Sixty years ago, when I first went into deer camp, we all hunted in our regular cold-weather work clothes – green- or red-checked wool jackets, gray wool pants, and whatever hats kept our ears warm on cold days.
Everybody in town knew where our camp was on the mountain, so we never saw anybody from outside. We each knew where all the others were in the woods. The notion that we might mistake any of us for a deer never occurred to us.
Those were called the good old days. A few years ago our camp was sold. Still today no one hunts our mountainside, even though we’re gone. If we were able to go back, we’d probably dress the same old way.
But it turns out that’s no longer the smart thing to do in most of our woods. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department recently issued a news release applauding the fact that among the 65,000 licensed hunters in the state last year, there was not one single hunter-related shooting. That’s amazing. The Department credits generally increased awareness of safe hunting practices, hunter education courses, and the use of so-called hunter- or blaze-orange garments. Any of them – hats, vests, or even gloves – are instantly visible to other hunters in the vicinity. Hikers or mountain bikers are safer, too, if they’re in the woods during hunting season.
We old-timers, of course, when we were young, fancied ourselves Daniel Boone or Natty Bumppo, and liked to slip through the woods invisibly. That impulse doesn’t die with age, which helps explain the proliferation of camouflage clothing and some hunters’ reluctance to go into the woods shining as brightly as a neon sign. They often claim the deer can see them better, too.
That, it turns out, is not the case. Deer can see some colors, but blaze-orange doesn’t appear to frighten them. They notice movement – even the slightest one – much more than colors or patterns. For example, using a white handkerchief to blow your nose while standing otherwise still will send them flying; it looks like a frightened deer’s tail. It can also get you shot, for the same reason.
So, now that I’m no longer sure who’s around me in the woods, I wear a blaze-orange hat or tuque, and reflect how little a thing it is to give up invisibility in hopes of another accident-free hunting season in Vermont.
This is Willem Lange in Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.