Our View: Be Careful Out There: It's Hunting Season

PIXABAY PHOTO 

While walking her dog in the woods near the bike trail off Queen Anne Road in Harwich Monday, a friend was startled to run into hunters — not just one or two, but 10, all toting rifles and apparently seeking deer. She'd never seen hunters in the area before, despite walking there often over many years. The hunters were polite and warned her that she should be wearing bright colors, since it was hunting season. She left the encounter shaken and more than a little worried that things could have gone sideways, for her or other walkers in the area.

Like encounters earlier this year between duck hunters and beach walkers in Chatham, the incident highlights a growing problem in our area: more people and less open space for traditional activities like hunting. Currently, hunting is allowed on public lands that are not posted, but it may be time for local towns to consider expanding no-hunting areas, particularly where hunters are likely to come into conflict with other recreational users, such as near bike trails and public beaches.

This may not be a popular position. Last spring, Harwich voters rejected banning hunting in the Bell's Neck Conservation Area, and Brewster just allowed bow hunting for deer in a small section of The Punkhorn conservation area. Hunting has a long tradition on the Cape. But the open spaces to pursue game such as deer and sea ducks are diminishing; organizations like the Harwich Conservation Trust and Chatham Conservation Foundation own considerable amounts of open land and don't allow hunting. With more people here year-round, conflicts are inevitable.

Chatham's park and recreation commissioners hope to hire a hunting warden to mitigate conflicts, if funding can be approved. Posting areas that tend to get heavy public use, such as those adjacent to bike trails, should be considered by local officials. More publicity about hunting season dates would also help educate the public and allow people to make more informed decisions about when and where they venture into natural areas. It's fortunate that hunting for most species is only allowed in the fall and winter, when there are fewer people here (although pushes to attract more visitors in the shoulder and off-season could change that). Deer season, for instance, runs Nov. 28 to Dec. 10 for shotguns and Dec. 12 to 31 for primitive firearms; duck season runs Dec. 1 to Jan. 31. No hunting is allowed on Sundays by state law.

During the debate over banning hunting in Bell's Neck, it was pointed out that there is no evidence of injuries due to hunting accidents in the area. That may be so, but as our friend's encounter and the run-ins in Chatham demonstrate, the chances of an accident occurring are increasing. Just the fact that concerns continue to bubble up indicates the need to at least open a dialog on the subject.