"Don't Shoot!"

A photo essay with style and safety tips for walkers during hunting season.

It’s not summer anymore, so do you know where your orange is? Specifically your blaze or neon or construction-cone orange? How about your hot pink or fuchsia? Your radioactive green? If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to dig out the brightest hues buried in your closet. Let’s face it: You don’t want to get shot, or even come close to getting shot, or lose your pup (or pig) to an accident in the woods.

One of the most bounteous blessings of Martha’s Vineyard are the miles and acres of walking trails, woods, scenic overlooks, and sanctuaries that are free, open to the public, and meticulously maintained all year long by the Island’s many conservation organizations. It is easy to get swept away in a rhapsodic bucolic oneness with nature and forget there are also folks – the majority of whom are licensed, permitted, law-abiding, family-loving, and careful – in the woods with guns. And whether you are a vegetarian who would never eat Bambi, or a carnivore who craves animal protein in its gamiest, freshest, most free-range of forms, it behooves us all to learn the rules of safety and play by them.

In an effort to catch your eye and save your skin, we have assembled a cast of Vineyarders to illustrate just how fun and fabulous a little safety consciousness on woodsy walks can be, while offering a deeper look at why and how we love to walk in the first place.

Jennifer Tseng of West Tisbury

One of my favorite walks is down Runner Road to the cove [on Tisbury Great Pond in West Tisbury]. I especially like walking it with Xing because we’ve been doing that walk together since she was a baby and before she was born – before she was even a twinkle in my eye. Her father and I married in [our] back garden, and after the wedding we walked with our friends down to the cove and stayed there for hours. Every time I walk there I feel like I’m returning to those moments. It’s one of the few places where I feel at home with history.

Does your choice of paths change during hunting season?

Not really, and I actually feel kind of stupid about it. We have heard gun shots while looking for Waskosim’s Rock [in Chilmark], feel the chill, and then just keep going. But get this – don’t laugh – Xing and I have never been able to find Waskosim’s Rock. We have walked those trails, followed those signs, studied the map they have posted, and unless it’s a lot smaller than we both imagined, we can’t find it. Anyway, we like the trails.

What’s the coolest thing you ever found on a walk?

The setting of what is now my novel. I go to this place – a secret one – and it’s totally charged with all this energy. Whenever I get a little lost in my writing, I can go there and there it is!

Xing Senna, Jennifer’s daughter

Why do you like going on walks in the woods?

It makes me feel like I’m in a magical place where I could really, actually see a fairy. Wait – I actually did see a fairy! She had a blue light around her. She was a pretty fairy, a good fairy. She didn’t have wings because she had fairy dust. You don’t need both. They are both flying things.

Juli Vanderhoop of Aquinnah

My favorite walk is a secret.

I don’t bring a phone and nobody is there that will recognize me. Although once I was busted there when I thought I was invisible. I was sitting there, covering my head and someone comes up “Juli! Hiiiii!” I couldn’t believe it. My other favorite walk is Long Point [Wildlife Refuge in West Tisbury]. People don’t usually go there.

It’s so vacant, so beautiful.

Does your outfit choice change during hunting season?

Nope. I may wear a lighter blue, but not too much orange. Except for today. My son painted [the scarf in my hair] in his preschool class. You can’t get shot with that on!

Do you hunt?

I don’t hunt anymore. I do barter though, so I get meat, and my brothers are good with venison and fish and things. I like venison a lot, especially slow-roasted in an orange marinade or a beach plum brandy sauce – mmm. But if I want a goose, I have to get it myself. I used to hunt geese, but they are a pain to clean.

What’s the coolest thing you ever found on a walk?

A bone pipe from the 1700s. You could still see the company writing on it and it had old copper or brass trade beads. It looked like a bell.

Jefferson Munroe of Vineyard Haven

Did you dress yourself today, or did you have help from our stylist?

The outfit is mine! The shoes are my favorite [Super Birkis] and the Dickies [pants] are from the [Internet]. The shirt I’m wearing
was my standard for about four winters in a row. Every day.

Zephir Plume of Vineyard Haven

We live near the Holmes Hole Road walking paths in Vineyard Haven. It’s so pleasant to stroll out of the house and into the woods – for hours
at a time. Old Red Coat Hill Road leads to six different Land Bank properties, [which connect] all the way to Lambert’s Cove Road near Duarte’s Pond and have ponds, streams, and marshes throughout.

Rowan Murphy of Boulder, Colorado

Usually when I’m walking I’m looking at things and taking snapshots. Once I found a little tiny table. It was set up with a cob of dried corn on it and two little chairs. I think it was an invitation to teatime for rabbits.

Encounters: hunters + walkers

Many Island residents support hunting, especially bearing in mind how hunting helps reduce the number of deer and their damage to the environment, and helps control the population of Lyme disease–carrying deer ticks. As Tom Clark, collections and grounds manager of the Polly Hill Arboretum in West
Tisbury, says, “Every year dozens of trees and shrubs get eaten or browsed, often disfiguring them irreparably, or trunks of young trees get rubbed/scraped by bucks, which compromises the tree’s long-term health, structure, and form, and often leads to a slow death.”

In addition to these health and environmental arguments in support of hunting, the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank in particular is interested in preserving the Island’s traditional land uses that have taken place over centuries. Matthew Dix, conservation lands foreman of the Land Bank, says about 120 hunters apply for and receive various hunting permits to take animals from its properties each year.

Several of the Island’s conservation organizations allow hunting on some of their properties in season, though hunters must apply for permits and follow state and property protocol. These groups make every effort to educate hunters and hikers alike to keep everyone safe.

The shotgun deer season from November 26 to December 8 requires great awareness and caution. During this period, quite a few Island trails, including many Land Bank properties and the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest, are closed to non-hunting visitors. Deer hunting continues through December with primitive firearms, and there are other hunting seasons through February for everything from waterfowl to rabbit, so it is best to remain orange-clad, pet-savvy, and informed through all of these times. Hunting is not permitted on Sundays.

Despite the general approval and harmonious mutual usage of land, there are a few cautions and considerations on both sides. Matt says one of the hardest things for hunters to deal with is dog walkers who don’t take the rules seriously. Some owners don’t always keep their dogs on leashes or keep track of where they are. Many dog owners don’t put orange on their dogs. Exacerbating this, the dogs get excited and want to follow scents into the woods. Sometimes these dogs end up tracking a hunter to a tree stand and interfering with the hunt.

Matt also urges hunters to thoroughly dispose of their offal. There is no policy against leaving the guts in the woods, but burying them deep enough is key. “After hunting season,” he says, “those gut piles will last a while and dogs will roll around in it and bring it back to their owners, which doesn’t make anyone happy – except the dogs.”

Brian Athearn of West Tisbury

How did you get into hunting?

I served in the Air Force, but it had zero to do with it. It was Steve Jordan [of Edgartown] taking me under his wing and getting me back into hunting, which I had done when I was a teen. He guided me and piqued my interest. Since I had a family, I found it was a great way to show them you don’t need a grocery store to get fed. It was a relieving feeling, a sense of freedom. Between farming, hunting, and seafood harvesting, if we had to, we could easily live off the land.

In the pink in the woods: Wearing outfits courtesy of Lilly Pulitzer from In the Pink in Edgartown are Lexie Roth of Aquinnah and Brooklyn, and Kelsey Berry of Edgartown. “We chose these outfits so all the hunters could see us,” says Lexie. “Pink is not my first usual choice, but I do love bright colors and making a statement with my clothing. Lilly Pulitzer really makes this possible! I love the block colors and prints together.”

Lexie Roth

I love Menemsha Hills during sunset time, because I feel like it’s a race to get to that gorgeous sunset view finish line. I’ve sprinted before, trying to catch
the last glimpse. Because I live in Aquinnah, I love walking on Philbin Beach and going all the way down around the cliffs. Really walking around Aquinnah in general, even on the roads, is never disappointing. Winter is gorgeous when all the lichen and moss is bright and activated, red berries on the bushes, and trudging through some snow in my muck boots.

Kelsey Berry

Favorite walks: the beach off Moshup Trail in Aquinnah, and Peaked Hill Reservation and Menemsha Hills Reservation in Chilmark.

Justin Lavigne of Edgartown

My walks do change seasonally. Some seasons I avoid people, spring and fall I avoid ticks, and hunting season I do what I can to avoid hunters. But I still dress for safety because even if I am avoiding them, I don’t trust people to follow the rules. This is what we wear. I typically wear flip-flops till Christmas if there is no snow on the ground. [Gunther’s] neckie is a hand-me-down from other dogs; I think it was a human garment at one point, though. You only really have to see one hunter on a dog walk before you can’t get it out of your mind that you might get shot.

Jonathan Ralston of Vineyard Haven

I love looking at the landscapes here, but I don’t want to paint them. I paint a lot of European architecture. I am drawn to different subjects with a different sense of space, a particular combination of light, geometry, and stone. While walking I may be processing what I painted the day before, or what I’ll paint later that day. Unless I’m with someone, my thoughts always go back to what I’m working on. There may be colors that work their way back into the paintings.

Scott Mullin of Vineyard Haven

What’s the coolest thing you ever found on a walk?

I found a domino, totally random but I now keep it on a shelf in my room as a reminder of what makes me love this Island. I’m the founder and co-owner of the Sidecar CafĂ© in Oak Bluffs, so I generally reflect on business ideas when I’m walking, and future plans. I generally walk the same paths any time of the year because each different trail has a different effect on my state of mind.

Dos and don’ts in hunting season

Hunters with bows and guns, as well as walkers with canes and cameras, are usually sane people, and it’s a small Island with frequent potlucks. You never know who’s coming to dinner – or what they might bring. So here are some tips to help everyone get along.

For walkers

Most hunters know what they are shooting at and can identify their prey, but you should make it really easy for them to spot you.
DO be aware of hunting seasons and guidelines.
DO find alternative places during hunting season or limit your walks in hunting areas to Sundays, when no hunting is allowed anywhere.
DO wear bright, non-foliage colors in any area where hunting might be taking place.
DO be respectful and quiet in the woods. Though you may think you’re alone, a hunter might be out of sight, waiting patiently in a tree stand.
DO keep in mind that members of the public are at greater risk from vehicles on roads than hunters, and most hunting accidents involve falls from tree stands, not weapon injuries.

DON’T walk at dusk, prime time for hunting, when crepuscular animals are on the move.
DON’T let your dog (or pig) off the leash anywhere hunting is allowed.
DON’T wear forest green, bark brown, midnight blue, burnt umber, and other dark colors.
DON’T interfere with the hunt.
DON’T be surprised if your neighbor who owns a few acres has given his caretaker and friends permission to hunt on his land.

For hunters

This is directed at the knuckleheads who give hunters a bad rap.

DO identify your prey. If you can’t tell what it is, you don’t have a clean shot.
DO be respectful of landowners and do not trespass. If you must do so in order to track down a deer, if possible give the landowner a heads up.
DO let non-hunters you see in the woods know well in advance that you are there hunting and that as a courtesy, you are alerting them to your presence.
DO be extra careful when “gang driving.” Gang deer (or game) drives are one of the oldest and most successful means of taking animals. The biggest problem is the density of hunters in a given area. The key is to know where everyone is located.

DON’T use a rifle for the first time since last hunting season without checking it out thoroughly beforehand.
DON’T say, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.” Always treat a gun as if it’s loaded.
DON’T leave your deer remains in a location that is visible to passersby or likely to be discovered by Fifi, who might enjoy a good rolling in the offal.
DON’T give in to last-day-of-the-season itchy trigger finger.

Thanks for this advice from hunters Brian Athearn of West Tisbury, and David Radcliffe and Nelson Sigelman, both of Vineyard Haven.