September 12, 2022

Hunting and Hiking: The Impossible Dialogue?


In light of the tragic accidents  that are happening , the heated debate on the cohabitation between hunting and hiking - and more broadly between nature users - has resurfaced, with more virulence than last year. We are used to hunting accidents between hunters, but much less to collateral damage inflicted to walkers. 


Finger-pointed by public opinion, hunters represented by their federations have already raised their shields in the face of the return of the question of sharing the territory and the non-respect of shooting rules by some of them. And for the hiker, what to do? Wait for the end of winter or walk with fear in your stomach? 


The stakes of the debate

They go beyond the question of being for or against hunting, its usefulness or its absurdity. What we are concerned with today is the cohabitation and the reinforcement of the rules, as well as their control, to allow everyone to live their passion without drama. 


Hunting, this historical practice, is what firearms are to the United States: ancient history, almost a tradition. The number of hunters is however decreasing: less than one million now compared to more than two million 40 years ago. That's still a million armed people in the wilderness, you might say. So, how to avoid accidents?


On the hunters' side

First of all, not everyone can hunt. To obtain a hunting license, you must pass a theoretical and practical test. The latter places the candidate in shooting scenarios with blanks and then with live ammunition, during which failure to respect safety rules - in particular the storage of the weapon - is eliminated. 


Once you have your license, you are now a hunter in the wilderness. What are the duties from that moment on?

  • when not hunting, the gun is unloaded and left open, especially when grouping with other hunters or crossing paths with walkers
  • the fingers do not touch the trigger until the shot is fired, i.e. after having shouldered the gun and taken aim, identifying the target and taking into account the general environment
  • no shooting at man's height through a vegetation screen (hedge, bush...) or on a corn field
  • recommended wearing of red fluorescent effects


On the hiker's side

Getting informed already seems to be the most important thing. On the general side, knowing the opening dates of hunting in your department is the first step. 


On the day of your hike, it's not easy to know if you're going to be in the thick of it or not. Information on the ground is still the most relevant: the presence of hunters' cars in the parking lot, signs indicating a hunt in progress, or, even more eloquently, gunshots should convince you to give up your hike. 


If you come across hunters on your hike, ask them about the hunt. However, if there are no warning signs that hunters are present, remain vigilant and follow these guidelines


  • Stay on the trails: don't play with fire by trying to get a boar through the forest! Save it for the spring!
  • Be visible and audible: during hunting season, avoid dark or khaki clothing! If you are in a group, speak regularly. If you are alone and mainly in a closed environment (forest), don't be afraid to signal by talking, singing, shouting. The method of the small bells hung on the bag is useful. The whistle is also an option to consider. Make your presence known if you suddenly hear dogs approaching.
  • Avoid hiking very early or very late in the day: hunters, mainly in the mountains, are active at these times when visibility is still low. Go hiking a little later than usual. Also avoid rainy days: the light is lower and invites animals to come out more easily. A fact that hunters also know...


And yet accidents still happen...

In spite of these elementary safety rules, hunting accidents still occur. Certainly, their number is declining and the federations emphasize the low accidentogenic nature of the activity compared to accidents occurring in the context of the practice of sporting activity. 


This is a bit demagogic, but it does not take away the feeling of hostility and fear that hikers may feel during the hunting season. No permit, no text, unfortunately, legislates on the human aspect. 


In the same way that a young driver is tempted to ignore road safety once he has his license, the newly licensed hunter is not a guarantee of absolute reliability either. When adrenaline takes precedence over respect for the rules, an accident is not far off.


Only experience, strict supervision, and regular monitoring of skills can prevent, if not reduce, the number of accidents that may occur.


Car or gun, both are deadly weapons in inexperienced or insufficiently trained hands. No amount of training can enable the individual to anticipate the infinite variation of dangerous situations in the field. Only experience, strict supervision, and regular monitoring of skills can do this. 


At a time when outdoor leisure activities are exploding, how is it possible to envisage a secure relationship between hikers and hunters in the field? In the absence of a risk-free cohabitation, the debate has reopened the question of alternating the exercise of the territory. 


In conclusion

Common sense. Civic-mindedness. Open-mindedness. That's what we want to ask before establishing rules, necessarily limiting for one side or the other, and which will only further distance two conceptions of nature that everything opposes. I feel like asking the hunters to severely condemn any member of their great brotherhood who harms them by his words or his actions. 


I want to ask them to stop being arrogant forest mercenaries and to become courteous people again, capable of reassuring and advising non-hunters on what to do. I want to tell them that hunting is not an outlet but a responsibility. 


That the third half is after the hunt, not during it. That smiling and engaging in dialogue makes them more respectable men than the quip and the mocking smile.


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