Inside the Blaze Orange Cover Up

Tony Robinson
Nov. 14, 2012 @ 06:47 PM

It was a beautiful late fall day as I walked through the woods to the deer hunters tree stand.  A few minutes later I was standing at the trees base looking up at the modest lock on tree stand that the hunter beside me had occupied earlier that morning.  Earlier in the predawn hours, the hunter and his companion had arrived together to go deer hunting.  Though it was the traditional firearms season, the requirement to wear a blaze orange clothing item was not the law of the land yet.  Even so, one of the hunters’ wives had made them a vest to wear.

In a tragic twist of fate, the two hunters at the last minute decided to not wear the homemade blaze orange vests.  Like many deer hunters of a few years ago, they believed that blaze orange clothing items would surely scare the deer.  As the new day broke, both hunters scanned the surrounding forest floor for their quarry.  As the sun slowly moved towards the midday point, the hunter’s hopes of seeing deer began looking more unlikely.  While both were in tree stands, they were just out of sight of each other.  With optimism weaning and muscles aching, hunter one eases to the ground and slowly begins walking through the woods.

Easing up the tree, I take a seat in the second hunters stand.  Getting into position, I imagined myself as being that hunter.  Signaling another wildlife officer, I soon watch as he walks the fatal path that hunter one had walked earlier that day.  With a sense of sadness, I tried to envision what the second hunter may have seen or didn’t see during the critical seconds before he made the fateful decision that would take the life of his friend.

While hunting has always been one of the safest sports around, the handful of tragic headlines during the early eighties where one hunter was mistaken for game by another hunter finally got the attention of the state’s lawmakers in the mid nineteen eighties.  As a result, in 1987, North Carolina like most other states, began requiring deer hunters to wear a hunter orange colored cap, hat or outer garment while hunting with a firearm.  Since then the law has been amended three times resulting in almost eliminating incidents of hunters mistaking other hunters for game, resulting in shooting mishaps.  Now twenty-five years later, besides being required by law for most hunting, wearing blaze orange clothing while hunting is both accepted and fashionable.  While the law has worked in cutting down unfortunate accidents and requires a blaze orange clothing item to be worn at all times while hunting, there is a growing trend towards circumventing the law with a blaze orange cover up.

It was 1987 when all bear, deer and wild boar hunters, other than land owners, their spouse and children, were required to wear a cap, hat or outer garment made from hunter orange visible from all sides, while firearm hunting.  Four years later, the law is amended to require the orange clothing when hunting any game animals other than foxes, bobcats, raccoons and opossum or when hunting upland game birds other than wild turkeys with a firearm.  Then six years later it was amended by requiring the orange clothing item by anyone hunting deer with any weapon during a deer firearm season.  This past year the law was amended again by requiring the orange clothing item be worn while hunting feral swine with a firearm. 

The end result is that most hunters using firearms during the more at risk firearm hunting seasons are required to wear blaze orange in order to be seen by other hunters.  The clothing item, be it hat, cap or other outer garment is required by the law to be made of the hunter orange material.  Hunter orange is identified as a material that is a daylight fluorescent orange color.  It must be visible from all sides.  It is a violation to have it on and then wear some other type of non-orange color clothing like rain gear or camouflage clothing over it.  However, right from the start, there has been a loophole in the law that continues to grow larger and can only be described as the blaze orange cover up.

While hunting blinds and stands whither on the ground or above it is the norm, the objective is concealment.  This hunting blind concealment continues to work and gets better each year.  The problem is that a growing number of deer hunters use camouflaged portable popup blinds and special tree stand tents that completely conceal the hunter.  Even a hunter wearing a blaze orange pair of coveralls, while legal, completely disappears as he sits in a chair surrounded by his camouflaged popup blind.  Through tiny eye slot sized windows, he may have a complete view of his surroundings.  However, to another hunter, he is completely invisible even though he is completely covered in blaze orange.  This means that even at close range, another hunter would fail to see that there were two or even three hunters sitting directly behind the deer that he is about to shoot.  Currently, there seems to be no initiative or interest in amending the law a fifth time in order to eliminate this dangerous loophole.  While most states are in the same situation as North Carolina, some have addressed this important issue.  Pennsylvania currently requires anyone hunting deer, elk or bear from any blind to display a minimum of 100 square inches of blaze orange within 15 feet of the blind so it is visible in a 360 arch.  This year Indiana began requiring any blind located within 4 feet of the ground must display at least 144 sq inches of blaze orange on all sides of the blind if he blind is occupied during the deer firearm season.  The good news is that hunters with the forethought can still play it safe by marking and displaying blaze orange on their blinds.  In the meantime, they can hope that the state’s lawmakers will act and uncover the blaze orange cover up.

• Tony Robinson can be reached at decoydoc@charter.net