Addressing confusion over when hunters must don hunter orange clothing, the Missouri Department of Conservation has clarified its regulations and is urging deer and other hunters to note the changes. The bottom line, say conservation officials, is safety.
Missouri's hunter or "blaze" orange requirement dates back to 1980. Then, as now, its purpose was to prevent firearms deer hunting accidents.
"We hoped that by making hunters more visible to other hunters, we would be able to reduce the number of hunting injuries and deaths," said Bob Staton, protection programs supervisor for the Conservation Department. "It has been a tremendous success."
In spite of its 20-year history and effectiveness, some Missouri hunters still don't understand the requirement, which applies to nearly all hunters during the firearms deer seasons, even if they aren't hunting deer.
"A lot of people have never understood why quail and rabbit hunters have to wear blaze orange during deer season," Staton said. "The reason is simple. Anyone in the woods during deer season can be mistaken for game or caught in the line of fire of a hunter shooting at deer. That's less likely to happen if you're wearing an orange jacket and cap."
Staton said confusion about the requirement has increased in recent years with additions and changes to deer seasons. Where once Missouri had only one season for firearms deer hunters in November, the deer season now also includes a three-month archery portion, a youth-only firearms portion, a muzzleloader portion and a late, antlerless-only portion.
The key to understanding when to wear hunter orange is to remember the original intent - preventing hunting accidents without making hunting unnecessarily difficult. If going without hunter orange would expose you to a greater chance of being mistaken for game or caught in a deer hunters' line of fire, wearing hunter orange probably is required.
The recently modified regulation regarding hunter orange clothing says "This requirement shall apply to all hunters during the youth-only, November and antlerless-only portions of the firearms deer hunting season." There are some exceptions, however.
Migratory game bird hunters don't have to wear hunter orange. Neither do archery deer hunters during the muzzleloader deer hunting season. All hunters in Units 28 through 32 and 38 through 57 also are exempt during the antlerless-only portion of deer season, since these areas are closed to deer hunting at that time.
The final exemption is for archery deer hunters who are hunting within municipal boundaries where discharging firearms is prohibited or on federal or state public hunting areas where deer hunting is restricted to archery methods.
Staton said the hunter-orange requirement, along with mandatory hunter education training, has cut deer hunting accidents to a fraction of their former numbers.
During the same period, the number of deer harvested by hunters has increased just as dramatically. This, says Staton, demonstrates that wearing hunter orange doesn't reduce hunters' chances of killing deer. He said deer are color blind, so they aren't any more likely to notice hunters wearing bright-orange clothing than if they were wearing camouflage.
"Deer are very attuned to sound and movement," said Staton. "If a deer spots you, it's probably because you shuffled your feet or turned your head, not because of the color of your coat."