Hunters oppose orange wardrobe

MEDFORD — Jackson County's hunters gave a resounding response of "hell no, we won't glow" when it comes to requiring most of them to wear bright hunter-orange clothing while afield on most occasions to reduce vision-related accidents.

Joining hunters across the state, many local hunters told wildlife biologists Thursday in Medford that wearing orange so fellow hunters don't mistake them for animals should be an option and not a law.

"It's a choice and it should be a choice," Nick Green said. "Don't tell me what to wear."

Green was one of many to comments during the public meeting at the Eagles Lodge held by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in conjunction with the Rogue Valley Chapter of the Medford-based Oregon Hunters Association, the state's largest hunting group.

The meeting is one of several held around the state to gauge public sentiment on adding orange to hunters' wardrobe.

Oregon averages fewer than a half-dozen weapons-related injuries a year and one death.

Though studies show that big-game animals deer and elk don't see bright orange but react to clothing pattern and movement, most attending the meeting shot down a string of proposals as unnecessary.

"If you feel safer with orange, wear it," said hunter John Scott of Medford. "Just don't make everybody wear it.

Still, some others favored the bright-orange clothing because the upside was better than the negative impacts to hunters.

"I wear hunter orange," Don Turcke said. "It saves lives."

At the request of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, the OFDW has been collecting hundreds of public comments on a string of options for making Oregon the 41st state to require some form of hunter-orange clothing during at least some hunting.

The first option is to keep it voluntary, while the second would be to require kids under 18 to wear some kind of shirt or vest and hat while hunting with any firearm for anything except turkeys and waterfowl.

So-called "Option 3" would require everyone, including adults, to wear a hunter-orange upper garment or cap with 360-degree visibility while hunting big-game animals and upland game birds, except turkeys, with any centerfire firearm or shotgun. Waterfowl hunters are exempt.

Option 4 would be the same as Option 3, except a hat and upper garment would be required.

Option 5 would require everyone wear a hunter-orange upper garment and cap with 360-degree visibility while hunting any animals except turkeys with any firearm. Waterfowl hunters are exempt.

Some support was voiced Thursday for the kids-only option as well.

Sparked by the death of a 15-year-old Salem boy shot Dec. 6 by his uncle who mistook the camouflaged teen for an elk last fall, the commission in December questioned whether the ODFW should do more than just strongly encourage Oregon's hunters wear blaze orange.

Though rifle hunting remains a relatively safe outdoor pursuit and Oregon ranks as one of the safest states to hunt in the country, it is not without blemish.

Half of the 170 weapons-related hunting accidents here in the past 20 years were vision-related, and two-thirds of the 32 fatalities over that time frame were vision-related.

Other states like Washington that have added hunter-orange requirements have seen their overall gun-related accident rates drop

22 percent and their fatalities drop 40 percent, ODFW wildlife biologist Mark Vargas said.

The only exception was Texas, which saw an increase in fatalities with hunter-orange, Vargas said.

All the comments will be collected for a briefing to the commission at its June 4 meeting in Salem. Any change to the rules would be decided at its Oct. 1 meeting in Bend.

If any option is enacted, it would go into effect in 2011.

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