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The Sportsmanship Primer for Public Land and Water

Greg Tinsley

Tensions over who hunts or fishes the juiciest terrain features on public land have been around longer than anyone can remember. The fact is, with increases in people, wealth and leisure time, the infrequent pettiness regarding who enjoys the right-of-way on public land features only one trending direction. 

Well-instructed sportsmen understand the general sovereignties of American common law and public domain: the fact that it is their absolute right to enjoy all of their navigable waters, and the soils beneath them, for their own common use, subject only to the rights since surrendered by the constitution to the government. 

Louisiana duck hunters
Have onX Maps, will travel: Much of America’s best hunting and fishing – sometimes all of it, as is the case with many saltwater fish species – is found through our shared public lands and waters. These adventurists experienced unforgettable early-season teal action on the abundant public marshes of coastal Louisiana. 

The rub begins when a fraction of our citizenry mistakenly establish territorial boundaries within the vast public arena. Fewer still may become confrontational to “interlopers,” fraying communication between the parties. 

Across the aisles, embarrassingly, sportsmanship may evaporate.  

In this instance, sportsmanship is code for the unerring courtesy and respect shown to fellow hunters and fishermen. It is the all-important watchword for public- and private-land hunting and fishing activities. In the general sense, sportsmanship requires education, practice and patience. 

Proudly – American outdoorsman, American sportsman and the code of sportsmanship are interchangeably personifying terms. Polite, capable, selfless sportsmen enjoy an almost unanimous presence in these United States. It is a category that mostly lives by positive action through example.
Friendly Communication and Unity 

Ultimately, of course, the idea is to move discreetly and widely to circumvent random outdoor participants, particularly during game-activity primetimes. Respect their space, don’t disturb and go… moving on after a low whistle and a broad wave as may be appropriate for safety. In other instances, more direct communications are unavoidable.  
Most people understand that there is absolutely no substitute for leading all greetings afield with Good morning or Good afternoon! The art of knocking the frost off with old-school manners is an exacting charm-craft. 

Among the most diffusing and effective follow-ups to the polite introduction: “How may we work together?” 

Zero-tension cold openers, followed by quickly courteous discussions, is the fountainhead of sportsmanship. 


duck hunters on boats

The etiquette for sharing public space is founded on the prehistoric philosophy that recognizes the early bird gets the worm.  Want or need priority positioning and input on how guided and non-guided anglers align with tarpon movements at Buchannan Bank in the Florida Keys?  

Simple: Be on the day’s first boat to reach Buchannan.

As an internationally recognized rule of thumb, this best of the ideas is loaded with common-sense value, which transforms all other considerations into awkward rationalizations. Within the legal boundaries set forth by official managers of public areas, together with adherence to the principle of First-In, everyone recreates at their own pleasure, while working with, and doing right by, their fellow sportsmen.  

Were it always that easy!  

First-In, First-Out 

Life is completely too short and complex to remain in close proximity to a pretentiously obnoxious and/or uneducated citizen – the misguided individual who also shares an equal stake to this grand and unique public trust. Regarding discussions with the “entitled” or the oblivious, graciously bouncing out of weird conversations is always the tactical smart-money.  

Verbally muscling people, imposing self-interest on others – arguing – is the antithesis of sportsmanship. It invites bad karma, burns good luck and promotes failing health. Today, it likely brings out the camera phones.

Bid adieu to poor excuses and impolite behavior. Invest the rest of God’s day to backup plans, which are easily executable on spacious coastal grasslands, vast inland waterways and expansive big-game units.  

Plan B for the well-attended waterfowl WMA, however, is often a completely different animal.  

sunset over waterway

In the case of high-density waterfowl venues, if regulations allow, use best judgement to move unobtrusively and directly to more isolated sites. 

Worst case, find safe observation posts and settle in to patiently listen and watch. The best flights into these areas often come late morning, hours after many waterfowlers have shut it down for the day.

Across all of the sporting categories, the measure of respect shared among public-land duck hunters is likely the most advanced. Starting around the middle of 0-dark-thirty, often with boats frozen solidly to trailers, the black-ice ramps and the lightless flooded woods of super-popular WMAs frequently become full-throttle ground-zeros of synchronized, civilian-led, amphibious night-drops. As such, with ever-decreasing exceptions, public duck hunting is the Big Leagues of graciousness. 
When everyone is flying the unqualified flag of sportsmanship, these astounding conservation set-asides of the American wildlife trust can only continue to bless us all with rejuvenation, excitement and new friendships.  Enjoy them and help others enjoy them. 

Good fortune favors the unfailingly polite.

For a limited time, onX Maps is offering a 20% discount code only for Mossy Oak’s fans toward the purchase of its revolutionary GPS mapping tool designed specifically for hunters.  Go to and use the promo code, “mossyoak” to receive 20% off the normal price of onX’s Premium or Elite memberships.

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