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Saturday, April 14, 2007

Drop the Mandatory Orange Rule for Spring Gobbler Season

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA., April 14, 2007.)
Pennsylvania is a good test case for the rule
because it's the only state with the rule.
The rule has failed the test.
In spring gobbler season, "A hat containing a minimum of 100 square inches of solid fluorescent orange material, visible 360 degrees, must be worn at all times when moving."

So reads the rule. Can it save lives or prevent injury? Common sense would answer, "Yes." But it's a bad rule.

It's a bad rule for a number of reasons. First, because IF it can prevent accidents, it can also cause accidents. Male wild turkeys, the target of our efforts in spring gobbler season, have red as a prominent color on their heads. Under certain light conditions a minimal amount of orange can easily be viewed as red. I've seen the dewlap, the fleshy web along the throats of gobblers, filter sunlight into a bright orange color. If red on a turkey's head can look orange, why can't a hunter's orange hat look red? It can, because orange is close to red on the color spectrum.

That means the orange rule, contrary to common sense, could actually be dangerous under certain conditions.

But that's not all. If I reposition myself to the other side of the tree to work a circling gobbler, am I to put on an orange hat? My bet is that no hunter does, but if a wildlife conservation officer observes me doing that, I'm probably subject to arrest. And I wouldn't blame him. He didn't make the rule. He's just doing his job. I can argue that I'm not really moving. I'm just repositioning myself. He'll tell me to reposition myself to the magistrate's office if I want to fight it.

What if I'm employing the often-used tactic of circling to get ahead of a moving gobbler? A hunter making such a move risks being seen by the gobbler. Adding an orange hat increases the risk considerably, so the temptation to forego the orange hat is very strong. The percentage of hunters who obey the rule under those conditions is probably only one or two points north of zero.

It's easy to identify situations where the hunter is inclined to ignore the rule. A safety rule that makes no sense to hunters so that they don't, won't, or can't comply is a dangerous rule. It's a rule that creates the conditions for a shooting in mistake for game.

The pro-orange argument might then go like this. Even though hunters do not always follow the mandatory orange rule, doesn't it help reduce hunting accidents anyway? The answer is "No."

Pennsylvania is a good test case for the rule because it's the only state with the rule. The rule has failed the test. During the 8 years prior to 1993 when the mandatory orange regulation began, there were 8.75 incidents per year, or 4.3 per 100,000 hunters. (They're called "incidents" to include all gun-related injuries while hunting, without defining whether they are "accidents" or not.)

After the orange rule was adopted in 1993 the overall rate of incidents per year in Pennsylvania's spring turkey season increased to 10.38, or 4.5 incidents per 100,000 hunters. With the mandatory orange rule, the rate has actually gone up slightly. So, for safety's sake, why shouldn't we abandon the rule?

Of course, Pennsylvania has a high number of hunters, so it is worthwhile to compare the incident rates in other states. In New York, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan and West Virginia – all states with a high population of hunters and no mandatory orange – the rates are lower than in Pennsylvania. All evidence points to the conclusion that wearing the orange hat does not make the Pennsylvania hunter safer.

That's why the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation recommends the Pennsylvania Game Commission rescind the regulation. The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners is meeting this week, on April 17 and 18, and will be discussing this issue. If you agree that it's time to abandon the mandatory orange rule for spring turkey hunters, contact Executive Director Carl Roe now by email at croe@state.pa.us, and the other Commissioners at pgccomments@state.pa.us.

Tell them that the mandatory rule of wearing an orange hat in spring gobbler season is an unnecessary and ineffective regulation, and should be abandoned because it has failed to improve safety.

P.S. I have proposed the following idea to the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners: Test the rule by removing it in a specific test area. WMUs 1B and 2F would be a good choice. These WMUs are large enough to be statistically significant, and have widely varied geography and topography. They include mountains, farmlands, rolling hills, flatlands, urban areas, and a large amount of accessible public property. They include areas of dense human population as well as sparsely populated areas. The PA chapter of the NWTF can undertake an intense effort to educate hunters in this area with the absence of the rule. Collect data for two years, and then be guided by the results of the test.


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