In most of North America, we hunters are blessed with public lands on which we may hunt for free or for very little cost. Depending on the location, this public land can vary widely as to how productive it is and how many other hunters will be using it. Some spots are packed with hunters—waterfowlers in many areas have to participate in drawings for public blinds or boat races to make it to the best spots each morning. Other public locations are much more sparse.
It's incredibly frustrating to show up to a spot you wanted to hunt on public land, only to discover that someone else is already there. It’s almost as frustrating to be sitting in a spot and be approached by another hunter who thinks they have the right to hunt in the same spot. But this situation points out an indisputable and obvious truth about public land: It’s public. No one has more right to be there than anyone else, so unless you’re in a spot where certain areas are assigned by a draw or other means, you’re subject to the first come, first served rule. Whoever was there first gets to hunt that spot.
If you encounter someone in a place you wanted to hunt, keep moving without disturbing their hunt. There’s no point in talking this out—they beat you to the spot, period. Try again tomorrow. If you’re confronted by someone who wants you to leave so they can hunt the spot you’re in, be exceedingly polite while explaining that you were there first and believe you have the right to hunt there that day. If they get confrontational, get a game warden involved or just leave. It’s not worth a fight.
Ways to Avoid a Dispute
The best way to handle this situation is to not get into it in the first place, which you can do by hunting harder than everyone else. Get there early. Skip the obvious spots and areas that are easily accessed—the farther away you get from drivable roads, the fewer hunters you’ll encounter. If you are able, hunt the off-hours and off-days. Weekends will be the busiest days on public land, as will the couple of hours after sunrise and before sunset.
If you find a spot that looks amazing, understand that you’re probably not the only one who has discovered it, and you’ll need to beat someone else to it. If you do manage to find an undiscovered jackpot, keep quiet about it!
It’s also a good idea to have several good spots in mind, so that if you drive up the pull-off parking spot and another truck is already there, you can just drive on to the next spot without fretting over where to go next.
Public land is a blessing to those of us who don’t have private property to hunt, but there are some unspoken rules that govern its use, and one of the biggest rules is the trump card that governs the who-hunts-here situation: First come, first served.