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It’s hunting season. Don’t be afraid to share the woods

I’VE HEARD NON-HUNTERS grumble, “We can’t go in the woods during hunting seasons.”

Some resent sharing their favorite woods and trails with people wearing camouflage and blaze orange clothing while carrying compound bows, muzzle-loaders or rifles. The presence of hunters can offend or even frighten hikers unaccustomed to hunting activity.

It’s now deer season in New Hampshire. Archery season has been open since September and continues into December. The busy rifle season for deer began on Wednesday, following the 11-day muzzleloader season. It wraps up Dec. 5.

So how dangerous is it to be in the woods during the hunting season?

According to Fish & Game records, there have been a total of two incidents involving non-hunters in the past 30 years. In 2015, a non-hunter out of sight of the shooter was hit by a pellet from a bird hunter’s shotgun. And in 2017, a deer hunter did not identify what lay beyond his target.

Hunter Education Coordinator Joshua Mackay says New Hampshire’s excellent record for hunter safety is attributable to effective education. The average number of hunting-related incidents per year has gone down every decade since hunter education classes began in the 1960s.

In the ’60s, an average of 21 incidents occurred each year. Since hunter education became mandatory for all new hunters in 1977, incidents declined steadily from an average 6.5 per year in the 1990s to 3.3 per year after 2000.

Hunter education classes train hunters to identify the target and to know what lies beyond it before pulling the trigger.

The average for the past decade has been 2.9 incidents per year, with 55% being self-inflicted due to careless firearm handling or falls from treestands.

According to the National Safety Council, you are more likely to be injured playing sports or using exercise equipment than while hunting.

How many hunters?

Renewed interest in hunting has recently revealed a new generation now more interested in sourcing clean, organic, synthetic-hormonefree, local meat via the increasingly popular “Eat Local” trend.

In 2019, approximately 50,000 people bought New Hampshire hunting licenses. That doesn’t include approximately 19,000 archery and 17,000 turkey hunting licenses, or specialty licenses for waterfowl, bear or small game. Deer are by far the most popular game for hunters buying licenses in New Hampshire.

The 2021 muzzleloader season for deer opened Oct. 30. The regular firearms season opened Wednesday, Nov. 10 and runs through Sunday, Dec. 5.

Season-end dates and either-sex deer hunt days vary by region of the state. Typically, the latter part of deer season is designated for antleredonly. By that time, there are far fewer hunters in the woods.

A summary of hunting seasons is found here: https://bit.ly/3kw4kr0.

Thank a hunter

Hunting is an essential wildlife management tool that has helped to fund permanent protection of thousands of acres in New Hampshire for wildlife.

Since passage of the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Program, commonly referred to as the +

Dave Anderson

Pittman-Robertson Act, in 1937, New Hampshire has received nearly $80 million for habitat management, research, hunter education and purchase of lands for wildlife.

The Pittman-Robertson funds derive from a federal excise tax on the sale of hunting and fishing equipment including firearms and ammunition — essentially a sales tax paid primarily by sportsmen and women.

In 2006, the total sent to New Hampshire was nearly $3 million. But over the last 15 years, there has been a spike in sales of archery equipment, firearms and ammunition, with many of these sales fueled by recreational shooters rather than traditional hunters. In fiscal 2021, Wildlife Restoration Act funds allocated to New Hampshire totaled $4.1 million. According to Jim Oehler, Fish & Game habitat program supervisor, Fish & Game now owns more than 60,000 acres in over 100 Wildlife Management Areas — properties focused on wildlife and habitat conservation and wildlife-based recreation — and holds an additional 25,000 acres in conservation easements. Most were acquired using federal funds.

A state lands management team including Fish & Game biologists and foresters at the Division of Forests and Lands work cooperatively to plan, implement and influence habitat management on those and an additional 178,000 acres of state forests and state parks.

Money from state hunting license sales is used to conserve habitat through land acquisition and help manage private and public lands. Each year, $40,000 is allocated for an average of 25 small-grant projects. The fee for each hunting or trapping license includes a $2.50 contribution to a dedicated wildlife habitat account. Since its inception in 2001, the Small Grants Program has invested over $1 million in 928 habitat improvement projects.

“Hunters have contributed tens of millions to wildlife conservation in New Hampshire,” says Oehler. “Their contributions help sustain wildlife populations and conserve lands that are enjoyed by all of New Hampshire’s outdoor recreationalists — whether they are hunters, hikers, or others.”

Don’t fear the woods

When conducted responsibly, hunting reconnects people to the land. A successful hunter must be wise in woods lore, learning the habits and preferred habitats of their quarry. The culling of individual animals from a regional population helps strengthen the overall herd. It takes experience with annual deer population fluctuations and available food supplies and winter severity to appreciate the role hunting plays in maintaining a healthy regional population.

The killing of animals for any reason remains distasteful to some people who oppose hunting for ethical reasons. But the black crepe of public safety shouldn’t drape underlying anti-hunting sentiments based on personal, moral or ethical values.

Hikers need not fear the woods in November or perpetuate myths that it’s unsafe to hike during hunting season. Hikers and hunters share a mutual love of New Hampshire’s forests and could work to understand shared values rather than accentuate differences regarding consumptive vs. non-consumptive sports.

Outdoors people are on the same team when it comes to responsible use and permanent conservation of public and private land in New Hampshire.

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Naturalist Dave Anderson is senior director of education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. Contact him at danderson@forestsociety.org.

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