By Wade Bourne
The demand for hunting space is great on many public lands, where waterfowlers frequently have to share whatever spots and opportunities are available. Sometimes we have to hunt in close proximity to each other, and this can lead to spirited competition for birds. Practicing proper field etiquette helps make hunting on public lands safer and more enjoyable for everyone.
How you conduct yourself outdoors is also a reflection of your character and integrity. If you want to help pass these virtues on to future generations, set a good example by hunting respectfully. Teach younger waterfowlers that successful hunting should be measured by how you hunt rather than by how many birds you bag. All hunters hope for a good shoot, but their hunting should be based on high ethical standards.
Here are 10 rules waterfowlers should always follow when hunting on public lands:
1. Don't set up too close to another party
This is a cardinal rule and one of the biggest sources of contention on public hunting areas. If another party beats you to a spot, go somewhere else. Otherwise, wait until they are finished and claim their spot when they leave. Don't crowd them while they're hunting or compete for the same ducks. Many areas specify the minimum distance that must be kept between hunting parties, so make sure you abide by these regulations.
2. When ducks are working another party's decoys, don't try to entice the birds away by calling aggressively when they circle nearby
Allow the other party to work the ducks without interference, and they will likely show you the same courtesy when your chance comes.
3. Don't set up downwind of another party and take shots at ducks working their spread
This is not only unethical, but also a good way to cause an un-pleasant confrontation.
4. Don't sky-bust
Shooting at ducks that are beyond optimal range is selfish. It shows a lack of respect for other hunters nearby, and for the birds themselves by causing unnecessary crippling losses.
5. If you pack it in, pack it out
Don't leave litter, leaky decoys, or blind materials on public areas. Pick up empty shell hulls. Be respectful of hunters who will come in behind you. Leave a public hunting site as pristine as you found it-or better, by picking up litter left by others.
6. Be courteous at boat ramps
Have your boat loaded and ready to go before lining up on the ramp. Launch as quickly as possible, and move your vehicle and trailer out of the way immediately. By the same token, don't delay other hunters by not being ready when your turn to launch comes.
7. Always arrive on time
Don't spoil other hunters' chances by showing up after shooting time and entering the hunting area while ducks are working. Doing so shows a lack of consideration for other hunters.
8. If another waterfowler invites you on a public-area hunt, don't return to the same spot on your own
Likewise, don't share information about the spot with other hunters. This is a matter of sacred trust. A friend has given you a gift by inviting you along. Don't undercut his or her kindness by "rustling" the spot.
9. Leave your temper at home
Waterfowl hunters are passionate about their sport, and tensions can arise when two parties have conflicting interests. No hunt is worth becoming embroiled in an argument.
10. Know the rules
Many public areas have special regulations. Each hunter bears legal and ethical responsibility to know and follow both local and general hunting rules. Such rules are set to protect hunters' rights and to improve the success and enjoyment of everyone's hunting experience.