Fish & Wildlife
Hunters must decide what color to wear when they go afield, but only blaze orange has a proven safety record.
Just one hunting-related shooting is too many. It's, of course, a tragedy for the victim and the shooter and their families. However, it's also a black eye for all hunters, because no matter how rare, each incident casts hunting in a bad light by reinforcing the perception that hunting is dangerous. Thus, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department strongly urges hunters to include some fluorescent hunter orange clothing with their other essential gear.
The recommendation is especially important for all deer hunting except archery season, as well as for bear, hare, rabbit, grouse, and woodcock hunting.
"Hunter orange is highly visible to humans, but not to deer," said Chris Saunders, Vermont's Hunter Education Coordinator. "The hunters who wear it are just as likely to be successful, yet nationwide data shows they are seven times less likely to be shot by another hunter."
Hunting is certainly safe and getting safer thanks to mandatory hunter education. There were just four hunting-related shootings last year, and all were non-fatal. But it could be even safer if all hunters wore at least a hunter orange hat and vest.
"In the past ten years, almost half of the state's hunting accidents might have been prevented if the victims had worn hunter orange," said Saunders.
In a review of 20 years of Vermont hunting accident reports, hunters moving into the line of fire of other hunters and mistaking other hunters for game are two of the three most common causes of the state's accidents. Both types involve visibility problems, and both underscore the need for hunters to see and be seen during the fall firearms deer season.
A New York study found that 94 percent of hunters involved in mistaken for game accidents were not wearing hunter orange. This is statistic is even more startling when you consider that 81 percent of New York hunters do wear hunter orange.
Concerns that deer are scared by hunter orange are unfounded. Recent research suggests deer do see color, but they have no red-sensitive cone cells, so they can't tell red or orange from green and brown. In addition, deer have a different sensitivity to various wavelengths of light. They see short wavelength colors such as blue brighter than humans do, but are less sensitive to longer wavelengths such as orange and red, so these colors look darker.
Fluorescent colors like hunter orange look bright to humans because they absorb UV rays we can't see and turn them into longer wavelengths we can see. The effect is opposite for deer. Hunter orange reflects less of the UV that deer see well and more of the rays deer don't see as well.
Regardless of how well they see it, ample anecdotal evidence suggests they aren't bothered by it. Yearly deer harvests in many of the states that require hunter orange, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania exceed several hundred thousand animals a year.
However, even blaze orange won't help you if you don't follow the four basic rules of safe hunting:
1) Treat every gun as if it is loaded.
2) Point your gun in a safe direction.
3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
4) Be sure of your target and beyond.
Remember, hunting is very safe - but it could be even safer if all hunters wore a hunter orange vest and hat. You don't want to be the only hunter in the woods without it.
Hunt smart, think safety, and good luck.