By Bill Cooper
September first ushered in dove season in Missouri. It’s the start of a menagerie of seasons that start this month. Teal season opens September 11, followed by archery season and gigging season September 15. October 1 beings fall turkey season. Deer and duck seasons follow in November.
It’s a busy time of the year for outdoorsmen. “Deciding what to hunt when can be a problem,” said local outdoorsman Pat Ybarra. “It’s all fun, but finding the time to it all is about impossible.”
With all the decisions about hunting seasons, comes responsibility to the game animals and society in general. Keeping up with game laws is a never ending process. Regulations change every year. It takes time to read and understand them. However, the Missouri Department of Conservation produces several publications each year to make the process easier. Regulation booklets may be found anywhere hunting and fishing licenses are sold.
While established conservation laws may change often, there are some unwritten rules surrounding hunting that never change. These fuzzy unwritten rules may vary from different parts of the country, but they do determine how hunters behave in the field.
The unwritten rules of hunting in the U.S. are a part of our heritage, older than game laws and wardens. Their origins reach back in history to our European ancestors. Some rules are situational while others are absolute. A hunter may not know a given rule exists, until he breaks one. The aftermath of the consequences is often more severe and permanent than paying fines and loosing hunting privileges.
Breaking one of the many unwritten rules of hunting will cost you hunting buddies and may get you expelled from the mysterious conglomerate of your hunting associates. The unwritten rules cover a span from misdemeanors, such as failing to share your game harvest with a buddy who helped you, or invited you on a hunt, to lack of discernment, such as shooting a duck on your friend’s side of the blind, to the more blatant and unforgivable act of chastising a hunting buddy’s bird dog.
Anyone who has hunted any length of time has experienced these unwritten rules of hunting in action. You see them in our code of conduct, in our subtle communications, as we congratulate one another on a good shot, or successful hunt. You’ll see them in our compliments paid to one another for obvious hunting skills and helpful attitudes. You’ll see them in the manners expressed to encourage positivity and community, appearing quite chivalrous. And you can see them in simple acts of kindness, such as the loaning of equipment, sharing of information, and extending a hand to skin a buck or pluck the ducks.
These unalienable laws of the hunting clan are written nowhere. A plague to some new hunters, others are intrigued by them, for they are only acquired an understand through time and the test of fire. To grasp their meaning from the grips of those more experienced is to earn entry into the ancient hunting clan.
The unwritten commandments have affected everyone who has ever taken up hunting with others for any period of time. Following are a few of those rules, which have endless variations, confessions notwithstanding.
THOU SHALL NOT REVEAL SECRET SPOTS. There is no more serious unwritten rule of hunting than this one. It is an abomination of the hunter’s code to reveal the location of a secret spot shown to you by another. That understanding is the foundation of hunting relationships. To share a special place with one another creates a powerful bond, as long as it’s kept between to two of you. It becomes a sacred spot.
It’s heartbreaking to have a hunting friend betray your confidence. Working in the outdoor communications field, I’ve been fortunate to visit many wonderful places in my lifetime. However, I endured several disappointments in my early career, and rightfully became gun-shy of new acquaintances who wanted to tag-along with me. The most blatant involved a new minister in town. I took him to my favorite fall turkey hunting spot and told him to never return alone, because I had problems previously. The landowner caught him trespassing two weeks later, straining our relationship. The transgressor and I never hunted together again.
THOU SHALL ASK PERMISSION - EVERY TIME. Granting permission to someone to hunt your land is binding to both parties. Landowners are famous for keeping their word. Hunters, however, tend to take advantage of a landowners good nature. I’ve suffered from being both the victim and the perpetrator of this scenario. However, I learned early on in my career that permission to hunt someone’s land is not a lifelong gift. I once returned to a property, which I had gained permission to hunt, after a two-year absence. I ran into the landowner, who was a bit miffed at my presence on his land. After a brief chastisement, he relented that I seemed to be a decent fellow and advised that I call each time before coming out. I got his point and appreciated his confidence.
I took the landowner’s stance and kindness to heart and applied it to the first trespasser I encountered on my place. I first reminded the young man that I owned the property and enjoyed seeing people hunt, but also pointed out that it was a small piece of land and could only support a couple of hunters. I asked him to check with me before coming back. He did and only returned twice more.
THOU SHALL NOT YELL AT A FRIEND’S HUNTING DOG. A dog is man’s best friend. All hunters love their dogs. There is a special bond between them. Well trained dogs live to please their masters and no one else. The master loves and protects his dog. To cross the line between master and dog is to, well, cross the line. Yell at, or insult a man’s dog and you are out…permanently. Period.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at www.facebook.com/ outsidealways.
CORRECTION: In Bill Cooper’s September 2 column, a gigger in a photo was incorrectly identified as the late Danny Harmon. The gigger was actually Jimmy Bell.