One of the most special times for a photographer to be in the woods, looking for that unique wildlife photo, is in the autumn. Leaves are turning colors and they provide a spectacular background. Many different birds and animals are extremely active during this time, looking for food sources to get through the winter or following their biological instincts to help create the next generation. However, there is one other factor that photographers must consider; that autumn in most states also corresponds to hunting season.

This season can be a dangerous time to be in the woods without proper precautions. Every year hunters will accidentally shoot other hunters, and sometimes even the general public. There are farmers who have lost livestock to a “hunter” who could not accurately identify their intended quarry. Fortunately, there are a number of safety procedures that photographers can follow to minimize risk to the lowest possible.

Hunting and photography can be compatible.

One of the easiest strategies a photographer can employ is to know, and follow, all visibility recommendations from their state game commissions. For example, here in New York State hunters are required to wear a minimum of 250 square inches of blaze orange or blaze pink above the waist. The idea behind this is that humans need to be visible and be wearing colors not commonly found in nature. Any sporting goods or rural hardware store that caters to hunters in any way will usually have garments for sale that fulfill the requirements (often a vest and a hat). Make sure to purchase a garment large enough to fit over all layers normally worn for an outdoor photography session. Avoid wearing colors that could be mistaken for game animals, in particular brown (for deer) and black (for bear).

Another strategy for photographers is to accompany a hunter into the woods, particularly one who hunts on private land. Private land is often managed for more animals and leased to small numbers of hunters, especially in productive game areas. In following this advice, the photographer can maximize the potential of seeing an animal to photograph while minimizing the possibility of surprising a hunter or scaring game. Have the hunter(s) select your location for photography so that those also on the land know exactly where the photographer is located, and usually hunters know the locations of other hunters in their group as well. Plan to spend the entire day in the woods and walk in and out of the woods in the company of the hunters. A similar option would be to plan ahead, even a year in advance, and speak with landowners of posted property well before hunting season. Sometimes they will allow photographers on their posted land but not hunters.

An option for public land (like designated state wildlife management areas) is to arrive early in the morning and try to talk with hunters before anyone goes into the woods. Communication is key in this situation. Be prepared to change your photography plans if there are too many hunters in one area for your level of comfort. As a hunter (and photographer) I have left an area that I believed had more hunters than was safe in my opinion. It is more important to protect yourself than to take unnecessary risks just for a photograph. Of course, after talking with any hunters, you may make the choice to go back home or go to another area rather than take chances.

Autumn presents excellent photography opportunities for anyone who is aware of the situation and can take appropriate precautions. Hunting season can yield some amazing photos and it is a beautiful time to be in the woods. Like any photo shoot, plan ahead to ensure your own safety and get the perfect photo.