Public Land Ethics-the Do's and Dont's
As we inch closer towards gun season across much of the whitetails range, it's a safe bet that the woods are about to get a lot more crowded. This is the time of year that people butt heads over spots, lots of gear is stolen, and hunts are accidentally (or purposefully) ruined. Here are some things to remember when you head out to your favorite public hunting grounds.
GET BEAT TO YOUR SPOT? FIND A NEW ONE
This is arguably the biggest cause of conflict on public hunting grounds. You get into your tree well before daylight only to have some guy come in just before daylight and try and climb a tree within eyesight of you. Thankfully, this has not happened to me yet, but I do know lots of people who have had these issues. It should go without saying that trying to hunt within 80 yards of someone else is totally unacceptable, and you are hurting both of your chances of seeing something if you do that.
It all starts with someone beating you to the trail head or the gate you wanted. It can be a tough pill to swallow when you wake up early on a perfect morning only to find out that someone has beat you to your spot that you have been saving all year. It has happened to me, and it's aggravating, but in a situation like that you have no choice other than to yield to the other person's right to be there. As aggravating as this is, it's actually turned out to be a good thing for me. Being beat to a spot forced me to leave my comfort zone and punch into new areas I have never been in. Some of those areas just might end up being better than your original spot.
MAKE FRIENDS, NOT ENEMIES
This ties back in to the first tip. If I do get beat to my spot, or if I stumble across someone else's spot while I'm out scouting or hunting, I may try and connect with them. Leaving a note on a truck, stand, or wherever else your fellow hunter may find it is a great way to connect with those hunting the same area. This is a great way to make new hunting buddies and to learn more about the area you both hunt.
If the person you meet seems like a person you will get along with, exchanging information is a great way to try and put together pieces of the puzzle that both of you may be missing. I have done this myself, and it has led to great friendships and great information being shared. In my experience, this is especially true if you hunt hard to access areas. If you meet another hunter there, odds are they have the same objectives and think like you do.
If you don't want to share information or get to know the guy who is hunting in your area, you can at least exchange contact information so an effort can be made to not mess up each other's hunts. Making an effort to let the other hunter know when you plan on hunting could keep them from accidentally messing up one of those perfect mornings that you've looked forward to all year!
WALK UP ON SOMEONE? BACK OUT
If you have hunted public land for any length of time, this has probably happened to you. You are walking through the timber, maybe scouting or going to a stand, and you hear a whistle behind you. You turn around to see a waving orange hat. You've walked in on someone hunting! Maybe they parked at a different gate or trail head, and you had no idea they were in there. It happens to the best of us.
The biggest mistake people make in this situation is either trying to continue on straight ahead, or trying to go around the guy you walked up on. The best thing you can do after walking up on someone is turn around and walk straight back the way you came. Going around or walking straight through will create more noise, more ground scent, and more movement. These are all things that will mess up your fellow hunter's sit even more than you already have!
KEEP IT SIMPLE
When it's all said and done, having good ethics on public land is easy. It should come naturally. Don't steal, respect those who beat you to your prized spot, and help your fellow hunters out. The single most important thing you can do is get to know the people that hunt around you. Having a good relationship with your fellow hunters will greatly reduce bad experiences and ultimately lead to better hunting for you. Public land is what we make it, and having the public land experience you want to have starts with you.