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Enjoy public hunting land, but be a good sport

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

So the opening weekend of the Minnesota pheasant season is here and gone and it took until 8 a.m. that following Monday morning for my phone to ring with questions regarding hunting etiquette on public lands.
For sure there are different common-sense rules when it comes to interacting with other hunters who all want to hunt on the same parcel of public land at the same time. The recommendations that follow are mine and are what I feel is the most sportsmanlike — not necessarily required to obey a rule or regulation of the state of Minnesota.
What do you do when you get to your favorite hunting spot and someone else is already there?
The answer is that it depends. If the spot is small, I would drive on and look for a different one. There is nothing worse than getting to a spot two hours early and then having a group of 10 show up three minutes before legal shooting time and they proceed to trample all over you and your group.
If the unit you want to hunt is a large one, I would drive in and, after the normal greetings, ask that individual or group where on the property they were intending to hunt and in which direction they would be heading out.
I would then either reposition my vehicle in a different part of that unit, if more than one parking location is available, and then head out in the opposite direction. This would allow both groups to have a quality outing.
If your group has five hunters and all five of you want to hunt in the same place, then all five hunters should do the waiting before legal shooting time. Having one person in the parking lot announce that they are trying to save that spot for five other hunters does not meet the sportsmanship smell test. Over running a group that has waited for a few hours by a group that showed up 10 minutes before legal shooting time also smells really bad.
Another gross violation of public lands etiquette is to park one or more vehicles in the public lands parking lot the night before your intended hunting day so as to make it look like you beat all others to the spot no matter how early they arrived. A quick call to my local conservation officer confirmed my suspicions that this practice is illegal and deserves a ticket.
Cleaning birds in the parking lot of a public land hunting area is also very bad sportsmanship.
If bird cleaning is to be done in the field, it should be done on a tailgate elsewhere and all of the wings, feathers and guts need to go into a garbage bag and be disposed of properly. All my dogs will try to eat all of the guts and remains that litter the parking lot when I arrive later, regardless if those remnants were left there 10 minutes ago or 10 days earlier. Don’t clean your birds in the parking lot.
When you are done having a great day on some public land somewhere, you should leave the spot in a condition that looks as though you were never there.
Trash, food wrappers, plastic water bottles and even a pile of your dogs’ meal from the day before should never be left to the next guy to step in or pick up. Stepping in a fresh pile of doo when you step out of the truck is not a great way to start your hunt. You don’t have to take it home, but at least toss it into the tall grass.
On public lands you should not allow your dog to run up, uncontrolled, to a stranger’s dog.
I have seen this erupt into a full-blown dogfight with some pretty serious outcomes. When I am in or on a public land spot, I keep my dogs leashed until I am in the proper place to start hunting. This may not be required in your hunting group, but it is a common courtesy when mingling around a space with many other unfamiliar dogs.
My dogs never, ever start a fight. This cannot be said of all the other dogs I come in contact with. If you have an aggressive dog, either learn how to fix it yourself or enlist the help of a professional trainer to help you with it.
There are certainly more interactions that require a sportsmanship-like behavior. For the record, the term sportsmanship is the same as sportswomanship in my book. Be courteous and share the experience.
Most counties have lots of public land. Find one and enjoy it, but remember, just do your best to understand that it belongs to us all, even if you are a local hunter or a traveler from distant places.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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