Who’s right about access and the nuances of hunting etiquette
By Julie Harris, Bangor Daily News Staff
Who’s right is not an argument I want to pursue when people have rifles loaded to hunt deer, but there is such a thing as hunting etiquette.
When a landowner allows public access for hunting, there is still just one person who owns the land and has final say on who uses it and who doesn’t.
Maine law allows public access to private land if the landowner does not post the property.
But hunters who care that public access to private land is shrinking make extra efforts to keep landowners happy. One unwritten rule among ethical hunters is to find out who the owner is, knock on the person’s door and ask for permission to hunt on the land.
It gives the landowner a chance to make special requests, including where or what not to hunt on the property, where to park and what equipment such as tree stands are acceptable. It keeps the landowner in control.
Some people ask landowners for written permission to hunt on their property. Others are happy with a verbal agreement. The bottom line is that most landowners really appreciate the courtesy, and the hunter has a better experience because there is less chance of an unpleasant confrontation.
Well, usually anyway.
When a hunter who hasn’t done any homework makes inaccurate assumptions about ownership and his own rights, and also is belligerent and confrontational, it can ruin your day if you let it.
I am bringing it up because I ran into such a person while hunting on opening day. We were on opposite sides of a power line from each other, with a hillock between us, and watching the open spaces in opposite directions.
I had a right to be where I was. I was legal and hunting with someone who had written permission for him and guests of his choosing to use the land for that purpose.
But the other hunter, who had rudely pitched his popup blind practically on top of someone else’s ground blind, felt I was too near and came out yelling.
When told that we had written permission to be there, he insisted it was power company land and permission wasn’t needed and he was going to call the warden if I didn’t move. In other words, he had no idea who owned the land and had made no attempt at a courtesy request to be there.
And he obviously did not know the law or have a clue about hunting etiquette. People with his attitude about public access are part of the reason we are losing hunting grounds.
But I also think he reacted angrily because he knew he had unethically pitched his popup so near someone else’s established blind, and he was trying to convince himself that because he had arrived there before the other person that morning, he was in the right.
There was so much foul language and belligerence when he could have just nicely asked if I would give him more space. We both arrived in the dark, afterall, and sometimes that sort of thing happens. I am a reasonable person.
There are state laws about not interfering with lawful hunters and how far away you need to be from buildings, but there is nothing specifying how far apart hunters should be. In terms of common sense, hunters should be safe distances from each other. Many people use 100 yards as a minimum.
As an ethical hunter, I was really disgusted by the man’s rudeness and childish behavior. And even though I didn’t legally have to move, I relocated anyway because I have a personal rule against arguing with idiots.
I left the powerline and walked a ways into the woods along an old tote road until I found a fresh travel path that deer had made. I set up there and enjoyed the peace and stillness of the woods, broken only by the sounds of falling leaves — which are really loud by the way — and the occasional birds, including a woodcock that zinged past my head.
And there was Divine Justice. I had heard only one shot in the distance all morning, but close to noon there was kind of a thump noise in the woods to my left. I was suddenly staring into the beautiful eyes of a fleeing doe. Upon recognizing me as human, she pivoted and bounded away.
I never had a shot. No angle. Too many trees between us. But about 10 minutes later, I heard a couple of shots. One of my friends and his 14-year-old son had shot at the doe. The teen succeeded and filled his antlerless deer tag.
Turns out that another acquaintance who had been walking in the woods and hunting probably spooked her in the first place. I didn’t get my deer on opening day, but I am going to take credit for an assist — sort of.
So although my day started out a little rocky, I think it ended perfectly.