Blaze Orange

Deer Week every year starts the Monday after Thanksgiving. “Deer Week” these days lasts almost two weeks (no hunting on Sundays), and it’s not the only time hunters can hunt deer, but it’s the only time hunters can hunt deer with shotguns. The 2014 archery season ran from October 20 through November 29 — the Saturday before shotgun deer season began. The “primitive firearms season” begins the Monday after shotgun season ends, on December 15, and runs until December 31.

hunters signImplicit here is the message that archers and black-powder riflemen don’t especially want to be out in the woods during shotgun season. Neither does anyone else who isn’t carrying a gun and decked out in blaze orange.

I’m chronically blasé about archers and black-powder shooters, and about hunters in search of rabbits, squirrels, game birds, and waterfowl. So blasé that I just had to look up the scheduled seasons for the small critters. As a horseback rider, I regularly rode into the woods at any time of year — except during “Deer Week.” As a walker and occasional off-road biker, I do likewise.

The bow, black-powder, and small-game hunters I encounter pay more attention to their surroundings than I do. Their number is not great, and neither is the range of their weaponry. I do not worry about being shot accidentally (or on purpose either, come to think of it).

20141206 bike path

The bike path. Danger — the state forest — on the left. Safety on the right.

Shotgun deer season is different. It has a certain mystique, an aura of danger. Yes, I have seen empty beer cans and bottles near the places where shotgun hunters park their cars and (more commonly) pickups.  When Vineyarders whisper about such empty cans and bottles — as we do, especially before and during shotgun season — the unspoken assumption is that when the hunters went into the woods, more than their guns were loaded.

We also whisper about “off-island hunters,” who are said to be more numerous during shotgun season. Off-island hunters are said to be less competent, less conscientious, and less sober than island hunters. Off-island hunters, it is said, are so clueless about their surroundings that they don’t know when they’re within 500 feet of an inhabited dwelling, so they might take out your porch light while trying to hit a deer.

As with so many things, we tend to exaggerate the danger in order to justify our caution or inaction. Truth to tell, I do not know if the beer was consumed before the hunters went into the woods or after they came out.

Guess which one doesn't belong?

Guess which one doesn’t belong?

So on the first day of shotgun season a friend gave me a blaze orange vest that she had lying around. Despite all my forays into the woods over the years, I had never owned a piece of blaze orange clothing. When hunters were about, I’d make some effort to wear something that didn’t blend in with the season, but often I’d forget — and every single time, I’d walk, ride, or bike out of the woods unscathed.

Me in my blaze orange vest

Me in my blaze orange vest

To hear some people talk, my number should have come up long ago. “Better safe than sorry” is not a mantra that appeals to me. Quite the contrary: it’s a platitude that often conceals our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that perfect safety is impossible and great mischief is committed in the attempt to achieve it. But free clothing is free clothing, and this blaze orange vest was made of fleece, had an L.L. Bean label, and looked like it had never been worn.

I open my vest to reveal my malamute-puppy sweater. The grown-up malamute is standing by.

I open my vest to reveal my malamute-puppy sweater. The grown-up malamute is standing by. Note nose and ear in lower-left corner.

On the first Monday morning of shotgun season, I saw 10 or 12 hunters along Pine Hill. I exchanged greetings with several of them. They admired Travvy. A couple mentioned their own dogs. One of them had a Siberian husky. They were all wearing blaze orange. Maybe I should be too.

So on the second morning of shotgun season I donned the blaze orange vest, put dog biscuits in one pocket and a tube of string cheese in the other, and set out with Trav for our morning walk.

I felt like a complete doofus.

In the somber late-fall landscape, I stood out like, well, a sore thumb.

As long as I didn’t run into anybody, I was OK. But a couple of people told me how smart I was to be wearing the vest. They were commending me for being overcautious, which is not something I want to be commended for. I felt, deep down, as if I was being commended for helping to turn Martha’s Vineyard into the sanitized suburb that it is slowly but steadily becoming.

My rational mind assured me that suburbanization will continue to progress whether I wear blaze orange or not. Besides, the hunters wear blaze orange, so it must be OK.

So I’ll continue to wear blaze orange when I go into the woods during 2014 shotgun season. Not today, however. Today is Sunday, and there’s no hunting on Sunday.


About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to Blaze Orange

  1. I would probably wear something visible too. Hunting is definitey not my thing but I grew up with a few hunters in my family (uncles) and each year there were accidents and someone (almost always never a hunter) would be hurt or even killed. So the orange vest is not a bad idea. Your sweater is really cool.


  2. westerner54 says:

    I always feel like a doofus walking around in my blaze orange vest, too, although I have the advantage of rarely seeing anyone when out hiking. Mine is just made of cheap plastic, so it’s even doofier than your nice fleece one. The combination of alcohol and firearms is lovely, isn’t it?


    • This time of year, the woods are all brown and gray, especially on an overcast day like this one. Blaze orange really does stand out. I can sometimes spot orange jackets or caps through the trees — and they have to be at least a mile away. Nothing in nature is that bright and that big! (The combination of alcohol with lethal weapons is, in a word, sobering.)


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