Hunters, trail users try to stay safe on Goss Lake public lands

Dane Rup, right, and his son, Dane Jr., check their shotguns after a morning of hunting on state land in the Goss Lake area Sunday. - Matt Johnson
Dane Rup, right, and his son, Dane Jr., check their shotguns after a morning of hunting on state land in the Goss Lake area Sunday.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

For the past few weeks, Saturday and Sunday morning walks on Department of Natural Resources land near Goss Lake have been cautious affairs.

It’s hunting season, so the more than 300 acres of public forest that make up the Goss Lake trust lands along Lone Lake, Keller and Goss Lake roads are the sites of multiple and occasionally incompatible activities. Even as deer hunters armed with shotguns wait in the woods hoping to take a shot at an elusive buck, hundreds of runners, walkers, bicyclists and mushroom hunters have been crossing in front of deer blinds and meeting hunters on the trails.

As anyone might expect, both the armed and unarmed have some safety concerns. Dane Rup, a deer hunter who owns land in the Goss Lake area, said he and his son are being cautious as they stake out deer areas on the DNR land. He said the area is a “sight only” hunting zone, meaning hunters must clearly see their quarry before squeezing off a shot. Hunting by sound or shooting at rustling bushes simply does not go here: There are too many people in the woods.

“We’re all out here,” he said. “It’s accessible to everybody.”

That is the reality, said Todd Myers, a communications director for the DNR. Unless public land is declared a game reserve, a resource conservation area, or is posted with “No Hunting” signs, it is open for all types of public use, including hunting. He did say his agency has some safety concerns, but past experience with hunters and other land users in the same areas has been good.

“This is an issue we deal with,” he said.

A group of South Whidbey runners have found a way to deal with it as well — they yell out as they run through the woods. The runners have reported seeing more than a half-dozen hunters a day on the Goss Lake trails early on weekend mornings. Runner and dog-walker Pat Buchanan said she has taken to yelling out “Ollie, ollie, osenfree!” over and over again. She said having hunters in the woods makes her uncomfortable. She has tended to avoid the woods during hunting season, but said she has seen a number of hunters on the trail even on weekdays.

“If I think there’s hunters out there, I usually don’t go,” she said.

Dogs can provide an early warning for walkers out for a trek with their pets. However, the barking and other noises trail users make are not always appreciated. From the hunter’s perspective, Rup said, dogs are dangerous to both hunters and deer. He said he has been chased and bitten by dogs while hunting. The barking also chases off deer.

He recommended trail users try to pass through the woods quietly. Making noise scares deer away and gives hunters a reason to resent other trail users. Rup said trail users’ best tool if they want to get hunters’ attention is to wear bright-colored clothing. Wearing a tan jacket, he said, is asking for the wrong kind of attention.

Overall, the South Whidbey hunting season has been fairly quiet in terms of violations. Island County Sheriff Mike Hawley said his office has received a number of reports of shots being fired after dark as well as reports of incidents of poaching. The volume of calls is no greater than in previous years, he said.

The shotgun hunting season ends today at sundown. However, there is a late shotgun season Nov. 15-18. Hunters who use bows and arrows may hunt until Dec. 31, while hunters using muzzle-loading guns may continue their season until Dec. 31.

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