Hunter Etiquette & Responsibility

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Respectable hunters live by both a written and an unwritten code. Most of us acknowledge our responsibility to follow the formal and informal rules of etiquette. Webster's dictionary defines etiquette as, "rules governing socially acceptable behavior." Unfortunately there are those among us who choose to ignore etiquette, conducting their hunting activities with only self-serving interests in mind. At a time when our heritage activities are under constant scrutiny it behooves us to heed the importance of etiquette and ethics. As I contemplate this issue I can't help but conclude that it's really all about respect - respecting the law, landowners, the land, as well as non-hunters and hunters alike.

Respecting the Law
Legal and ethical responsibilities often overlap. State and provincial hunting regulations exist for good reason. Designed to protect the resource, access, and the hunter, following game laws is very much a part of hunter etiquette. In our society it is a social expectation that each of us follow the laws and regulations that are set in place to govern certain activities. Hunting is no exception.

Unfortunately poachers are too often painted with the same brush as ethical hunters. Conducting their so-called hunting activities with little or no respect for the very regulations that make hunting possible, these are the folks that give the rest of us a bad name. So what can we do about it? Where I hunt there's a program in place called Report-A-Poacher. Not only do I view this service as a valuable resource, but I believe it is my responsibility to use it to report illegal activities. Only by actively contributing to this form of self-policing can we keep the bad guys in check and ensure credibility as responsible hunters in the future.

Among the more significant laws for me are regulations controlling the discharge of weapons in proximity to occupied buildings. Hunter etiquette supports the notion that regardless of our legal responsibilities, we have the overwhelming responsibility to exercise common sense and due diligence. Where I do much of my hunting, the law states that I have to be at least 200 yards from an occupied building in order to discharge a weapon while hunting. Further, it is unlawful to discharge a firearm along or across a major road (for obvious reasons). Etiquette compounds that issue by forcing me to acknowledge both potential safety concerns as well as perceived concerns. I can't count the number of times I've had the opportunity to take game close to a rural residence but abstained because of both the law and rules of etiquette.

Respecting Landowners
Many of our hunting activities take place on privately owned lands. Whether we are granted access to those lands through a formal lease arrangement or by the simple good graces of the owner, every hunter has the responsibility to follow certain written and unwritten rules.

Most of us have grown up learning the rules of etiquette from a responsible mentor. We've learned that our actions should be based on commonsense and respect. Things like closing gates for instance; many landowners ask that gates be closed, but as a rule most often the unwritten rule of thumb is to leave gates as you found them, sometimes open, sometimes closed. The last thing any gracious landowner needs is missing cattle or unwanted visitors because they saw an open gate as an invitation to trespass.

A big one where I hunt is respecting crops. Hunter etiquette dictates that we respect the landowner's property. Waterfowl hunters often need to transport a spread of decoys and blinds into the heart of a swathed barley field for instance. This presents a dilemma. Most farmers allow vehicle traffic as long as conditions are dry and hunters drive between swaths, not on them.

Alternatively, many will allow foot access only. Hunter etiquette again dictates that we respect the owner's conditions of access and that we also use common sense. Sometimes it's as simple as displacing a couple swaths, driving into a row, and then replacing those swaths after concluding the hunt. I have access to one property where the landowner will not even allow a four-wheeler to cross the field. This is a result of too many irresponsible recreational users doing too many stupid things. His rule is that we can hunt deer, but we can only use game carts to retrieve a downed animal.

Hunter etiquette also dictates that we conduct our activities with as little intrusion as possible; for me that means minimizing my visible presence. I park my truck in the least intrusive manner (i.e., off to one side of a field access, or tight to the trees just inside the edge of the field so that the farmer can get his machinery in and out of the field if necessary), I slip into the woods quietly, conduct my hunt, and then leave in the same manner. In my view, the old adage, "out of sight, out of mind" holds true. The less we leave ourselves open to scrutiny, the better it is for everyone. All of my landowners appreciate the respect and in turn I'm always welcomed back.

Respecting the Land
We hunters often proclaim with great pride that we're the ultimate conservationists, hiding behind the noble reputation of famed hunter and conservationist Aldo Leopold. We would be wise to reinforce our proclamations with our actions. This can only be accomplished by practically exercising a responsible land ethic. How we as hunters respect the land is a big one. It truly annoys me to find trash at the base of a tree stand site or at an abandoned campsite formerly occupied by hunters.

Most hunters today use tree stands. Depending of the terrain we're hunting, setting a stand often involves clearing shooting lanes by cutting tree limbs. That said we have the responsibility to minimize the amount of cutting necessary to accomplish the task. I've seen entire woodlots desiccated by self-serving hunters who cared less about the health of the landscape in the long-term than their opportunity to take a deer in the present.

Likewise, many hunters will fill as many tags as they are allowed by law. Thankfully most wildlife management authorities monitor populations and allow harvests based on sustainability. Regardless of regulations hunters, being direct users of the resource, share a responsibility for managing game populations. Over-harvest can create irreversible problems and we should always be mindful of this.

Respecting Non-Hunters and Hunters Alike
Hunter etiquette encompasses so many things, but the most personal is how we relate to both non-hunters and hunters alike. From where we place our stands to respecting the space of other hunters, firearms safety, and more, hunter etiquette dictates that we respect others.

We've probably all had other hunters interrupt our own hunt by either walking under our stand at prime time, yelling and hollering in the woods while we're conducting our hunt, setting up their ground blind or tree stand too close to ours or any number of other disrespectful actions. Unless we have exclusive access, in which case any other party would be trespassing, we have a responsibility to respect the space of others. Unwritten rules of hunter etiquette would, in most instances, dictate that the first party on site (whether by years or hours) has first right to the area they are hunting. Those arriving on site later are obliged to respect the space of the first party. An example of this would be setting a tree stand in proximity to another hunter's stand. Each property and circumstance will be different. For instance if one hunter is focusing on a particular drainage in which deer movement is clearly from one end to the other, then the second party would be obliged to move to another area of the property and leave that drainage to the first hunter. I've seen other hunters on my favorite property literally look for my stands and set up within 50 yards, knowing that I am in good spots. This is way too close. I know opinions will vary on this one, but on the properties I hunt with shared access, 300 yards is a comfortable distance between stand sites. Again, each situation will dictate different parameters depending on the size of the property, the topography and bedding/transition/and feeding areas.

On the tree stand issue; hunter etiquette dictates that we respect existing stand sites. It never ceases to amaze me how many so called hunters steal tree stands. How in the world can they justify this? You wouldn't like having your stand stolen and I know I certainly don't appreciate it.

I've even seen other hunters honking their vehicle horn from the road as I sat in a tree stand. Somehow they think they have the right to attempt to ruin my outdoor experience. The bizarre thing is it's those same individuals who would be the first to complain if anyone interfered with their hunt. Confusing indeed!

Hunter etiquette also implicitly dictates that we handle our firearms safely and responsibly. This means controlling our muzzles at all times and never scoping someone. Aiming a firearm intentionally or unintentionally at anyone is unacceptable.

Hunters also share the responsibility to respect the rights and space of non-hunters. I once saw a guy driving around a major city with his fresh deer kill, actually a bloody deer head tied to the roof of his truck. Instead of placing it out of sight he chose to exhibit a disrespectful display of ignorance and arrogance. Imposing his values on others, he showed a blatant disregard for those who didn't share his views. Remember, we all have rights and freedoms and we have to respect that. Further, I found it distasteful that he disrespected the deer he'd killed. Hunter etiquette suggests that we owe it to the game we harvest to show it some degree of respect as well.

Remember, We're all Ambassadors
All hunters share a responsibility to act as ambassadors for our heritage activities. Unless we conduct our hunting activities in a respectable manner, the writing is on the wall. Given the direction social norms are headed, without discernment and positive representation, hunters and hunting may well become a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future.

One of the most frustrating examples I can give is the irresponsible discarding of hides, heads and bones in plain view of the public. Those of us who understand natural processes and biodiversity, know that biodegradable material will inevitably, over time, break down and be reabsorbed back into the ecosystem - that is if it's not consumed by scavengers like coyotes, birds, rodents and bugs first. But that's not the point. A couple years ago I was absolutely disgusted when I drove to the end of a road allowance adjacent to one of my favorite deer hunting properties only to discover someone had discarded several carcasses in plain view against a barbed wire fence. This type of behavior would put off most non-hunters and hunters alike.

More common, and something that each of us faces, is day-to-day conversation. We're all passionate about our pastime and most often enthusiastic about sharing our experiences. Part of hunter etiquette is using discretion. Yes, it's important to share our views and values but we also need to respect that not everyone looks at things the same way.

In the end, hunter etiquette and acting responsibly both in the field and in our day-to-day interactions is what makes hunting an acceptable practice. Only by respecting the laws, landowners, the land, and others can we hope to enjoy our favorite pastime in the future.

Kevin Wilson is a freelance outdoors writer and professional big game & waterfowl guide/outfitter from Alberta, Canada. Confessing an obsession for big whitetails and bighorn sheep, he has hunted most North American big game species with either bow, muzzleloader, rifle or shotgun. Specializing in archery, freshwater fishing, waterfowl and big game hunting, his articles can be found in several well known outdoor publications across the U.S. and Canada. For more information on his outfitting services, visit
Member of OWAA & OWC.


Now that we all are talking

Now that we all are talking about responsibility, I guess it is our personal lookout to be courteous. It can be taught, you know. - Nova Science Publishers

BikerRN's picture


I think it was Aretha Franklin that sang about it.

You have written a great article regarding the word, and how it pertains to hunters, but without integrity and ethics there can be no respect. Sadly words like honor, valor, and commitment are just sayings for tattoos and only spoken during times of federal holidays that honor are warrior class. 

Speaking the words are not enough as one has to take them to heart and have thier meaning be a model of one's behavior. That lesson is lost to many, sadly, but if one models ethics and integity to others perhaps, just perhaps, some of it may rub off on those that witness such behavior. 

Times change and with that acceptable behavior changes too. When my Uncle was alive, and hunting, it was customary to drape your freshly killed deer over the hood of the car and drive back to town. These days one is best served to keep thier kill from view as modern society has evolved to the point that children think beef comes prepackaged from the store and not realizing that those newborn calves in the pasture today are tomorrow's McDonald's.


numbnutz's picture

Another great informative

Another great informative article here! It's important for all hunters to fallow the game laws in their respective state. There have been so many stories of poaching and people illegally hunting. To me they are not hunters but poachers or just criminals. One of the biggest issues is people trespassing on private land whether they do it on purpose or accidently. You are responsible to know where you are at. If you don't have permission then stay off the private land. If you shoot an animal and it run onto pirvate land find the land owner a get permission. All of the landowners I have dealt with on this topic have bee very nice and will allow ou to retreive your game. The biggest one for me is don't ruin someone elses hunt. By that if you see a car parked on a gated road don't park there and start walking down the road where the other hunter is. This has happened to me several times. Or driving you ATV's all ove the mountain where your not supposed to be at. Moral of the story just fallow the laws and respect other hunters. Thank you

Retired2hunt's picture

  Another great article from


Another great article from you Kevin - excellent and thanks!

I am guilty of not doing all I can on the second to last highlighted respecting non-hunters and hunters alike.  I guess it is just a part of being human that those looking to take away your love and passion naturally don't receive the same respect that you provide to those with the same love and passion.  And that does have to change.  In order for us to educate and even possibly pursuade into the same sport we love we must treat those non-hunters with respect.

This is a subject that should be required of all hunters - and is in some format for those states with hunter certification programs.

A very good article that should be read year after year in order to only keep your hunter etiquette and responsibility strong.


groovy mike's picture

good points

Thanks Kevin.  These are good reminders that are well worth remembering.  

We should all do absolutely everything that we can do to paint hunting in a good light - legally, ethically, and morally not only to land owners, and law enforcement officials but also to the general public including non-hunters. 

We are indeed the ambassadors and we are spreading a message whether we intend to or not.  We are spreading a good message by our good behavior or a bad name for hunters and hunting if we have bad behavior. 

We should thank and respect those who help us to hunt, but also those who don't because our one little action may be the one that tips the balance to bring them into a good relationship with hunting and hunters, or pushes them away toward anti-hunting sentiments. 


jaybe's picture

Good Read, Kevin

Man, that covers a lot of territory that is really important to the continuation of our hunting heritage.

I am with those who believe that hunting and fishing are among the basic rights that have first been given to us by God, but are also included among those that are basic to the freedoms within our nation.

But the states have been given the authority to manage their natural resources as they see fit, so we must do what the author reminds us of here:

 1) Obey the laws that pertain to every aspect of our sport. That will include those that regulate our driving and owning of firearms as well as those that directly apply to the act of hunting.

 2) Follow common sense and respect of the community. Driving down the street of a city with a bloody deer head on the top of your truck is bad, but not really any worse than talking down to a person who is a non- (or even anti) hunter.

It's one thing to have an opposing opinion; it's entirely another to throw it in the face of another person.

Hunters can be "slobs" before and after entering the field just as well as while they are hunting.

 Thanks for the good reminders, Kevin.

I totally agree!

The problem we have here(where I live), in southern Va, is the younger hunters that were taught by greedy, unethical parents, who hunt with dogs. As it can be noted almost everywhere we go, many, if not most of our young folks have lost their respectfulness and manners. This can be noted everywhere, with any activity. It gives us great pleasure when we see a young person who has been taught respect and manners, because that's such a rare thing nowdays. Back to the point...When you have these young, greedy, disrespectful hunters that run deer dogs on everybody's land, that does the sport no good. They have a "strength in numbers" mentality, and if you confront them, you will at least get their trash dumped in you driveway, or your mailbox vandalized, or as with this local group, they will conduct "grudge" hunts by putting their dogs into your property more often than usual. Ethics is the key.... 

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