Young hunters must now wear at least a blaze-orange hat under most hunting conditions under new rules meant to improve on Oregon's already good hunting-accident record.
As of Aug. 1, hunters under age 18 must wear a blaze-orange upper garment or cap while hunting game mammals and upland game birds, except turkeys, while using a firearm. The garment must be visible from all directions, and hunter-orange camouflage patterns fit the requirement.
The rule excludes all adults, as well as youth bowhunters and youth waterfowl hunters who rely on hiding from their quarries' sight.
Game mammals are deer, elk, bear, cougar, pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain goat, bighorn sheep and western gray squirrel. Upland game birds are blue and ruffed grouse, chukar, Hungarian partridge, pheasants, California and Mountain quail and sage grouse.
The new rule was passed last fall by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission. Oregon annually has about 17,000 youth hunters, who must pass a hunter-education course before going afield.
To help them comply, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has joined forces with Cabela's and the Capital Chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association to give away 15,000 blaze-orange hats to young hunters this year.
Hats will be given away by Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division troopers and ODFW field staff who see youth hunters in the field during hunting season. Hats are available also at select ODFW offices while supplies last.
Hats can be picked up locally during regular business hours at the ODFW office at the Denman Wildlife Area, 1495 E. Gregory Road, Central Point.
Cabela's donated $10,000 toward the hats, while the OHA chapter contributed $500. The remaining $12,750 was paid by ODFW's Hunter Education program, which is funded by a federal excise tax on firearms and ammunition.
The change makes Oregon the 41st state to require some version of blaze-orange, or hunter-orange, during some form of hunting. Oregon requires the least amount of blaze-orange among any of those states, according to the International Hunter Education Association.
The Medford-based OHA had opposed the requirement for adults, saying the rule takes away personal choice about clothing without improving Oregon's hunter-safety record, which ranks second only to Nevada for fewest weapons-related injuries or deaths.
In a poll of 1,000 OHA members last year, more than 70 percent were against mandatory hunter-orange in general, but no poll on teen hunters was taken.
Sparked by the 2009 death of a 15-year-old Salem boy shot by his uncle, who mistook the camouflaged teen for an elk, the commission in December questioned whether ODFW should do more than just strongly encourage Oregon's hunters to wear blaze-orange.
Half of the 170 weapons-related hunting accidents here in the past 20 years were vision-related, and two-thirds of the 32 fatalities over that time were vision-related.
Proponents of voluntary hunter-orange stress that those injuries and fatalities would have been avoided if the shooters had followed current hunting rules — particularly the practice of identifying your target and knowing what's behind it.
That argument has been used to shoot down hunter-orange proposals at the commission and legislative levels for decades.
This time, the commission asked ODFW to come up with a series of mandatory hunter-orange proposals. After public debate, the various proposals were whittled down to a youth-only requirement.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.