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NAW's Guide to Public Land Deer Hunting Etiquette

NAW's Guide to Public Land Deer Hunting Etiquette

For many, the thought of hunting public land sends icy shivers down their spine. They've heard stories of truck windows being shot out and fights over competing claims for dead deer. For others, it's a great opportunity to cover countless acres and enjoy the excitement and adventure public land has to offer.

Across our Nation, millions of acres of public land are set aside for sportsman to enjoy. We should enjoy that land, too, because our hard earned license fees and tax dollars contribute to the costs of maintaining that ground.

But problems arise when hunters treat public land like a freshman frat house, checking their courtesy and consideration at the front door and dumping their junk wherever they go. In order for the whole concept of public land hunting to work properly, it means every hunter — starting with you and me — has got to make it his first priority to abide by the rules of common decency when utilizing public spaces. Here are 10 public land deer hunting tips that every hunter must live by.

Know Your Boundaries

Every hunter has a responsibility to know the boundaries of the property they are hunting. Those of us taking advantage of public lands need to be especially aware of private land bordering our hunting area and stay in the legal areas. If a wounded animal crosses the property line, seek permission from the landowner before you enter or call the local game officials for help. This is another great reason to become a student of local hunting regulations. Every state will have a different set of rules and regulations, so it's your responsibility to know the law and abide by it at all times.

Don't Cut Down Trees

There are times when a good treestand would be the perfect treestand — if only that one, pesky little branch or tree wasn't in the way. But as tempting as it might be, public land is not the place to pull out your chainsaw and go to town. In fact, in many locations, cutting trees on public land is a serious offense. When trees or branches are in the way of a clear shooting lane, the next best option is to move the stand or be thankful for the cover. But don't cut.

Make sure to check hunting regulations in your state. Most states have regulations against anything that could damage a tree, like screw in tree steps. In that case it's best to invest in a high-quality portable lock-on ladder stand or climber.

Leave Your Guts Off The Beaten Path

Mike Wefer, who works for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said some of the biggest problems with public land hunting could be avoided if everyone exercised a little bit of common sense about what they do with their gut piles.

'Every year we have people processing deer at our check stations after they close for the evening, ' Wefer said. 'They use our gambrels and end up leaving a big mess for someone else to clean up. We also have people calling about hunters who have left gut piles in parking lots. '

Nobody wants to pull into a parking lot to see or smell a ripe gut pile.

The same goes for boning out an animal and leaving the carcass behind. Cheryl Trewella, a wildlife conservation officer in Pennsylvania, said they often receive complaints about people leaving the entire deer carcass behind after removing the meat. If you decide to bone out your deer in the field, make sure you properly dispose of the remaining carcass.

Label Your Stands

Travis McClain, of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, recommended hunters label their treestands and ground blinds. 'We can't kick a guy out of a spot, but we can remove him from someone else's stand, ' McClain said. He said the DNR receives calls multiple times each year of people hunting out of another hunter's stand. By labeling a stand, the hunter will have a leg to stand on if a dispute ever arises.

Map Out Multiple Locations

In case you do pull up to a favorite hunting spot only to find sixteen people there with the same idea, it's always a good idea to map out multiple stand locations. Like Momma always said, you got to have a plan B (and sometimes a plan C, too). Anyone who's hunted public land knows you have to be flexible, and creating a map gives you a number of options to keep you going when your favorite spot gets bogged down by fellow hunters.

Keep Your Distance

This is a tough rule to follow, especially on heavily hunted public lands or areas with limited parking. If someone has already parked in an area, chances are they're not too far away. Have a sense of situational awareness and be respectful of others who showed up first. If someone is hunting nearby, keep a keen eye out for them and give adequate space. Also, when hanging a treestand, be sure to look around a bit. If someone is in a stand close by, try to find another area. Soon after sunrise, there's nothing worse than realizing that rustling you heard nearby was really another hunter with no sense of personal space.

Ken Fitz, of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said another major concern is the use of deer drives in areas where other hunters are set up. It's for this very reason Illinois bans the practice on public land. Not only is it inconsiderate to run a deer drive with hunters in treestands right above you, it can also be dangerous.

Keep An Eye on the Clock

Time is often a hunter's currency, but on public land it becomes even more important. The best-kept rule is to be the first one there and the last one to leave. The old saying 'the early bird gets the worm ' is true in this case, as countless trophy deer are killed each year on public land because determined hunters arrive early and wait for others to drive the deer their way.

Second, treat others' time like it was your own. Weather permitting, try to wait until midday to drag a deer out.

There are exceptions, of course, but the idea is to be as conscientious as possible about how your actions affect other hunters.

Protect The Name of Hunters

Every state I interviewed stressed this as one of the most important — and basic — things to remember. Hunters should adopt the 'leave it better than you found it ' mentality. Be sure to pick up and remove all trash, look around the truck in case something blew out unnoticed and bring a plastic bag or two to remove another careless hunter's garbage. The more trash non-hunters see laying around after hunting season, the more trashy our reputation becomes.

Along these same lines, try not to morph into a monster truck driver once your truck leaves the road. A strange phenomenon overtakes even the best hunters when we see a muddy track, and a few of us give in to the temptation to tear the trails apart.

Don't Cluster Your Treestands

Brad Simpson, of the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, said he receives a lot of calls about hunters trying to hoard certain areas of public land by hanging an unreasonable number of treestands.

'We had to make a regulation in Kansas to limit the amount of treestands a hunter could hang on public land, ' Simpson said. 'We got complaints that some people were hanging between 40-50 stands in a certain area to try and scare away any other hunters. These hunters were trying to lay claim to a certain area in hopes that nobody else would bother hunting there. '

Always keep in mind that everyone else has the same right as you to be on public land. It goes with the territory that interactions with other hunters may occur. Don't be selfish or try to scare others away. Instead, show up early and let those procrastinators drive the deer to you.

*Editor's Note: These rules are simply suggestions for etiquette. They do not correlate with local hunting laws in your area. As always, please consult your state wildlife agencies for regulations.

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