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Pheasant Hunting Etiquette: Who’s in the Right?

Here’s my pheasant hunting opening day series of events. I arrive at a Waterfowl Production Area (WPA) at 5:30 a.m. I duck hunted this area a few weeks back, had seen and heard quite a few pheasants there, and since it has water in this dry year, knew it would be holding birds.

I threw my blaze orange articles on the dash to signify that I was a pheasant hunter then headed out to the slough at 7 to hunt ducks for an hour. At 8, I made my way back to the truck to change attire and prep for the 9 a.m. pheasant opening bell. Connected to the east side of the WPA is a smaller Wildlife Management Area (WMA), and I fully assumed another group of hunters would be utilizing the opposite side of this publicly-accessible complex.

Other hunters showed up too close for comfort at the author’s initial public, opening morning pheasant hunting location. Photo by Anthony Hauck / Pheasants Forever

As my truck came into view, I was shocked to find a truck parked literally just the next telephone pole down from my vehicle. One more pole down was another truck, and though you can’t see it in the picture, there are two vehicles parked by the grove of trees, which represents the approximate centerline of the entire tract. That’s four vehicles within a quarter mile of mine.

To be honest, I was pretty fumed. I come from the school of hunting where if someone’s “claimed” a spot, then you’d better have a Plan B, C and/or D prepared. There’s also the more important issue of maintaining a safe hunting environment, which is harder to do with an increased hunter/dog density.

Had I been with my seasoned pheasant hunting partners, I might have talked with these other hunters and tried to divvy up the field to ensure safe shooting for all. But with two rookie hunters – a pup and my significant other, Kailyn – accompanying me that morning, I decided to go to my own Plan B and get away from this crowd.

It’s important for all hunters to uphold the highest standards of ethics, particularly amongst ourselves.  The nature of public land is that it’s open to all, but that doesn’t necessarily mean all at once – I believe these fellow hunters violated one of the unwritten Pheasant Hunter’s Codes. Am I wrong?

Full disclosure, I didn’t let this get me down for too long and had a fantastic opening day. This also illustrates the importance of continuing to permanently protect wildlife habitat while creating hunting opportunities through the addition of new publicly accessible areas. In Minnesota, for instance, since 2009, Pheasants Forever has acquired more than 3,600 acres of land in the state’s pheasant range and turned them over to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for inclusion in the state’s WMA program. Pheasants Forever has also acquired more than 3,900 acres in that timeframe and donated them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as WPAs. This significant work has been aided by Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.  Pheasants Forever is also actively adding to the public land base in many other states.

Anthony’s Antics Afield is written by Anthony Hauck, Pheasants Forever’s Online Editor. Email Anthony at AHauck@pheasantsforever.org and follow him on Twitter @AnthonyHauckPF.

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13 Responses to “Pheasant Hunting Etiquette: Who’s in the Right?”

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  1. David Cummings says:

    I guess I would have talked to them anyway. Perhaps because they didn’t see anyone at your truck or in the field, they assumed you were already somewhere else. I suppose it also depends on how many acres there are to share. If there is enough room to share, then by all means, do so. Sounds like you didn’t think there was enough room, however, and chose a backup plan.

    At our WPAs there are often designated parking areas, so you will meet many trucks when arriving, but they can support many hunters at once. Communication is key.

  2. Tom says:

    Anthony, I appreciate this blog entry. I use public lands almost entirely. Until recently my poison of choice was archery deer season. You always see the lots filled with cars at 5 am. but everyone goes into the woods, probably to a tree they already scouted and of course the name of the game is staying still in one place, for most of us at least. If you see a head lamp in the distance, maybe it’s where you wanted to go, a good hunter has a plan b, c and so one to go to another tree. I usually know the woods well enough to find a plan b tree. Anyways, this year i’m determined to do some Pheasant hunting, again on public lands. I’ve walked some public fields recently, bumped out a few hens at sundown so i’m confident of where to go when the season opens. But this is my first year, and I am not close with any other Pheasant hunters, so I’m going at it alone. I envisioned my first morning out, encountering some other guys, and I grew concerned because I’m relatively unaware of the bird hunting code of conduct when sharing lands with other guys, who are moving, and firing at will, let alone all the dogs running around….I can only hope others arrive when I do, and hopefully I can at least get a sense of where they’re headed, and discuss a game plan. I don’t want to burden experienced pheasant hunters with my lack of experience. I’m responsible with my gun and have done a lot of clay and skeet to prepare myself for pheasants, but maybe you can offer some talking points and field ediquet(sp?)to me, so I dont some across as a concern to others out there.

  3. Tom says:

    Etiquette….heck, all I had to do was re-read the title to get the spelling right! haha…

  4. Bret says:

    I am glad you wrote about this, I usually hunt alone by choice, but other hunters pull up to an area, see me hunting and must think I look lonely. They do not hesitate to start walking towards me, follow behind, cut in front of me, or use any other method to screw up my hunts. I don’t mind covering a lot of ground and will walk 10-12 miles a day and have a hard working pointer that eats up a lot of area, so I never start hunting if I am within a mile of another vehicle, unless seperated by a road or water, but I wish others would show me the same kind of curtesy. Its very frustrating to have people pull up next to me when I get to an area first, but like you said I always have backup plans. I have also had people act offended when they see I’m alone and ask to hunt with me and I tell them no. I don’t mind them asking, but when I say I would rather hunt alone they should leave it at that. I enjoy the time alone with my dog, I get enough time around people everywhere else

  5. CJ says:

    Anthony,
    Hunting our area of the state has taught us to have alternative plans. Last year we had a small public parcel (80 acres) surrounded by twelve guys and four trucks, one at each approach. We planned to walk it to the center and take the creek back to the road. We had arrived at 530 in the morning to save the spot. At 5 mins to 9 a guy shows up in between us all and starts walking. We were courteous since the land is for everyone to use. He aimlessly walks around and then walks at us. We did not know where he was because he was below a hill. A rooster flushed in front of him and he shot, not knowing we were over the crest. He shot one guy in the arm and whistled the next two rounds over our heads. This was the immediate concern I had with him going between us. You do not know his safety experience or know how. Opening day has always been and will always be a zoo opening day out in western mn. You just get used to it. As much as you plan ahead, someone has not put forth the effort you did scouting, scheming etc. I don’t think everyone shares the same level of ethics. I for one would have seen your vehicle and moved on. Early bird gets the worm.

  6. chad says:

    Why would you expect someone to leave a spot because there is a vehicle there? You were duck hunting. Unfortunately you can’t have the best of both worlds. How were they to know you were gonna quit duck hunting to pheasant hunt. If people were to leave a spot because of an unoccupied vehicle, all you would have to do is go park vehicles by several areas the night before and then have plenty of areas to hunt opening day.

  7. That’s a fair point, Chad. However, is it safe to walk around a small slough and shoot at pheasants when there are potentially duck hunters sitting in it or bow hunters in trees? The potential for a mishap seems high in that situation. Thanks for your comment. – Anthony Hauck, Online Editor, Pheasants Forever

  8. Tom says:

    at least someone is concerned with deer hunters in the trees! 2 times i have been blasted out of a tree because of small gamers and bird hunters in the field. i’ve heard the clanking of shot pellets bounce of my tree stand….not a nice feeling.

  9. Terry J. says:

    One of the hazards of hunting publice land, especially on opening day.
    Although I sympathize with your frustration, Anthony, (I’ve been in your shoes) the public land is open to everyone.
    And, although we would hope that common sense and common courtesy is extended by all, I am not aware of any state regulations that govern how many or how close you can be to one another. So, sometimes patience must prevail.
    Additionally, Chad does have a valid point.
    So, who’s in the right, you ask? Everyone there.

  10. chad says:

    It is one of the crappy things you have to deal with when hunting public lands. As for Tom and the bowhunters in the trees, if I was bowhunting public lands during bird hunting season, I would have some piece of orange to help identify me in the stand.

  11. Dave says:

    This is the reason I dont go hunting on opening weekend. Me and a buddy traveled from Wisconsin to hunt western Minnesota on an opener about five years ago. This happened to us three times that weekend and is why we plan our trip later in the year. There isnt enough land for everyone to hunt a spot by themselves and people get desparate to go and hunt.

  12. Tom says:

    oh, there was orange on the stand, on the tree and on me. didn’t matter, the only time some of those guys even bother to look up is when a bird flys in front of them, lol.

  13. Jack says:

    Difficult subject, but my first thought was 2 or 3 trucks at a spot isn’t so bad.

    I’m back east in PA and NJ and I don’t hunt any weekends unless its late in the afternoon. There’s only so many places they put the stocked birds and its not uncommon to see 15 or so vehicles in certain areas on a weekend morning.

    Regardless of where you hunt, multiple parties with independent plans is a recipe for disaster. I don’t worry so much about who’s right because the other guy doesn’t usually care or will say I always hunt here. Just stay smart and keep safe. Skipping a promising place or packing up beats a dangerous situation.

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