said, adding that archers aren’t required to wear orange, but do when they’re moving.

That’s why hunters themselves feel safe walking in the woods.

“If I felt I was in an area where I thought I was going to get shot, I wouldn’t be there,” Santucci said.

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