Saturday, November 10, 2012

A little fear, politics and authority with some biking mixed in..

Last night, prompted by a Facebook post - I decided to go for a post work night-ride with some fast folks.

Several guys and a girl showed up at 6:30 - I think seven of us in total.  As we were readying the bikes / equipment an officer showed up - declaring that the trails were for day use.  He didn't claim that we must leave the premises, but kept stating "for day use".  

The group carefully selected not to engage in  much conversation - just nodding our heads and generally going about our business.  It was evident that collectively no one knew what to make of the situation (including the officer).  He went on to say that he had a lively discussion on the matter with a local.   The group remained steadfast yet uneasy - which likely prompted the officer to raise the stakes:

"There's hunting in this area..."  "You don't want to get mixed up with poachers"..

We considered parking at a nearby house to prevent any ticketing just in case there *was* a law against such behavior, but in the end it appeared there wasn't anything legal keeping us from carrying on.   So we headed out and had a ball (until my toes froze about an hour and 15 minutes in).

Sitting in the safe confines of my house this morning - I started wondering how often mountain bikers end up on the wrong side of a hunters sights.  In my imagination - some hunters might take pleasure in tracking unknowing "prey" - but when it comes down to it, the likelihood is slim that they'll shoot another human. Especially if they know it is a human.

So - a quick search online using the words "mountain biker shot hunter" in various sequences was conducted. 

Results:  Almost entirely about a poor fellow in NZ who was hunting with a close friend.  The link to mountain biking:  He was a prominent local mountain biker.

Growing up in Vermont during the late 70's / early 80's - I'd head for the hills well into peak hunting season with some concern tempered by faith.  To make matters worse:   No helmet, no safety orange  and all by myself.  By some modern-day accounts I should be dead.   This isn't to say there isn't or wasn't any risk, or that my parents were bonkers.  This history is provided as a worst case scenario.  There were lots and lots of hunters where I grew up.  They may have had more open spaces than this part of the world - but the density was at least as high.  The state practically shut down on opening day.

So the question:  How truly risky is biking in high population hunting areas during hunting season?  

Does anyone know of an instance where a mountain biker was shot at?   I know of hunter / hunter shootings - but have never heard of any mountain bikers being involved.  Is it possible the motion & sounds of mountain biking don't trigger the same trigger reflex?

When people do get shot - what are the most common circumstances?  In my mind maybe its dusk combined with the sound of a single snapping twig and slow motion.  Who really knows?

About 10 years ago I was riding in Douglas State forest alone - donning a helmet and orange vest. The ground was icy / frozen over, and the bike made a huge racket crunching through frozen puddles.  I came across a hunter - who stated that I sounded just like a deer running.  To this day I wonder if it was another case of fear-mongering or if I was truly stacking the odds against myself a bit further in those conditions...

For certain, we can significantly reduce the risk wearing orange and riding in groups.  The suggestion from the officer that we were at risk had no basis in reality.  I think we all know that was motivated by something else.

After this post, who knows..   I might be the guy who gets it.  All to the satisfaction of a society driven by linear thinking - and a common desire for some tasty drama.

Ya see,  I have this irrational fear of Karma.


  1. Dude, you just jinxed yourself big-time! (lol) I came from Michigan where deer hunting is 10x bigger than here. On opening day, 750,000 guys and gals with rifles and shotguns are in the woods. You are rarely out of sight, and certainly not out of range of other hunters. I believe more die from heart attacks on opening day than accidental shootings.

    In one case I'm personally familiar with where another hunter got shot, a dad and three adult sons were flushing deer out of a dense stand of pines. The growth blocked the orange vest and a brother shot his own brother, thinking sure it was a deer. They didn't quite follow script, so the guy that got shot ended up where he shouldn't have. No excuse though. The shooter obviously didn't know his target. The brother survived, but needed several surgeries to rebuild is knee.

    Coming from a hunting family and a culture where hunting is ingrained, I personally don't feel at risk riding during hunting season. 99% of the hunters are uber cautious. I find around here, where most people do not own guns, it is the fear of the unknown that creates a perception that it is unsafe to be out there.

    Do wear your orange though. Even though hunters may largely be a safe lot, many will be irritated to have non-hunters trouncing through, scaring game away. Don't give them any ammo to engage you in criticism by not having orange on. Orange shows you are at least aware of your surroundings and takes an excuse away of why you should not be out there. In many parts of the country, public areas completely close to all other recreation activities during deer rifle season. Some of my favorite trails in Michigan state game areas close in the fall and do not reopen until spring. Be glad we can at least ride most areas here during some of the best riding time of the year.

  2. I haven't heard of a biker being shot, but last year a woman was shot behind her home... shot by an off duty Trooper because he mistook her dog's tail for that of a deer (how he shot her and not the dog...?)

    Of course, after that my wife was super worried whenever I went for a ride.

    1. Interesting case study. Last few moments of daylight and the last day of the season coupled with the twitching of a tail.

  3. Wore my orange mesh vest in Vermont today. Saw many trucks parked along the dirt roads and trailheads, a few hunters by their trucks, but none in the woods. I wonder how many were watching us? I kept getting that feeling I was being watched...

    1. Oh, they were watching and I'm right there with them. I like watching people when they have no idea they are being watched. There's a strange element of pleasure derived from this kind of thing.

      Being an ADD kinda guy I usually spot them and wave. I once "caught" a guy trying to hide behind a tree. He was visibly embarrassed.

  4. I wear orange and a small bell. i figure most deer don't wear bells and they are hard to miss so I should be safe. when I'm able to ride that is...

  5. For the most part I try to stay out of the woods here in MA during hunting season. Not so much for fear of being shot, but because it's their time in the woods. Especially if it's a wildlife management area. They have such a short season and we still get Sundays so I figure I can keep to night riding Mon-Sat. If I am out when they are, say to ohhhh clear storm damage, I make sure to wear orange. I've never had any issues with the hunters I've run into.