Charlie wasn't the only one wearing blaze orange during our hike yesterday. I'm not that aware of what hunting seasons are going on at any given time, but I don't take chances with Charlie's safety in the woods; every year I purchase a blaze orange neck warmer in the hunting supply aisle of our local farm supply store and Charlie wears it every time we hike.
Part of the reason for this is because Charlie looks amazingly like a small deer when she bounds through the woods and leaps over logs. My heart would be broken if someone shot her mistakenly. Also, while she stays relatively close to me when she's off-leash on trails, it helps me see her better.
So yesterday, taking advantage of warmer-than-usual weather and enjoying the veil of fog swirling around us as we traversed a snow-covered landscape, I was not surprised to be following large boot prints alongside old splotches of blood in the snow. The segment of trail we were on is also public hunting and fishing grounds. Charlie put her tracking sense into gear and sniffed along the trail actively seeking out the source of blood and trying to pull me off-course to follow deer trails crossing our path.
Shortly, we came upon a man dressed in blaze orange sitting on a tree stump about 30 feet off the trail. He completely ignored us as we passed by as silently as possible so as not to disturb any wildlife that he might have been tracking.
After a while the large boot prints ended and the trail was all ours.
We enjoyed the serene beauty of the river as I carefully felt my way through the snow along the riverbank, trying not to trip on rocks and tree roots beneath the snow cover. Charlie learned what it felt like to stand on thin ice shelves along the shallow river before they broke beneath her, leaving her standing in ankle-deep water.
We listened to snow melting and dripping from the pine canopy above, the trickling water of the river flowing around tiny islands and breathed in the moist and mild air swirling around us. It was magical.
On the return trip back to the parking lot, we passed the hunter again, and this time he was standing up, rifle in hand. I was a bit startled to see such a high-powered weapon, as I had assumed it was only bow-hunting season. He once again ignored us as we passed by, but Charlie was alarmed and lunged and growled in his direction as we made our way past. I practically had to drag her behind me as we ascended a ridge because she wasn't going to let this "menacing" man out of her sight.
It's funny when I go into the wilderness that it's not wildlife or the elements that scare me, it's other people. I'm absolutely positive that this man meant no harm to anyone, he was just a hunter doing his thing, but seeing a gun can instill such a feeling of fear... even in a dog that has never seen a gun before.
Interesting, isn't it?