My hunting partner spent 50 years of peaceful waterfowl hunting in a duck blind on a river along the Mississippi flyway. But his hunts have been disrupted the past couple of seasons by a group of young guys who decided to hunt off the shoreline by trespassing on railroad property.
The trespassers set up on the riverside, decoys and all, and turn a blind eye to the four permanent duck blinds situated on stilts in the middle of a river that runs along one of the biggest waterfowl fly zones in the Midwest.
The owners of these permanent duck blinds are not close friends. They’ve been duck blind “neighbors” for nearly half a century. They might have a conversation by the truck after limiting out within the first hour of shooting light, or they may wave goodbye to each other at the end of a long, cold, unsuccessful day. At times, they may not see each other for a month during the season.
What they have never done is break the “unspoken rules”.
The new guys who now park themselves on a private strip of this riverside do it because they know they most likely will not get in trouble for it. Not only do they blatantly hunt off the shoreline, for whatever reason, they also do not seem to understand, basic hunting ethics.
While these guys are, in fact, trespassing, the railroad company would have to press charges for them to be prosecuted. Convincing railroad authorities to press charges over a miniscule piece of the hundreds of miles on their route is most likely a lost cause.
As if trespassing wasn’t enough, these guys add fuel to the fire by practicing the most unethical hunting behavior my old hunting partner has ever seen.
According to the Boone and Crockett organization, “Recreational hunting is under attack as never before. A principle target is the image of the ‘unethical hunter,’ a person without respect for wildlife, land, or other wildlife users.”
I’ve always been taught the importance of these things from the first time I picked up a gun over 20 years ago. In the past couple of years I’ve noticed that some people are missing the basics. With that in mind, here are some of what I think are the basics for those who, for whatever reason, don’t know the unspoken rules of hunting. Maybe you didn’t grow up with a father who would smack you in the back of the head and tell you what’s right and wrong out in the woods -- the kind of father who would blow a big hole in a tree with his shotgun and explain that could be your head if you didn’t handle a gun responsibly. Maybe you just need to pass this article on to someone else you think needs to read it.
- Since duck hunting got me onto this topic, we’ll start with some waterfowl hunting courtesy: When hunting in the same proximity as other waterfowl hunters, where the other hunters are calling and working in ducks and the ducks are circling and cupping their wings to land in their decoys, do not shoot at the ducks from 150-200 yards away thinking you may knock one down. All this does is makes them fly away. Now no one can shoot one. Not you, and unfortunately, not the hunters who called the ducks into their blind. This is called sky busting and is unethical waterfowl hunting.
- Trespassing is a big no-no, even if you know you’re not going to get caught. This applies to everyone, not just hunters.
- Don’t shoot until legal shooting time; three minutes before shooting time is not close enough to start blasting. We had 2 ducks that were swimming next to our decoys, we watched the clock until exactly 6:30am, and all of a sudden a shot from behind scared them off before legal shooting time.
- Never, ever point your nocked bow or the barrel of your gun at anything you do not intend to shoot or accidentally don’t want to shoot. Same goes for pointing it any person, animal or property you do not want to harm, regardless of whether it is loaded or not. This applies 24/7, whether you’re hunting, cleaning your gun, looking at a weapon at the gun store, or at home. This rule has no exception and should always be taken seriously. Failure to enforce this practice and teach it to your kids is absolutely unethical.
- Identify your target before you decide to pull the trigger. There should never, ever be an animal taken that you thought was a rabbit, but ended up being your neighbor’s cat. For example, before deciding to pull the trigger, you have confirmed that what you are shooting is definitely a rabbit – you physically saw the rabbit, its ears, its body, etc. Don’t just shoot at something rustling in the bushes coming towards you, and definitely don’t shoot at something that looks “brown”. There was a recent tragedy in the east coast. It was getting dark out; a hunter heard a noise that he described as something walking toward him. He apparently thought it was a deer. The person he shot and killed was another hunter. If you cannot identify exactly what it is, don’t shoot.
- Likewise, don’t just swing at anything that moves. I have almost been shot hunting by someone swinging at a fox, I heard his shot behind me, and that was the last time I’ve ever hunted with that person.
- When you’re pheasant hunting in a line, don’t shoot across the other hunters. Even if you know they’re going to miss, let them have the bird that’s in front of them. This is sportsman-like pheasant hunting.
- Be aware of your safety, and always have it on unless taking a shot. I went pheasant hunting once with a nice lady whom I’ve never hunted with before. Later in the morning, we were standing facing each other; she had her gun cradle over her arm. We were just chatting about the day’s events when her shotgun just went off. It startled her, but it pissed me off. I said, “We’re done hunting.” I asked her what happened, and she said her finger must have accidentally hit the trigger. I asked why her safety wasn’t on, and she said she didn’t know. In my opinion, there is no excuse for this. An accidental firing should NEVER happen under any circumstances. I will never hunt with this nice lady ever again (if she has a firearm). Check your safety often! If I had just been standing to the side of her, I might not be writing this article right now. Which leads me to …
- Never stand in front of a gun barrel, an arrow, or any other projectile. If it’s pointed at you, it can hit you. If it’s not, you know that you will be able to go home (maybe able to grab a nap and a good meal after dragging a deer across the cornfield!). People sometimes get distracted and aren’t aware of where they are pointing their firearm or bow. It is in your own best interest to be aware of where your barrel is pointed, and where everyone else’s is too.
- Be especially cautious a new hunter has been invited into your group until you become familiar with how they handle their weapon. I am a little uncomfortable with people I’ve never shot with before, no matter how confident they seem.
- Try not to give up looking for a wounded animal after just a few minutes, or even an hour, especially if you’ve found blood. If you did not make a killing shot, you owe that animal a good amount of time searching every square inch of the woods to end its suffering and prevent a wasted kill. If it gets too dark, search again the next morning.
- Pick up your spent shells and casings, pop cans and other garbage. Your mother doesn’t hunt with you does she?
- Know all the rules and regulations for your area and zones. Reading the hunting and waterfowl digest isn’t all that exciting, but rules change every year, and it is your responsibility as a hunter to know it, including all the new changes. For example, due to floodwaters and early freezing, the DNR will adjust season dates and zone lines, and provide a hunting outlook and population forecast for mallards, pintails, teal, geese, etc. (See * below for a specific example). I find this information interesting, as well as helpful.
- Respect landowners and their property. If you have permission to hunt on a farmer’s property, don’t leave their gates open or throw garbage on the ground. Many landowners are saying no to hunters because someone was careless, irresponsible or rude.
- Remember, there’s more to the hunt than the kill. That’s why it’s called “hunting,” and not “killing.” Some people forget to enjoy all of the things that hunting is about. For me, and for a lot of other hunters, it is peaceful solitude, seeing elusive animals, testing your skills against nature and the elements. A friend of mine just shared a story about when he was asked by the Sheriff’s department to help do some sharp-shooting to thin the deer population at a local forest preserve. The meat was being donated to a “hunt for the hungry” program. Even though this was for a good cause, after taking down about 10 does, he stopped and decided that he couldn’t kill any more deer. This wasn’t anything he thought it was going to be like, and from that day forward, the way he felt about deer hunting changed. He realized that he had a great hunt any time he was able to get out into the woods. At no point was he ever disappointed again if he did not bring a deer home.
- Protect the hunting and outdoors tradition. There are many ways to do this, from teaching your kids to respect wildlife and the environment, to donating your time to a youth hunt or just always practicing ethical hunting behavior, to help erase the stereotype that hunters are a bunch of overall-wearing rednecks.
- Practice your shot. Believe it or not, animals do feel pain. They don’t say, “Ouch,” but you can hear their pain sometimes. You owe it to the animal to limit any suffering. The way to do this is to become very proficient with the weapon you’re using, and be confident you can make the kill at the yardage you intend to shoot.
- If someone tells you about a secret hunting spot or honey hole, don’t tell your buddy about it. You know what happens next: he tells two friends, and then they tell two friends, and so on and so on.
- Remember, when you act unethically while hunting, you may still be within the law, but you are also giving hunters a bad name. Just a few bad incidents are what normally get talked about, while the majority of ethical behavior rarely gets rejoiced.
- Individuals and organizations with negative opinions of hunting and hunters or that sponsor anti-hunting campaigns don’t need any more fuel for their fire. At the very least, we should start by respecting other hunters. All hunters should band together and contribute something to protect our right to hunt.
In the Illinois 2011 Waterfowl Digest, the Canada Geese season dates were outlined on the schedule.
In the same digest, on another page, it states (highlighted in yellow) that:
- Not only were several, if not hundreds of geese shot out of season unintentionally, but it’s things like this that you’ll miss if you don’t read it from cover to cover, or at least give it a fair skim-through. If you had been approached by a game warden, or CPO (conservation police officer, around these parts), you are now a poacher (even on accident); it’s still poaching and irresponsible.
I’d love to hear some of your stories. Please post a comment if you have a similar story to share, or other tips related to ethical hunting.
Vanguard® encourages every responsible outdoorsman and woman to point out unethical conduct in the field. Let's do our part to eliminate bad, dangerous and unethical behavior.