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The Unspoken Etiquette of Duck Hunting

The Unspoken Etiquette of Duck Hunting

Duck hunters wait in a hunting blind with a black Labrador retriever

Part of being a public lands hunter is sharing the resource properly

There’s a plague in the world of waterfowling. What was once regarded as the longstanding unspoken rules of duck hunters has now become a run of chaos in the field. As public land hunters we need to share our spaces and respect each other.

With a new generation picking up the torch — and doing so often without mentors and learning the ropes on their own — it’s important we take the time to communicate the etiquette of sharing public space. Add in an older generation that feels entitled to a spot “they’ve been hunting for 30 years” and we need to learn how to navigate this space.

Observing these unspoken rules works best for everyone involved. And although it may not always prevent you from being subject to one of those hunters it will build a better space for the future. A tradition that we, as duck hunters, should take pride in: that pound for pound, we should work harder than all other pursuits to put meat on the table. Thinking that just by showing up to the duck slough to do whatever the heck one wants doesn’t grant said individual the right to public lands, a brace of birds or ruining your hunt.

The world is already full of assholes. Be a real duck hunter. Work hard and mind your manners by heeding the following unspoken rules of public land waterfowl hunting.

Know the laws and regulations

Hunting is not a right — it is a privilege. Trespassing, poaching, using motorized decoys out of season and anything else illegal can give hunters a bad reputation. Part of being responsible for the resource is respecting the laws in place to make sure these resources are sustainable for the future. Keep up to date on the waterfowl laws where you are hunting.

Show up early

This is duck hunting, right? We are proud of the pain and agony we put ourselves through in the waterfowl world. The first step of that is to wake up hours before sunrise to get to the blind – and more than likely beat out the other hunters (if you’re tying for a spot on public land). And at the end of the day, you have to honestly answer, “Was that extra 15 minutes of sleep worth it to possibly lose the prime blind location? Was it worth it to arrive so late that you’re missing out on being ready at shooting light?” The answer will always be emphatically, “No!”

Do not set up close to other waterfowl hunters

Sometimes the snooze button is just so tempting. That’s not justification to move your setup just 20 more yards down from the hunters that beat you to your spot. You showed up late and were beat by someone else to the spot. Bummer! We’ve all been there. Don’t be a jackass and think it’s okay to set up right next to them. You snoozed, you lose. Respect their diligence; they’re the early birds, they get the spoils.

Do not call if you cannot call

Do not blow your call unless you can carry a note. There are nine months of off season to practice. I know you recently bought a fancy new call that has won world competitions for others. Some of us, however, aren’t them. Do yourself and the rest of those sharing the swamp or lake a favor and put it away. Your silence is golden. I’d be willing to wager you’ll have a better hunt, as well.

Do not shoot birds working another’s decoys

Remember those hunters that got to the spot first? Well, one from their group is a master with the call and is pulling in birds from all directions. They’ve been getting plenty of shooting. Some flocks that are working their spread swing by you. You’ve let many flocks like this pass before, but, dang it, you haven’t shot your gun at all this morning so they can share, right? WRONG! They put the time in to get to the spot first and also put in even more hours practicing on the duck call. Recall the bag limits in your state’s regulations. In Minnesota, for example it’s six birds. Unless they’re legendary wingshooters, chances are they’ll be going through nearly a box of shells to get their limit. Again, they put in the time and effort. Honor them by passing on ducks working their spread and take the time to learn what they are doing right.

Do not sky bust

This is a cardinal rule. True duck hunters are ethical and respect the resource. We are not bloodthirsty barbarians. Honor the bird. A duck hunter should take their game when it’s in range and is retrievable, plain and simple.

youth duck hunter on public lands

Give fair chase to downed game

There are times when we fold birds and they appear dead as doornails. Then they, like the legendary Phoenix, awaken with new life. Except they’re crippled. Unless it’s unsafe for you and/or your dog to retrieve it, do make every effort to recover the bird. Inconvenient isn’t a word in an ethical duck hunter’s vocabulary. We work hard for everything – especially when it comes to retrieving our birds. Honor the bird.

Do not keep another’s downed bird

This one is obvious, but sadly does occur – especially with the inconsiderate others that fail to follow any of the above listed tenets. It can be argued that duck hunters put in the most effort for very meager spoils of meat (pound for pound). So unless you have been stranded in the wilderness for a week without food, if the group next to you or a person in your blind shot a bird, give it up. That may be a kid’s first bird. Either way, they earned it.

Do not shoot another’s decoys

Whatever shape they may be in, you have no right to destroy another person’s property. Divers are notorious for flying low. Look for opportunities to shoot in the open gaps of decoys. It’s really not that funny to get up and blast some buckshot into a someone else’s decoy when you don’t see or shoot a bird all morning. Unless the owner of the decoy says you can, don’t. You weren’t the one that footed the bill to pay for the decoy or will be the one to try to repair it either. Last time I checked, they do not eat well, anyways.

Do the environment a favor and clean up after yourself

You are a conservationist, right? A hunter, at their core, should always have the best interest of our environment at heart. We donate, support, and volunteer for numerous non-profit wildlife/land conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society, Trout Unlimited, etc. Put your actions where your money is going by cleaning up after yourself during and at the end of each hunt. Our land doesn’t need to be littered by our shells made of plastic and metal. Let’s live up to the mantra, “Leave No Trace.” And remember that this is a sustainable resource.

View Comments (7)
  • A friend of mine, his wife and kids and I hunt in north central Nebraska. 1 weekend I was in omaha at a fall softball tourney, and he relayed a story of how they had beat other hunters to a public pond. These hunters were yelling at them, and sky busting any ducks that came into view. What was worse, it was from the road. He had a pretty good idea who they were, because theres not a lot of waterfowl hunters around our area. Plus they were individuals that had responsibilities to the community… in other words, they shouldn’t have been doing what they did, considering what their profession was. These types are all over. We try to avoid people, and if we have to hunt public, find an out of the way place. Most hunters like that are to lazy to put in the time and effort to find honey holes.

    • Last week end in Utah I went on a solo afternoon hunt I got to the boat ramp and was the only person there I got set up and had bird’s starting to work when another boat with three people in it came around the corner and set up 10 yard’s away from me literally 10 yard’s they actually said since I was in their spot they were going to use my decoy’s.
      So for the next 45 minutes or so I purposely flaired every duck that came remotely close to us then 2 hour’s before dark I gathered my decoy’s and left when I got to the boat ramp they had parked there truck and trailer on the ramp so nobody could use it I had to get creative to trailer my boat I really wanted to let all the air out their tire’s but I restrained myself.
      There’s people like this everywhere brother I believe it’s a lack of parenting on their parents part I don’t know how else someone can get that level of entitlement.

      • I’ve had this happen to me, these two idiots come out in a bright yellow life raft with two snow goose decoys and five old mallard decoys, most of the paint off of them. They set up directly in front of my decoys about 100 feet from me. Mind you I’m hunting in a muskrat pond, my boat is totally secluded in cat tails and theirs has half a dozen cattails in front of them. As I get some mallards setting up behind me these guys start blasting over my head. Screaming and yelling and threatening these two didn’t do a thing, they didn’t leave. So I continued to scare off every dick coming in. Only good thing is when we got back to shore, there were two game wardens that watched the whole episode, they let me leave with a license and gun check for a plug. They apprehended the other hunters as they each pumped out 5 shells of lead, and boxes of more shells. I did get the last laugh.

  • Sky busting is the biggest problem where I hunt, along with walk ins off public parks and golf courses . Since these spots can’t be navigated due to walking ,there’re stuck in the spot that they came to .There is no plan “B” . If your in a boat and there first , their attitude is ,screw you this is where I’m going and staying . For the most part most are well seasoned hunters, and respect each other’s space and know you can’t set up 50 yards off our stern, as I have experienced before . Just like walk ins , certain people have their minds set on that one place , especially if they think there’re guides! The whole point of my story is , YOU CANT FIX STUPID and they sky busters are the worst!

  • We had a guy last year threaten to kill us infrong of his son and grandson. He was the I’ve been here since 1974 guy and all the shell casings on the ground were his. Well no shell casings, but we told him that’s littering and not right, he kicked at our dog and almost shoved a push pole into my buddies boot before his son drug him off. Sad his grandson probly 7 or 8 had to see that.

  • I live in a subdivision and hunters hunt geese behind me. They are at the end of the field, have everything set up facing the subdivision. A majority of the time they are shooting towards the homes. Is that legal?

  • There’s so many hunters in our area you just have to tolerate people being closer. Once we get out to North Dakota it’s not a problem.

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