The Unofficial Etiquette of a Pheasant Hunt

How a person hunts is often a precise indicator of their character. In many instances, personality traits revealed in the field can either enhance or ruin the hunting experience for everyone involved.

I recently hunted pheasants with a large group of people, and at the risk of sounding elitist or judgmental, there were certain actions and behaviors by several members of the group that diminished the hunt for me and for the other hunters. These actions were not as atrocious as broken game-laws or blatant disregard of safety issues–those types of infractions will end my participation instantly.   Instead, these behaviors are more comparable to bad etiquette at the dinner table, behind the wheel of a car or on the golf course—tolerable acts but unpleasant and indicative of poor character.

Typically, my pheasant-hunting lineup consists of myself and my dog, or at most a couple of other carefully selected partners and their well-trained dogs.  However, I will admit that the social aspects of group hunts can be enjoyable. Occasionally, I’ll get in a large, blaze-orange line to chase roosters. But the downside is that with every additional hunter added to the group, the odds of the overall experience souring due to one or two “bad apples” increases exponentially.

I’m sure these thoughts sound preachy and my target audience may scoff at the title of this article. But one of the wonderful aspects of hunting, like any activity, is that we should always strive for improvement. The absolutely “perfect” hunt is a goal that is largely unattainable. Perfection goes beyond marksmanship or numbers of game or ratios of shots to bag limits; it also lies in how someone carries themselves during what many consider a sacred activity.

The following suggestions are sure to have a positive impact on your sportsman etiquette if followed the next time you join a pheasant-hunting party:

  1.  Have a short safety discussion before heading into the field. Clarify what shots the group is comfortable with. As a precautionary measure for my dog and the other dogs in the group, I don’t feel comfortable taking shots at any bird flying lower than my head. Unfortunately, many hunters seem unbothered by shooting between man’s best friend and a low-flying rooster.
  2.  When the group is ready to begin hunting, be ready to go. Don’t keep everyone else waiting on you. I understand that many hunters enjoy going at their own pace and that is fine.  In fact, I admire it.  But give others the option of going on without you, or make arrangements to catch up with them later. Field time is precious to many of us and being forced to wait around because someone is talking on a cell phone or can’t find shells in the back of their truck is rude to the rest of the group.
  3.  Keep the dog whistling and yelling to a minimum. A relaxing day afield quickly turns quite stressful when you are forced to walk next to someone constantly screaming at the top of their lungs or blasting on a whistle. If your dog hasn’t responded by the fifth time you’ve yelled at it, it isn’t going to respond to the eighty-fifth time you’ve yelled the exact same phrase. Show up with a trained dog or plan to hunt with your dog alone until some basic training has been established.
  4.  Be self sufficient. You know what you are going to need during the course of a pheasant hunt. Not packing enough shells, proper clothing, food or water for you and your dog is bad preparation. Inevitably, those who do bring the proper gear and supplies will feel guilty when they take a sandwich from their cooler and ask the offender if they want something. This means their three-day cache of food and sodas for the trip will quickly evaporate requiring another long trip into town or rationing.
  5. Know something about the game you are pursuing.If after the third cut-corn field you have walked you haven’t seen a bird, you may want to change gears or offer up a suggestion. If you have been pheasant hunting for 20 years and still don’t understand the basic behavior patterns of the bird, you should do some research or at least ask your fellow hunters for some counsel.
  6. Discuss whether people want to party hunt (if legal where you hunt), or if they want to shoot only at birds that flush directly in front of them. Many people don’t want to participate in a pheasant hunt that becomes a quick-draw contest.
  7. If someone hasn’t taken a lot of shots during the course of a day’s hunt, place that person in the most likely spot that birds are going to fly. Wind direction, weather conditions and cover type are all factors that affect how pheasants will flush and fly.  If you have shot your tenth bird of the day, let your fellow hunters have a crack at a rooster before you shoulder your gun. These hunts tend to be more fun when everyone involved works together.

Don’t take these suggestions in the wrong way. I don’t believe that everyone I pheasant hunt with needs to wear knickers, a tweed derby cap or has to enjoy a post-hunt pipe smoke. This isn’t an economic issue, either. In fact, some of the rudest hunters I have had the displeasure of accompanying in the field carried shotguns and gear worth tens of thousands of dollars while they perpetrated these inconsiderate acts.

Additionally, bad behavior on a pheasant hunt isn’t related to the experience level of the participant. There are many experienced hunters who excel at being boorish louts, and there are many first-time hunters who are an absolute joy to spend time with in the field.

Being courteous, thoughtful and selfless are qualities that are appreciated both in life and in the field. Thinking about others first, and applying a little commonsense, ensures that everyone in your hunting party will have a safe and enjoyable experience.

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