It’s here. I’ve already heard the gunshots. If you want to run safe on trails this season, there's a few things you need to know.
Hunting season has arrived in Pennsylvania (small game began on Sept. 11). And it's hunting season in many other parts of the U.S.
For trail runners, this means sharing the woods with hunters. And if you want to run safe, you need to be seen and heard.
Hunting is permitted within the state park that borders my property as well as the local trails, state forests and nature reserves I frequent most.
Over the years, I have taken extra caution to run safe during hunting season, especially since I spend time in the woods every day, whether it’s running, mountain biking, gravel riding, backpacking or hiking with my kids.
Having enough comfortable hunter-orange apparel ranks as a top priority. I prefer moisture-wicking, versatile clothes that move well during high-exertion activities over the typical hunting vest.
Before I tell you about my favorite orange-running clothes, I’ll tell you about three of the most frightening times of my life, all of which involve guns, all of which have led me toward extra vigilance during hunting season.
A man with a gun was beating on my front door, trying to break in. I was 11 years old. My mom ran out the back door to find help.
I don’t remember what caused him to leave, only how scared I was and how relieved I felt afterward that my family was not harmed.
My fear of guns began then and there.
Twenty-one inches of snow fell upon Pittsburgh, Penn., between Feb. 5 and 6, 2010. Snowmageddon was the name given to the city’s fourth largest blizzard in history.
During Snowmageddon, I was living in a Pittsburgh neighborhood called Friendship.
After the snow settled, I ventured outside with a point-and-shoot camera around 1 p.m.
I trudged through the snow and snapped photos for about 20 minutes.
I was almost home when I saw him.
A man suddenly appeared, walking too quickly, fiercely toward me.
The snow was so deep that a narrow, maybe six-inch-inch-wide path existed atop the buried sidewalk. Despite the obvious room for only one of us, he did not slow or move aside to allow ladies first. I thought he was going to plow me into a snow drift.
Before I could get out of his way, he hurried into me and shoved a 9 mm handgun into my stomach.
“Give me your purse!” he demanded.
I looked at my shoulder, then at him and threw up my hands, giving him a look, thinking, but not saying out loud..
“Does it look like I have a purse!?”
Then I handed him my camera.
At that, he laughed, smiling a big, nasty grin, and said...
He didn’t take the camera but began running. Across the street I saw his accomplice, whom I hadn’t noticed before, running parallel to him and laughing, too.
Their quick movement frightened me. I ran in the opposite direction, barreling through the snow, for my house.
Scared to look back and praying he wouldn’t shoot, I threw myself down the long driveway, up the steps, through the door and into the kitchen, to find my roommate. She helped me dial 911.
Afterward, I had panic attacks that included...
Furthermore, when I stepped out my front door, the scene replayed itself in my mind as I settled my eyes upon where it happened - through the yard, in front of the wrought-iron fence that separated the place where I lived from the sidewalk.
Post-traumatic stress disorder was the professional diagnosis after one therapy session.
Soon, I moved from the city. Removed from the scene of the crime, the panic attacks went away.
It was late March of 2020, and the COVID-19 pandemic had just hit America.
Schools and businesses closed, and the outdoors saw an influx of newcomers.
I was seeing up to 20 people on trails where I normally saw zero.
On one particular day, I drove a few minutes from my house to the nearby Pennsylvania state game lands to go for an easy five-mile run.
It was not a designated hunting season, aside from the year-round open season for coyotes, opossums, striped skunks and weasels.
I parked at the top of a dirt road near some residential homes at the border of the game lands and set out for an out-and-back.
On my way back, I began hearing gunshots. The closer I got to where I parked, the louder the intermittent shooting became.
I was almost to my vehicle when I saw through the forest clearing a white car parked off the edge of the road, about 200 yards from me.
It struck me as an odd place to park, as it was along the main dirt road, which was narrow, and a small lot with plenty of spaces was sitting vacant across from this strange car.
A deafening gunshot fired in my direction.
I hit the dirt.
The shots kept coming.
My vehicle was a bus-length away. Could I make it?
I army-crawled as low to the ground as possible, with little more than an inch between my body and the earth.
Stay down was the only thing I could do.
The shooting stopped.
I leapt up, ripped the door open and peeled out of there as fast as possible, ears ringing.
Once home, I reported the incident to the local game lands officer, who went to the location the next day only to find the culprit in the exact spot again.
He was sitting in the back of his white Porsche hatchback, obviously target shooting bottles, which were broken in the woods near and all around him.
The officer asked the out-of-towner to leave before informing him not to park along the road as he was, not to target shoot bottles or toward people, and if he were to target shoot, choose somewhere within the thousands of acres of game lands, farther from houses.
What do these stories have to do with being able to run safe while on the trails during hunting season?
None of these men were hunters, after all.
Still, when I’m out trail running and see hunters, my mind goes directly to what they are carrying: guns.
And I can’t help but panic a little, having flashbacks of the man who threatened me with a 9 mm handgun and the man who carelessly shot toward me.
Even when I hear gunshots off in the distance, I flinch.
Then I run as fast as I can down the trail.
Those close-call experiences have made me extra attentive about how to run safe on trails, especially during hunting season.
One way to stay safe is to know the dates of your local hunting seasons, where you spend the most time in the woods:
Around here, I make it a point to check:
You can also get hunting-season info for other states from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
It’s difficult to remember all the dates, so I always check before venturing out between September and January, then again in spring, during turkey season.
Below are some of the orange running items I’ve collected over the years and recommend. I prefer to combine a hat or buff with a shirt and pants or jacket for maximum visibility.
We’d love to hear from you and see your pics.
Stay safe, run happy.
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