By Pierre Comtois
HARVARD — With hundreds of acres of open land in town available for the enjoyment of walkers and hikers, the potential for a clash in cultures exists when hunting season begins and nature lovers are likely to run into armed strangers in local forests.
Such encounters can be unsettling for walkers holding nothing more than a stick in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other.
But according to Marion Larson, information and education biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, there is little to fear on that account.
Properly licensed hunters have been trained in gun safety, first aid, state and local regulations.
As a result, said Larson, even with as many as 70,000 licensed hunters in Massachusetts, the state has one of the lowest rates of hunting-related injuries. In short, accidental shootings of anyone by hunters is extremely rare, so recreational hikers should not be fearful of continuing their walks in woodlands, no matter the season.
That said, using some common sense during the hunting season cannot but help improve a hiker’s safety. It’s advisable to wear some type of bright orange colored apparel, keep to existing trails, and make sure pets are kept on leashes.
Although hunting is allowed on most state land, including Fisheries and Wildlife and state forests, its practice on privately owned property may vary from town to town.
For instance, according to agent Liz Allard, hunting is not allowed anywhere in Harvard’s 1,739 acres of land cared for by the Conservation Commission. Likewise for the 536 acres owned and overseen by the Conservation Trust.
Hunting can be allowed on private property by permission of the owner. If anyone wishes to walk on private property during hunting season, it would be wise to first inquire of owners if hunting is permitted on their land.
“I know that in different towns with conservation land, there can be different rules regarding hunting,” said Dan Hurley, president of the Harvard Sportsman’s Club. “For hunters’ there’s definitely a sense of being squeezed whenever a large tract of land is taken out and reserved as conservation land. But then, towns are also conscious that certain animal populations will get out of hand if not hunted and they sometimes change their rules to allow hunting on certain parcels, so the situation for local hunters isn’t that bad.”
In Harvard, a hunting license can be obtained at the town clerk’s office for a fee of $28.50, or $46 covering both hunting and fishing. A license also requires certification that the applicant has taken proper courses in gun safety and state regulations.
“Membership in the Sportsman’s Club is quite large, but then it’s not limited to Harvard residents,” said Hurley of the number of local hunters. “We have over 1,000 members right now, but not all of them are hunters and of those who are, they don’t all hunt in Harvard. Those who do are pretty local and know people in town who need hunting on their property in order to control species population such as deer.”
For that reason, said Hurley, he was not aware of any conflicts between hunters and residents in Harvard.
In Massachusetts, hunting season for pheasant, quail and grouse runs from Oct. 16 to Nov. 27; for wild turkey from April 24 to May 22 in the spring and from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30 in the fall; for black bear from Sept. 7 to Nov. 20; for fox from Nov. 1 to Feb. 28; and for deer from Oct. 18 to Nov. 27 for archers and from Nov. 29 to Dec. 31 for shotgun.
“There’s plenty of great native game in Harvard,” noted Hurley. “There’s lots of deer, wild turkey, and things like coyote that some people, especially property owners, need to have controlled in order to protect crops or other landscaping features.”
If anyone has a complaint about hunters or hunting in town, Town Clerk Janet Valente said that they should contact the state’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.
“I think the vast majority of people are pretty understanding of hunting,” said Hurley of the sport. “Even people who are fairly citified still get it, but as more development takes place in local towns, there’s less opportunity for hunters.”