By Bob Humphrey Public land waterfowling can be a nightmare or a pleasure. Much depends on how you and other hunters behave. There’s not much you can do about others, but if you follow a few guidelines of common sense and common courtesy, your neighbors might be more inclined to do so as well. Then everyone can have a more pleasant experience.
Arrive Early – There are several good reasons to arrive early. One is to beat the crowds. Some public hunting areas assign blinds in advance. Some assign them on a first-come, first-served basis. Others let the hunters sort it out amongst themselves, and the first arrivals get their pick. Another good reason is to allow ample time to get your decoys out and get settled into your blind before the birds start flying. Lastly, it’s a matter of courtesy. If you arrive late your morning hunt may already be blown. There’s no point ruining the hunt for those who arrived early and are already set up.
Don’t Crowd – If the area you hunt has assigned blinds, it’s not an issue. If it doesn’t, give other hunters plenty of room. If you’re not sure how much is enough, imagine the roles are reversed and give those who arrive before you as much room as you would hope they’d give you.
Don’t Linger in the Decoys – Get them out and get settled. Recover ducks as quickly as possible. If you have to spend extra time chasing down cripples and you don’t have a dog, wait until peak shooting time has passed so you don’t spoilt it for your neighbors.
Don’t Sky-bust – Whether pass-shooting or hunting over decoys, take only shots that are within your effective range – something you should know in advance. Shooting at birds out of range increases the chances of crippling loss. It also spoils the experience for other hunters. The only competition should be between you and the birds. If the birds are out of range or obviously working someone else’s spread, let them pass over.
Help Out – If a nearby hunter drops a bird near you, help them recover it. If their boat motor breaks down, offer to tow them.
Follow Ramp Etiquette – This may be the single greatest area for potential problems, most of which can be avoided by following a few simple guidelines. Don’t prep on the ramp. Pull off to the side and prepare your boat first. And don’t forget to put the plug in. Get your boat in and out, and out of the way of the next guy in line quickly. Don’t rush; but don’t dawdle. Help out. If you see someone struggling at the launch, offer to lend a hand.