It was a brisk fall day. A friend and I were hidden among the cattails, binoculars in hand, field guide open between us. We were both new at birding. The wide assortment of ducks bobbing out on the reservoir, nondescript in their eclipse plumage, was giving us fits. That’s why we had come–to learn how to identify fall ducks.
Scanning the opposite shoreline, I was ticking off mallards, shovelers, gadwalls… and gasp! What was that man doing with a gun!!? He had it pointed straight at us!
We hastily decided that this was neither the time nor place to be learning our waterfowl. Backing out of the vegetation, we turned and hurried for the car. It wasn’t until later, when we were in the car heading home, that we realized what we should have known all along. It was hunting season. Reflecting back, it’s unlikely the hunters even realized we were there, outfitted as we were in khaki and olive drab, skulking in the thick riparian foliage.
Usually, hunters and birders get along splendidly. To a large extent, we’re after the same things—good bird habitat and healthy bird populations. Hunters, largely through hunting license fees, are a primary source of funding for conservation efforts (see my post on duck stamps). Hunting organizations (such as Ducks Unlimited) work hand in hand with environmental groups (such as Audubon Colorado) to their mutual benefit.
However, no one hoping to add an American Bittern or Sora to their life list wants to be accidentally targeted by an excited duck hunter. While hunters are extremely safety conscious, we need to be responsible for our own safety.
At the least, birders should know when the hunting season starts and ends. Here in Colorado, that information is readily available on Colorado Division of Wildlife’s website. Since states differ, be sure to check the dates for where you will be birding.
Of course, the safest thing is to simply bird elsewhere during the hunting season. While national wildlife refuges and state wildlife areas are often hotspots, there are other alternatives. City, county, state, and national parks typically don’t allow hunting no matter what time of year it is. The Nature Conservancy and Audubon are among organizations with their own bird-friendly sanctuaries. Private property (be sure to get permission from the owner) is another option.
If you really want to go birding among the shotguns and decoys, skip the army surplus birding camouflage. Instead, wear the brightest clothing you own. Hunters wear day-glo orange hats and vests for a reason (although could someone please explain why that vest is worn over head-to-foot camo?).
White is another no-no. Not only does it frighten many bird species, but it also appears on various ducks and geese, as well as the tail end of an elk or deer. The last thing you want is to look like the animal being hunted!
One frequently emphasized hunting lesson is to know what’s behind your target. Let’s make it as easy as possible for them to follow that rule!