An Unexpected Hiking Hazard

IMG_7920My wife and I were looking for a relaxing day of light hiking.  Over the past couple of weeks we’ve biked, hiked and jogged a great deal and needed a couple of light days to recover.  I’ve been telling her about a trail in the Shannondale Wildlife Management Area that was an easy two-mile hike that follows a beautiful section of the Shenandoah River.  I’d come across this trail while out scouting for deer and had wanted her to see it since then.

We loaded Turtle and minimal gear into the “little” car and headed to the parking lot.  As we prepared Turtle’s stroller, we noticed two gentlemen in camouflage loading their shotguns.  I’ve seen the best of West Virginia and West Virginians but I’ve also seen the worst of West Virginia and West Virginians.  These two guys looked a bit closer to the latter.  I suspected “pain-killer” dependency as it is as prevalent, if not more so, than methamphetamine.

We left the parking lot and followed the trail along the river for a while, absorbing the beauty of the Shenandoah.  There were quite a few nice looking swimming and fishing holes, some shoals that looked great for smallmouth, and a few islands that I think would be interesting to explore.

Although we went about our business and enjoyed the hike, we both maintained a level of situational awareness about our guys with the shotguns.  Misti spoke quietly “those guys give me the creeps.  What are they doing with guns if it’s not hunting season?”  Without missing a beat I replied “Maybe it’s pot season.”

Slowly, the two guys caught up with us.  Again, they looked shady.  I spoke somewhat quietly to Misti.  “I don’t know what these guys are doing.  I’m kind of thinking they may be checking on a pot field.”  I decided that my best bet was to stop and assume an easy-going but defensive posture.  At that moment, I realized that all I had to defend myself, my wife and my youngest son was a stockman pocket knife, still in my pocket.

The guys passed by and I took the opportunity to take a look at their eyes.  Yep.  Bloodshot.

I spoke in a confident tone but kept it friendly.  “Hey guys.  We figured we’d let you go on ahead since we’re taking our time.”

The shadier of the two mumbled a “thanks” and something about his back and liver problems.

Just as they passed, two more guys came from the opposite direction, both holding shotguns.  This struck me as odd since I knew that there were no ranges on this part of the WMA.  They were both friendly looking guys so I stopped them to ask if there were any seasons open yet.

“Yeah.  Squirrel season opened last Saturday.”

Photo courtesy of FinlayCox143.

Photo courtesy of FinlayCox143.

I couldn’t believe it.  I’m so used to bushy-tail hunting only in the late fall and early winter and so focused on my bow hunting drama that I’d forgotten that we are now having late summer squirrel hunting.  In my younger days, when I spent most of my time small game hunting, squirrel came into season during the middle of October.

After hearing a few shotguns firing in the distance, we decided that going for family hikes in a Wildlife Management Area during an open season isn’t the best plan as far as safety is concerned.  We opted to leave the WMA and finish our hike in downtown Harpers Ferry where we took the chance to explore a few new trails.

At the end of the day, my family and I returned safely to our home.  We decided that it might be best to hold off hiking Shannondale until Sunday when hunting is prohibited.

If you hike public lands, pay attention to state and local hunting seasons.  Hiking in the woods, especially during bucks-only rifle season, could prove to be a dangerous way to get your outdoor fix.

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