Who’s Expendable?

Why is it only hunters (shooters) must wear blaze orange in certain states during certain seasons? What about guides, camp cooks, wood cutters, bird watchers, bird hunters (!) and other backcountry wanderers during the big-game hunting season? Why is it that only the shooter is required to wear blaze orange? Are guides, wranglers, cooks, mushroom gatherers, bird watchers or a grandmother more expendable to a negligent shot than another hunter—or even his 6-year-old, non-hunting child companion?Montana elk and deer hunt September 2004 005
Game departments tell us that deer don’t see color like blaze orange, so there is no disadvantage to wearing it. If that is true then why are bow and muzzleloader hunters exempt from wearing it? Upland bird hunters—with very few exceptions—are not required by law to wear blaze orange.
Are we rifle (and handgun) big-game hunters so endangered, so rare and in such jeopardy as to require this special “protection” from the government? If so, then why are we not afforded protections and special privileges offered to other threatened groups? Are all of the other forest and wilderness users so numerous that we can afford to lose a few of them to the idiots who do not verify their target before pulling the trigger?
Or is it possible—as irreverent and blasphemous as this statement may be—that it is simply easier for game wardens (who are not required to wear it either; are they expendable as well?) to spot and check hunters wearing blaze orange, and play gotcha! with those who may have inadvertently forgot part of their license, conservation stamp or other miniscule detail mandated by law?
Mind you, I am not saying that blaze orange should not be worn. I voluntarily wear it when hunting upland birds besides the mandated times when hunting big game. What I am saying is that it is an antiquated law that is ill-served in today’s hunting environment. Blaze orange doesn’t take the place of good judgment.
And I am not anti-game wardens either. Most are underpaid, overworked and under-appreciated. I am proud to say that I have had and still do enjoy a good relationship with game wardens. But the blaze orange law is one that helps create an environment of us-against-them. Wear it if you want; even encourage hunters—all hunters—to wear it. But to use it as an excuse for confiscation of money and/or gear—they prefer the PC phrase revenue enhancement—is onerous.

Dave Campbell
Dave Campbell began his hunting career with a spear off the southern California coast in the late 1960s. It did not take long for him to graduate to the gun on land. Campbell is the founding editor in chief of the NRA’s tremendously successful Shooting Illustrated magazine. In 2006 he also edited the iconic book of terminal ballistics, Rifle Bullets for the Hunter—A Definitive Study. He returned to his beloved Wyoming in 2007 as a freelance writer, though he usually refers to himself now as a “recovering editor.”

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