Dos and Don’ts of Public Land Hunting
How to be safe and courteous while hunting among strangers
New hunters should know that there are some unspoken rules of etiquette and additional safety concerns to keep in mind when hunting on public land. Whereas on private land those who enter often know each other and know who will be hunting where and at what times, encountering other hunters on public land is more random and frequent. With that in mind, here are a few unwritten rules new hunters should learn.
- Never block an entryway or an exit. Even vast tracts of public land will only have a few access points, and many of these access points have parking lots with one main trail leading in and out. When you park, keep in mind that other hunters could be coming and going while you are hunting, so never block the entry or exit with your vehicle. If you do, it will likely be moved for you.
- If you see someone in the woods who is in the act of hunting—not just walking down a trail—respect them by waving and immediately turning around and finding a new place to hunt. Wave your hands to make sure they see you. While you don’t want to yell for fear of spooking game, if they make any movements that indicate they haven’t identified you as a human, consider saying “Hello!” loudly. At that point, don’t be surprised if that hunter becomes frustrated that you’ve potentially fouled up his hunt. Humbly wave and back out the way you came. Just keep in mind that all licensed hunters have a right to use public lands, so respect other hunters who were there first.
- Communicate with other hunters on trails and in the parking lot. If you establish a friendly rapport, it will benefit both of you as you’ll know where each other plans to hunt and you can keep a safe distance between you. Plus, you might strike up a friendship and eventually hunt together.
- Strongly consider wearing blaze orange, even if the law doesn’t call for it. Although most hunters are very safe—as national statistics prove—you never know who will be in the woods when you are and accidents happen. By wearing orange, other hunters will easily see you and therefore be less likely to accidentally shoot in your direction.
- Use caution when employing elk calls, turkey calls, and decoys, which can fool not just game animals but even experienced hunters if they are expecting to see game.
About the Author: A native Oklahoman, Jeff Johnston is an NRA-certified shotgun, rifle, and handgun instructor, as well as an NRA Distinguished Expert shooter. A lifelong hunter, he’s taken many different species of game, including a few giant whitetails and one rare masked fox squirrel from Georgia of which he’s particularly proud.