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.
Implicit 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.