It’s sad, but unsurprising, that one of the most-watched duck hunting videos on Youtube right now is about a landowner hassling a bunch of hunters who set up on his property boundary. Jacob Sweere who has a hunting Youtube channel with a modest following filmed an insane interaction between his hunting buddies and a North Dakota landowner who was less than thrilled to see them shooting ducks from an A-frame blind positioned along (but seemingly not on) his property line. The video now has more than 1.4 million views. Both the landowner and one of the hunters from the video have been charged with misdemeanors (read the story behind those charges here).
You can watch all the drama unfold for yourself, or if you’re an experienced waterfowler, you can just skip it since you’ve likely seen something like this happen before.
The hunters in this video do an excellent job of keeping their cool while the landowner went absolutely berserk. But the details of what happened in that North Dakota field are less useful than figuring out how to prevent it from happening to you.
There Are Assholes Among Us
This sort of rage monster behavior is, unfortunately, part of our duck hunting culture. Years ago, I hunted with a guide who told a story about how he once met a rival hunter in the middle of a river to fight over a spot. They ended up getting in a fistfight and the guide “almost drowned” the other guy. The guide’s father was hunting with him that day and after watching the violence unfold, vowed to never hunt with his son again. The guide did not seem ashamed of this fact.
The point is, there are some dudes (it’s always dudes) who like the conflict. You can usually spot these folks coming from a mile away, and when you do, it’s best to just avoid them. I’d rather find a new spot, and outwork or outmaneuver another hunter than fight him in the middle of a river. Simply put, this type of guy is typically not the smartest (maybe that’s why he’s so mad?), which makes him easy to work around.
Stop Trouble Before It Starts
On the upside, most waterfowlers are great people. That’s why I always try to talk to other hunters at the parking lot or boat ramp to make sure we’re not tripping each other up. If I got there first, I simply tell them where I plan to set up. If they got there first, I ask where they’re going and say I’ll go around them. Usually this works out nicely. Likewise, most farmers and ranchers are great people. I’ve done a lot of freelance waterfowl hunting in North Dakota and the farmers I’ve met there have been among the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever spent time with.
It seems like the kids in the video did communicate with another group of hunters as they set up, which was good work by them. If it hadn’t been for the irate landowner, both groups probably would have had a good morning of hunting.
My duck hunting buddy Todd Gifford, who is a public-land duck hunting veteran, will often invite a competing hunter to sit with us, rather than having him set up close by and compete for the same ducks. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.
The best things you can do are: 1) get there early, sometimes super early, 2) talk with the other hunters and work together, 3) always have a backup spot you can run to if things go wrong.
Hunting the Line Is Asking for Trouble
It doesn’t seem like the kids in the video did anything technically wrong, but they were set up right on the property line. Even where this is legal, it’s risky. If the neighboring landowner doesn’t want you out there, he could come hassle you, or at least talk to you. If you drop a bird across the line, do you know the rules for legally retrieving it?
If nothing else you might have the neighboring landowner watching you all morning, which is never fun. When you can, set up well off the line. Hunt far away from houses or outbuildings. If you can hide your trucks, do it. Just try to get away from people altogether. This usually leads to the best hunting (because that’s what the birds are doing, too), and it always leads to less disruption.
Usually if there’s a questionable spot that requires you to set up with minimal cover right on the line, the hunt isn’t going to be lights out anyway. So you’re probably better off looking for something else.
Even If You’re Right, Your Hunt Is Blown
As the video progresses, birds start trying to get into the decoys—but can’t because the landowner is standing right there, spooking them off. The game wardens were called and ultimately the authorities will decide if either party did anything wrong. But here’s what we know for sure: These kids had their hunt blown up.
And that’s the problem with disputes like this. Nobody wins. You don’t shoot ducks. And even if you do scratch out a couple, it’s not fun. I always avoid confrontation when I can, partly because it’s a distraction.
There’s a fine line between knowing and standing up for your legal rights as a hunter and needlessly getting into arguments (while you’d rather be hunting). For the most part, we should hunt all the places that are available to us. I’ve killed ducks and geese in a flooded ditch next to a golf course, in an old lady’s backyard, and on a little island next to a county park (all legal setups, mind you). But in all those cases I felt fairly confident we wouldn’t have an issue.
I’ll never hunt a spot where I know I’ll have conflict, even if it’s within my right to do so.
Know When to Cut Your Losses
One afternoon years ago, I was duck hunting tidal bays in Rhode Island with a buddy. We set up in a boat near the shore of a vineyard, but below the high-tide line and far enough away from any manmade structures. In other words, we were totally legal. A few ducks came in and we shot them. Not long after we spotted a golf cart cruising through the vineyard toward us. A man in a suit got out and asked us politely, but sternly, to please leave. My buddy began describing the hunting rules to him when the man cut him off.
“I don’t know all the regulations and you’re probably right about all of it,” the man said. “But we’re trying to have a wedding up there and the gunfire is scaring some of the guests.”
We packed up and headed for a new spot. Sometimes, even when you do everything right, your hunt is going to get ruined by someone. That’s part of the game. The very best hunters chuckle to themselves, pick up their shit, and find the next spot.