It was 4 a.m., the night was pitch black and I had no idea where I was. With only the light of the stars and a quarter moon, I was instructed to climb into the back of a beat-up pickup truck. A silent man held a firearm in one hand and offered me his other hand to help me up. I refused. I could do it myself. Once I was in, seven more people piled into the small pickup bed, all of them holding firearms. I looked up at the stars to avoid the blinding headlamp someone was shining in my direction. The truck began to move, and I grabbed the side to avoid slamming into the stranger next to me. Unable to stand the silence, I was the first to speak.
“Where are we? And who are all of you?!?” A large shadow opposite of me let out a deep chuckle. From the back of the truck bed, I heard a voice grunt. “I was just wondering the same thing.” A woman piped up. “Has anyone else done this before?” Another voice came out of the dark, barely audible over the truck’s engine. “Done what? Gone duck hunting with a bunch of people we’ve never met before?” Our nervous tittering quickly turned into loud bursts of gut-busting laughs. A moment earlier, we were all strangers. Now, we were exchanging names. We quickly found ourselves amongst friends.
A few months before this night, a friend from Instagram invited me to go goose and duck hunting in Arkansas. He was inviting people from all over the country, mostly adult-onset hunters who had unique entrances into the hunting world, to spend 3 days at his lodge to hunt waterfowl and chit-chat about the future of hunting. Weeks later, I found myself on an early morning flight, heading toward a state I’d never been to, meeting people I only knew by Instagram handle names. There was @CourtneyWithFreckles, whose first name was most likely Courtney, but whose last name I still have in my phone as “With Freckles.” Courtney’s hunting story is interesting because she took up hunting while being a full-time college student living in the middle of Brooklyn. Then there was @TheHuntingStudent, whose name I learned was Brandon only when he picked me up at the airport. Brandon was an adult-onset hunter who had found very few resources to help him get started. With no gear or social connections in the hunting world, he decided to start The Hunting Student to help others like him have a resource-base, one with no judgment or fear. I knew @BlackDuckRevival was named Jonathan, only because he was the host who organized us. I’m pretty sure his last name begins with a W. Watkins…? WILKINS! It’s Wilkins! (Pretty sure.)
Waterfowl hunting in Arkansas with this group of Instagram friends was new and fun, but I was surprised at something completely unexpected: how different hunting is out of your home state. As part of my job as a videographer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, I frequently say that “Rules and regulations vary from state to state, so be sure to check the local laws in the area you are hunting.” However, I truly didn’t realize just how different it can be. So today I will share with you the top 5 things I learned about hunting out of state.
1. Local vibes are different.
I travel around Colorado for work, but I’m not a frequent cross-country nomad, nor have I spent a whole lot of time in the Deep South. It’s different. People were nice and respectful, but they could spot my out-of-state vibe from a mile away. Knowing people would often be asking where I was from, and that I’d be representing ALL Coloradans with my actions, I made sure to be polite, be helpful, be kind, and to Leave No Trace. This last one is especially important because hopefully, we’re all generally nice to other people without having to work too hard at it. But imagine some slick New Yorker with a heavy accent coming down to Colorado and you see them drop a granola bar wrapper on the trail. Now ALL New Yorkers are litterbugs whose accents annoy you and they wear those stupid shoes with their overpriced leggings. Don’t be that person for Colorado! We’re cool and laid back, and we are far neater outdoors than within our own homes. Let’s show the world who we are, before they have the time to make assumptions.
2. Wader washing is important.
You know how everyone’s always telling you to clean your waders (or your boat) when switching water, so you don’t spread tiny invasive species around? I became acutely aware of the need to make sure my waders were Nuisance Species-Free when we traipsed into a thigh-deep marsh at 4:30 in the morning. I hadn’t used my waders since fishing the Poudre river last summer, but I knew that they had been properly cleaned and stored and I was good to go. But I can see now just how easily someone can travel from state to state with a hitchhiking mud snail tucked away on their insole. For a few ideas on how to keep your waders clean so you can keep our waters pure, check out this Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Angler Information.
3. License needs vary DRASTICALLY from state to state.
I was absolutely not prepared for the number of licenses and stamps I would need to shoot a goose.
This doesn’t even include some wildlife area parking permit I didn’t know we needed until the morning of. I was totally unprepared when I showed up, but fortunately I was able to buy licenses and the necessary habitat stamps and permits online. Also, I hate to admit it, but I relied solely on the advice of my host for which licenses to purchase, so I found myself speed-reading the Arkansas waterfowl brochure at 11:30 p.m. the night before in order to double-check. Do not be like me. Fortunately, everything turned out okay, and the advice I got was solid. But it would have been MY responsibility and MY fault alone if I hadn’t purchased the right license, or was missing a duck stamp. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again (and maybe heed my own advice next time). Licenses and regulations vary from state to state. Check your local game brochures, or call your local wildlife office to make sure you are purchasing the appropriate licenses, tags and permits for the area you’ll be hunting in.
An additional note on this– I was lucky that Arkansas was a state that allowed me to show proof of license purchases on my phone; otherwise, I would have had to wait for a game and fish office to open the next day, ruining the planned morning hunt for everyone else. I was also lucky my husband works in Hunter Education and could look up my customer number for me, as well as help me verify my hunter ed info that was required. I was very, very lucky, but next time I’ll rely on being prepared.
4. Public access rules vary from state to state.
In Colorado, we have State Wildlife Areas, which are properties owned and managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife that you hunt in. In Arkansas, they have Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), which sound like they’re the same thing, but they’re not. WMAs in Arkansas are all public lands that are open to hunting, no matter who owns and manages it. In Colorado, I’m usually in State Wildlife Areas (SWAs) for work, or hunting on SWAs that have clear signage about where to park and when. I had no idea that there were parking permits for random pull off lots and rules for certain duck hunting bayous, like you have to be done shooting by noon and have all your hunting gear out by 1 p.m. I would have never guessed! It’s a really good thing I was hunting with a local who knew all the rules and regs, but again, I absolutely should have done my own homework– I just didn’t fully comprehend how different it could possibly be, especially when things sound like they could be the same.
5. Hunting is hunting.
It seems to be a new past-time to complain about out of state hunters, but how often are we out of state hunters ourselves? It’s human nature to stereotype others based on what they look like, sound like, where they’re from, or what activities they participate in. To be perfectly honest, it took a hot minute to connect with some of the locals in Arkansas, but once it was clear that our values within hunting aligned, that’s all we ended up talking about.
If you’re doing hunting right, you’re running on very little sleep, exhausted, and wishing for a more efficient way to get coffee into your bloodstream. At the same time, you’re spotting amazing wildlife, witnessing beautiful sunrises and sunsets, trying to stay quiet and still, and focusing any remaining energy on staying safe and legal. There isn’t time to talk about the latest debates because you’re too busy planning the next morning’s hunt. On a hunt, literally no one cares about who you plan to vote for, because we’re all busy trying to get food to fill our fridges. Tensions are low, because nature is emotionally healing, no matter who you are or where you came from.
We are all in this together!
I think it’s safe to say I have a lot of differences with many of the people in the Deep South. But we also have a lot in common. Whether you hunt, fish, or just buy a waterfowl or duck stamp for kicks, we are all paying for conservation, we are all helping manage wildlife populations, and we all share a direct connection to our food source. If I can put aside my differences on this trip, we can all put aside our differences in geography, politics, generational angst or dietary choices, and pull together to recruit and encourage new hunters from all places in life. Nationally, hunting license sales are on the decline, which means funding for conservation is on the decline. To support conservation efforts throughout the country, we need everyone we can get. We are all in this together.
Article and photos by Crystal Egli. Crystal is a videographer and a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.