Wearing hunter orange is mandatory during the deer gun season. Brightly clad orange hunters are usually darned easy to see. Wearing orange is an excellent precaution that makes perfectly good sense. It saves lives.
Wearing hunter orange is not a requirement for pheasant hunters. A reason often heard as to why hunter orange is not mandatory while pheasant hunting is that pheasant hunters carry shotguns, not rifles. Shotguns have much less range than the high-powered rifles utilized by deer hunters and are therefore usually not lethal at long distances.
However, pheasant hunters are often within shotgun range of each other. Sometimes one pheasant hunting party will encounter another, such as what happened recently on the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge.
A pheasant hunter wearing orange clothing remains easily visible despite tall weeds.
Two pairs of hunters were working opposite ends of a large slough containing tall cattails. One pair was wearing hunter orange and the other two were not. They were wearing a combination of camouflage and dark colors that, at times, concealed their location. This concerned the orange-clad hunters who did not wish to discharge a shotgun in the direction of a fellow hunter.
I've had similar experiences in the field, enough to realize the value of wearing orange while pheasant hunting. At the very least an orange hat is a must. Adding an orange hunting vest or coat is even better. Orange stands out vividly in the dull colors of late fall and against a mixture of snow and tall cover where rooster pheasants are often found.
I always wear orange while pheasant hunting with others and appreciate when they do as well. Orange makes it much easier to identify a safe shooting lane. Orange allows fellow hunters to recognize your position quickly if a bird should flush in your direction.
John Mazur is the new hunter education supervisor for the North Dakota Game and fish Department. He knows the safety value of hunters wearing orange in the field during the deer gun and muzzleloader seasons and encourages pheasant hunters to follow suit.
"Absolutely," Mazur told me. "We don't require it for upland hunting but it is strongly recommended. The majority of people already do it."
Admittedly, many hunters don't care much for additional laws or regulations. I'm one of them, but at the same time, I agree with wearing orange while chasing pheasants. To me, wearing orange is both a safety issue and a courtesy.
"Let hunters make the decision to wear orange or not," said Mazur. "It is not necessary for a law yet."
Mazur is right, I believe. The best course of action now is for pheasant hunters to encourage members of their hunting party, and others, to wear orange. Even though the end result may be the same, I prefer that approach to the implementation of another law.