How To Handle Other People While Hunting Public Land

By Alex Comstock

Public land is a great thing in the hunting and outdoor world, no doubt about it. But sometimes, when you hunt public land, you are going to deal with people that just don’t quite get it. Unfortunately, some hunters don’t understand ethics or respect others. I wish everyone did, but it’s a sad fact, and it can put you in a uncomfortable position. So how do you handle sticky situations? That’s the goal of this blog post.

Don’t Lose Your Cool

So let’s say you show up to your stand that’s wayyyy back on public land. No one else is coming back this far right? As you walk up to your stand, you notice your trail camera is on the ground. And to make it worse, there’s no SD in the camera. The first reaction can be anger and cause you to make a decision that you won’t like. The last thing you want to do is retaliate in some form.

This exact scenario played out with me this past summer. On a piece of public land in North Dakota that I’ve hunted for the past few years. Over the course of those years I had never seen another hunter before. But this August, as I went in to check a trail camera, I found it on the ground with the SD card taken. I was downright pissed off. But I thought whoever did this might just have been someone passing through, so I decided to put the camera back up with a new SD card and I left. I returned a month later to hunt, and this time not only was my camera on the ground again with a missing SD card, but my stand had been stolen. In hindsight, what I should have done was set my trail camera back up after it had been messed with the first time, but I should have hidden a second trail camera watching it, that way if the person returned like they did, I could have gotten evidence of them stealing my belongings. Long story short, when someone messes with your stuff, don’t lose your cool, but think through the scenario, and what decision you can make.

Attempt To Mediate

When someone presents me with a scenario they had on a public land, and ask for advice on what to do, I always side with the option of communication and trying to mediate. It won’t always work, but I’m going to run through a few difference scenarios with you below, and how you can attempt to establish communication to avoid future issues. Even if someone isn’t being respectful to you or your equipment, I feel as though it’s always important to take the high road.

Scenario 1: This scenario was presented to me by a buddy recently. He had a stand up way back on public land and a trail camera. As he went in to check that trail camera, he noticed a treestand that was hung…in his shooting lane. Obviously on public land, you can put your stand anywhere you’d like, but to put it in someone else’s shooting lane is a pretty rude thing to do, and not very respectful. He asked me what to do, and I recommended leaving a note on the hunter’s stand explaining that he had already had his stand up, and that it was right in his shooting lane. Well, he left the note, and the hunter got back to him and explained that he hadn’t noticed his stand, and wouldn’t go in there if he was hunting. Still not ideal, but at least there was a bit of communication and a solution, rather than a negative confrontation later in the year during season.

Scenario 2: This is a scenario that is probably pretty relevant to most public land hunters. You’re up in the stand, it’s an hour from primetime, and all of a sudden you notice movement. Rather than it being a deer, it’s another hunter and he’s hunting from the ground, but headed right at you. Please, in this situation, don’t get all pissed off and start yelling or something. What I would do is give a whistle, or something to get their attention. Then climb down, explain your hunting situation, and talk with them. See if you can come to a conclusion where they turn around and go back for the night, or something along those lines. Being calm and collected will go a long ways in a scenario such as this.

Scenario 3: The last scenario I want to bring up is kind of a roles reversed one. Let’s say that you have picked out an unreal looking spot on a map, and are dead set on hunting it. As you walk it for the first time, it looks even better in person…until you notice someone else already has a stand in there. There are a couple different options you could do here. First of all, please whatever you do, don’t mess with that hunter’s stuff. You could say screw it, and bail on the spot, you could set up a stand anyway somewhere close, but not right on top of the other stand, or you could try and establish communication in this scenario as well. My advice would again be to leave a kind note of some sort. You may have to come back if you don’t have the means to do so currently. But leaving a note on the stand letting the person know you had picked out the area on a map, but want to respect them and possibly coordinate to see if you could tag team the area isn’t a bad idea at all. I did this once, and the guy called me letting me know he probably wouldn’t be back much because he was an out of stater and left his stand. He told me I could hunt it whenever I wanted, and I have sat it a number of times in the last couple of years.


Hunting public land presents all sorts of challenges. Among them can be dealing with others, and knowing how to do it in the right way. No matter what, I stress to you that negative confrontation should always be avoided. But, nice communication can lead to a lot of opportunities. Having run ins with other hunters on public land doesn’t always have to be a negative.