It’s easy to feel like an outsider, especially when it comes to hunting and fishing. I know because I was one. I remember asking questions (which I thought was reasonable) on various forums, only to get a snide or sarcastic response that basically boiled down to “go away.” Now years later I have some opinions on the subject now that I have had to ignore those comments and find my own places to hunt and fish.
The truth is that there is nothing more valuable than information when it comes to the natural world. I don’t care if you’re shooting bismuth or throwing a four-digit fly rod. If you don’t know where and how to pursue your quest, you may have all the tools in the world and nowhere to use them. Because of this, there is a constant arms race in hunting and fishing fueled by two parties – those with the information and those without it.
In short, information is a precious commodity as hell, and it’s only getting more valuable as public spaces become more crowded. In 2021, anglers bought 39 million fishing licenses and hunters bought more than 15 million hunting licenses, accounting for about 16 percent of the population, most of whom would like to know where you saw those wood ducks skipping through the woods last week.
Sure, there are about 700 million acres of public hunting land across the country, but if you take the top 10 states (by acres of public land) out of the equation, you’re only looking at about 70 million acres. With that, those living in states like Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Maryland compete for relative descent.
With all of this in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion (as you probably do) that we should do our best to keep the honey holes and haunted areas to ourselves. Not only is this good for us, but it also helps relieve pressure on the places where wildlife congregates.
But back to my forum friends for a minute. How do we keep these places secret without making fun of them? Easier said than done, it turns out, but I’ve devised a few personal rules that keep me from turning the informational arms race into full-blown conflict.
Take out the ego
Step One: Remember, you were once the hunter or angler without the information, and nobody likes a sore winner. Nothing beats an angler talking about their incredible day on the water, only to give you the cold shoulder when you ask them where they’ve been.
If you want to keep a place under wraps, don’t keep talking about how great that place is. It’s tasteless and it’s obnoxious. Just live with the personal satisfaction you put into the work to lead you to success.
Give them a reason
In most cases, including my own, hunters and anglers just don’t understand why we keep locations secret. Without hurting yourself or badmouthing yourself, give some reasons why you won’t share.
As I mentioned before, if we told everyone about our favorite spots, it probably wouldn’t be our favorite spot for long because it’s either too crowded and/or the wildlife has moved to another secret location.
give them away
A surefire way to not look like an idiot is to actually help someone find their own locations. Show them how to read maps and use layers on onX, their target’s behavior and movement patterns, or how the water access laws work in their area.
It may seem like an empty gesture at the time, but they just don’t realize how satisfied and successful they are when they invest the time and effort in solving the puzzle themselves. Help them put the pieces together.
Here’s a crazy idea: you can actually share some locations. This works in a number of ways. First, you can use the art of deception by offering a location that may actually be a decent option but isn’t your secret place. Also, don’t be the person who sends inexperienced hunters and anglers on wild geese hunts. That’s just mean.
Second, if that person has done the work or earned your trust, you might want to consider letting them in on the secret. It all depends on who you are and what the location can handle, but why not share a space with someone who values and protects it as much as you do? I know I have a (very) short list of hunters that I would point in the right direction with if they asked me. They made this list because I trust them to keep a secret too, hunt or fish it ethically, and help me bust a few pigeons while they’re at it.
All is fair in love and war
Finally, we all need to remember when it comes to public land: it’s, well, public. You may think you’ve only just discovered El Dorado, but chances are there’s someone else who probably already knows it, and thinks they’ve discovered El Dorado too. You’re not that special and neither am I. So relax. If you meet someone else on the river, there will always be different days and different places. It’s not worth losing your cool. They’ve probably put as much time and effort into getting to this point as you have, and the early bird catches the worm. Give them space and tell them good luck.
Like so many other aspects of life, there is a paradox between difficulty and joy. Too many hunters and anglers believe that the key to their outdoor happiness is to shoot more birds, catch more fish, and be “successful.” But when they are handed the key to that success, it will be superficial.
Seasoned outdoor men and women know that true success comes with learning the land, studying the species, and putting all the pieces together. They know that going through sucking will end up making them a better (and happier) angler and hunter, and that has nothing to do with pocket limitations. So the next time someone tries to page you for information, just be nice and try to empathize with them. Luckily you already have the key, and it’s bloody hard to find it on a map.