Hunting for sport is quintessentially American, with hunters nationwide prepping gear and heading to the woods to track and shoot game during hunting season.
According to one US 2021 hunting report, The Fish and Wildlife Service issues approximately 39 million hunting licenses, tags, permits, and stamps to hunters nationwide.
Besides guns, traps, knives, bags, and other weaponry, licensed hunters must prepare their hunting apparel, which includes blaze orange clothing.
So, why do hunters wear orange, a bright and bold color, yet the point is to reduce visibility to avoid starling prey? Keep reading to discover orange apparel’s significance in hunting.
1. The Law Dictates That Hunters Wear Orange While Hunting
No federal law dictates that licensed hunters in the US wear blaze or safety orange while venturing out during hunting season.
However, more than four-fifths of US states have blaze orange regulations, requiring licensed hunters within the given state’s jurisdiction to wear bright orange items, including vests, coats, and caps, while hunting. Moreover, they can also carry orange hunting accessories, including tarps.
The state regulations for hunting orange apparel vary slightly across different state jurisdictions.
For starters, some states require that hunters wear blaze orange while hunting big game and ungulates (hooved animals like the white-tailed deer, bison, and moose). However, the same states have laxed hunting regulations on hunting orange apparel for archery and other hunting activities that do not include firearm discharge.
On the other hand, some state laws dictate that hunters wear blaze orange apparel for firearm discharge and archery-related hunting escapades. Moreover, some states, like Texas, only require hunters to wear blaze orange hunting gear while hunting in public parks and reserves. Yet, the same requirement is optional for hunters on private property.
Nonetheless, all states enforcing hunting orange regulations agree that every licensed hunter should wear at least 400 yards of blaze-orange clothing above the waistline and visible from all directions while hunting in the wild.
The fines for contravening vary across state lines and include a fine of up to USD 500, a misdemeanor charge, and hunting license revocation.
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2. Blaze Orange Stands Out In Nature, Making It A Safe Color
The logic behind enforcing hunting orange laws is to ensure hunter safety by protecting them from accidental firearm discharge. So, what is the relation between vibrant blaze orange gear and hunter safety?
Bright orange color has high visibility making it impossible for hunters to mistake each other for the game, regardless of whether they belong to the same hunting party. However, doesn’t the blaze orange color increase visibility to the ungulates and other prey, helping them avoid the hunters?
One publication revisits the hunting orange history and highlights the factors below.
According to the publication, the hunting orange principle dates back to 1959 when Jack Woolner, an officer from the Massachusetts Fisheries and Game Division, conducted visual tests to determine the colors with the highest visibility in the woods.
The officer tested different colors against diverse light variations and weather conditions. At the end of the study, Mr. Woolner established that unlike other colors, including green, blue, red, and yellow, orange was the only color that stood out from any natural elements like foliage, regardless of the weather, light setting, and time of day.
Woolner published his findings in 1960, highlighting blaze/ hunter orange as a safety shield against accidental firearm discharge in the wild.
By 1961, Massachusetts became the first US state to adopt blaze orange hunting legislation. Additionally, a state review by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation of hunting-associated injuries and fatalities established that more accidents involved people not wearing blaze orange apparel.
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3. Ungulates Don’t See Color
Color vision is essential for organisms, including ungulates, to distinguish figures in their environment. Ungulates do not see color (at least not like humans do). According to one study, humans and ungulates have different types of cones (photoreceptor cells) that influence how they perceive color.
The study established that ungulates lack the cones necessary to perceive colors within the red spectrum, including orange. Therefore, they view orange as blue and green hues that blend into the foliage in their environment. So, while hunters use blaze orange to identify each other, the prey is none the wiser.
4. To Help Game Wardens Maintain Park Rules
The Fish and Wildlife Service institutes game reserve and park rules to preserve the ecosystem and maintain the circle of life.
Park rules that hunters often break include taking fish out of the water, hunting outside park-mandated areas, failing to salvage game meat, and hunting immature games. The blaze orange gear helps game wardens to identify irresponsible hunters breaking park rules and act accordingly for conservation purposes.
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5. Locating Stranded Hunters
While hunting is a riveting outdoor experience, it has its inherent risks. For starters, hunters can get stranded in the wild and require teams and first responders to locate them. Blaze orange gear is much easier for first responders to spot than hunting camo.
6. Staying Hidden
As stated earlier, blaze orange is imperceptible to ungulates and most prey, except for birds. A key part of hunting is stealth and staying hidden while stalking prey. An indiscernible color is the perfect cover for a successful hunt.
Hunters wear blaze orange to stay safe while remaining invisible to prey for a successful hunting expedition. Therefore, it is prudent to take the initiative and include blaze orange apparel in your hunting gear, regardless of state laws.