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When Anti-Hotspotting Goes Too Far: Hunter Suppression in the Age of Social Media

When Anti-Hotspotting Goes Too Far: Hunter Suppression in the Age of Social Media

A hunter shares their success while hunting in Kansas.

Is the sharing of hunting knowledge taboo or is it a key part of helping others find success?

“I don’t know why you’d come all the way to Kansas—why don’t you go to South Dakota? They’re known for their upland birds.”

“The birds aren’t good in Kansas this year. Don’t waste your time coming here.”

The sentiments, shared by an old high school friend of mine in a bird hunting Facebook group, really rankled me. It’s not that I don’t wish folks to hunt in South Dakota, but that they would be falsely discouraged from coming here to Kansas

The reason I bristled was that I knew exactly what he was doing—he was using social media to sow the seeds of doubt and try to divert out-of-staters and anyone else who’s not a local from pursuing “his” birds. It speaks to a constant battle within the hunting community: one side trying to engage new hunters in every way possible and the other side upset that they’ll have to compete with these newbies for years to come. 

It’s definitely not just a Kansas thing, either. Last year I hunted for the first time in southern California, chasing valley quail in a national forest. It was an incredible experience with vast foothills, no other hunters to be seen, and coveys of 30, 40, and 50 birds. Having grown up chasing bobwhites in the drought years, numbers like these were just bonkers. Side-hilling through the chaparral, I said as much to my friend Ruben, who just shook his head and said, “If only you were here early in the season. We’d probably see coveys of 100 birds.” I nearly tripped on my jaw. 

I enjoyed the trip so much, I decided to make a short video to talk about the opportunities available within a surprisingly short drive of the second largest city in the country. I made sure to not be too specific about where we were hunting, since hot-spotting is definitely a thing, and kept my mention of where we were to merely “southern California.” 

Within hours, a local had flagged my video to be taken down, berating me in the comments for ruining his hunting for the next ten years. 

Having learned that the population of these quail is highly dependent on one thing, water, I asked the gentleman if he was involved with the guzzler restoration projects put on by the local Quail Forever chapter. Crickets. Not a peep. Instead, he hit me in the private messages. “You’re killing us. . . every hunting spot I frequent was in your video. . . there’s not that much area out there. . . consider the locals like me.”

Never mind that the particular national forest we were hunting encompasses almost two million acres—nearly double all of the Walk-In Hunting in Kansas. A good deal of it is prime quail habitat, just not all of it is easy or flat. 

Also never mind that after opening weekend, Ruben will see a few folks in orange while driving to hunt, but rarely sees anyone actually hunting in the places he goes. 

The future of hunting hangs in the balance

It’s a shame, really. The future of hunting hangs in the balance, and some folks would cut off their nose to spite their face. It’s as if they simply can’t comprehend that the more people exposed to and actively engaged in hunting, the more conservation dollars flow, the more people who care about maintaining healthy ecosystems and the more clout the hunting community has when it comes to the competing interests trying to divvy up our public lands. 

If a local Kansas hunter is fed up with how busy the WIHA lands are, there are 46 million acres of farm land in the state. Surely they can find a little private land to hunt, considering they likely know everyone in their community. Leave the low-hanging fruit to the folks who don’t have the connections or the local contacts. Besides, they’ll be pushing the birds off of WIHA and into the private waterways and draws that they don’t have permission on. 

If a local California hunter wants more quail to shoot, they should be welcoming new hunters to the pursuit and helping to grow the local Quail Forever chapter, which will result in more people involved in guzzler restoration projects. With more water comes more quail, but much more important will be the increase in hunting culture in a state that’s done its best to erode anything and everything that might involve a firearm, including hunting. (On a side note, did you know it can be a multi-week process to get an out-of-state hunting license in California? Found that one out the hard way and only made it by the skin of my teeth.)

Hunting feeds economic development

The big point my friend is missing is that for every group of hunters that visits the small town we grew up in, they’ll buy gas, groceries, hotel rooms and meals, resulting in an influx of outside money into the community. The more outside hunters, the more outside money brought in. 

Back in the day, every small town would try to capitalize on opening weekend, with a Lions Club pancake feed, a Boy Scout troop cranking out biscuits and gravy or the local community library serving a hearty lunch of beef and noodles over mashed potatoes (a western Kansas staple—not to be missed on opening day in Bison, KS). All are free for the taking, with a donation jar at the door and more often than not, a raffle giving away a gun or two, a hand-made knife and whatever else might attract a wayward $20 bill. 

With the steady decline of rural Kansas populations and waning participation of folks with service organizations in general, it’s no wonder it’s hard to find such community events nowadays. With out-of-towners never given the opportunity to show their gratitude to the locals, some simply see them as upland interlopers. 

How to get involved to improve your hunting opportunities

But there are things you can do to help turn the tide. 

  • Get involved in a local conservation organization. I joined my local QUWF chapter as the youngest member (by a good bit) and in no time I was getting invited on quick quail-hunting day trips at a publicly-accessible property a short drive from my house that I would have never thought to hunt. More importantly, I’ve been able to tap in to hundreds of years of hunting experience, most of it freely given because they can tell I actually care.
  • Go out of your way to help where you can, when you can. Someone on the side of the road with a flat? Pull over and offer assistance. Grain sack blown into the ditch? Pick it up and throw it away. Big victory, seemingly inconsequential victory—it all moves the needle towards positivity. Buy a raffle ticket. Pay $20 for a pancake breakfast.
  • Be the better person, especially on the web. The internet is a cruel place, especially to those who spew negativity. If a person tells the all-ruling algorithms that they like consuming horrible news, the web will feed them the worst the world can provide until they choke on it. Find the things that bring you joy, find ways to reward those who create those things and bask in the beauty that is human creativity in the age of the internet. 
  • Pass on the things you learn to anyone who wants to listen. Don’t just share the where—teach the how and the why. If you’re hung up about giving away your hard-won knowledge and that all of a sudden folks will be using your tactics to compete for the birds you were finding, you’re admitting that you don’t have the capacity to become a better hunter than you are today. Every person at every level can achieve a greater mastery of their craft. Don’t be afraid to become better at the thing you love to do. That’s just laziness.

It pains me because I know as hunting seasons begin throughout the Midwest, I’ll continue to see people actively trying to suppress hunter turn-out in their area, because God forbid they have to put in a few extra miles or put their dogs out on a piece of ground they’ve never hunted before. Oh, the horror!

To me that sounds like heaven.

Me, I’ve booked an AirBnB for opening weekend in a town I’ve never stayed in before in a place I’ve never killed birds in before. I’ve got my dogs, my favorite shotgun, my family and some friends. I’d be willing to bet we’ll have a great time, birds or no. 

View Comments (11)
  • I’m in complete disagreement. It sounds like someone that is trying to justify their their social media activities, their ego or need for attention to me.

  • I completely agree. I share my best spots with any new hunter who asks, in person or otherwise. We are all hunters and we should want each other to succeed. Growing this sport should be everyone’s priority.

  • It’s rough to take a long time to find a good spot just to have it run over. I’m trying find good spots to share with new hunters but still save my best spots for personal use. I think there is a balance. Successful hunters need to branch out and find new different areas that they are willing to share.

  • I am a 67 year old, walking challenged, returning to hunting after a 30 year absence, who reached out to one of your, Project Upland, writers for a suggestion on an area to hunt for Woodcock in Connecticut. He suggested that I get a map, so the hypocrisy of encouraging hunting and then offering no assistance is alive in your own publication. Understandably, this is a double edged sword for most hunters but within the ranks of this publication caused me to contemplate my interest in reading it.

  • This is a great take. People bemoan the decline but when new participants are exposed they complain – NIMBY. You can’t have it both ways. Do I enjoy rolling up on one of my coverts and seeing another vehicle, no. But the alternative could be worse. It’s not my land, it’s our land.

  • Guess I’m a little late to this post, spending less time online and more time in the field.

    The “hot spotting” debate is almost humorous, its nothing new. Maybe its a northeast thing, but we’ve always shared the general “hotspot” in print, by word of mouth and even on line. It’s easy to get feedback about the bird hunting by town, region or area. I’ve never met anyone who won’t talk about or write about the bird numbers around towns like Jackman, Rangeley or Pittsburgh. Is this “hot spotting”, I guess so it gets more hunters into these areas, helps the local economy and provides a good read. These locations cover thousands of acres, room for most everyone.

    The rub comes when someone posts specific locations and then the place gets shot out, trashed out and generally ruined by a bunch of folks who are looking for the easy way out. If all you are interested in is showing up and the woods and blasting away, not sure I want you there. You are not going to learn how and where to hunt by watching a video on line, sorry.

    Want to have a great experience; spend some time scouting locations (there are a bunch of online resources to get you into the general area), stop into the local general store and strike up a conversation, talk with the locals at the gas station or the hotel you are staying in, do some homework When you see “us old timers” in the field, get out of your vehicle and politely ask how the hunting is going or better yet ask about their dogs. You’d be amazed what you’ll learn from the in person conversation.

  • I don’t approve of hotspotting in general but I agree that we each need to play a part in bringing new hunters into the fold. If out of state hunters are looking for general information on the web I don’t feel like reporting on bird numbers you observe has any effect on the opportunities available to me at my favorite covers. Most of our public resources are easily searchable using a variety of sources.

  • People who have hunted for years or grew up hunting have no idea how hard it is for new people to break into this sport. Think of all the advantages you have if your dad was a bird hunter? You know hundreds of places to hunt, you probably were given your first shotgun, maybe even given a dog. Have some compassion on new people and help them learn to love this sport. They will spend money and help conserve our resources means might be more passionate than long time hunters since they don’t take any of it for granted.

  • Being someone that is an “adult onset” hunter, identifying public land that is hunt-able for birds has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced. And quite frankly, I can understand it being a deterrent for people to even approach the sport. Now, I think part of that is being in Indiana. But, I didn’t grow up in a family that hunted. I’m two years into this journey and a lot of it has been forced learning on my own. Online communities I have noticed are especially secretive about helping newer hunters or folks that aren’t from “around here”.

    That said, I think there is a difference between say…talking with someone about a specific property that reasonably holds a specific type of game relatively well and point out the specific place on that property that they could find them. It can be a bit of a balancing act, but I have been on the receiving end of both a helpful hunter and someone that actively mocked my asking for advice on where I should try and go. I can say with certainty that I don’t want to be the latter come the day I get asked for directions or advice.

    Help out your fellow hunter. It can only help build a better community and bring more interest to the sport.

  • Echo my sympathies exactly. Every year I try to get a newbie out hunting or invite them to shoot over my dogs. As the author points out, the more hunters and licence dollars, the better our natural resources are and the more influence we have over land use policy.

    The selfish attitude of so many people in this sport has frustrated me to no end. I had to do everything from scratch when I began as a kid, since I didn’t come from a hunting family. I now try to make other people’s journey in a little less daunting.

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