The various hunting methods employed by hunters around the country provide an interesting study in hunting culture. Hunters sometimes use quite different methods for the same game in different regions. Sometimes it’s a matter of circumstances and conditions, but local customs often determine what’s legal and therefore ethical.

It’s probably fair to say that most whitetail hunters, bowhunters in particular, use treestands. However, fewer than 20 years ago it was illegal to hunt from an elevated perch in Michigan. In the Northeast, most hunters use ladders, lock-ons or climbing stands, but as you move south you see increasingly more enclosed shooting houses. In fact, sitting in a shooting house overlooking a green field or a food plot is far and away the most popular hunting method in the Southeast.

Spot-and-stalk hunting is far more popular in western states. That’s largely attributable to the open, often treeless landscape. It’s far easier to spot game from a distance, and if wind and terrain allow, conduct an effective stalk. That’s also why westerners prefer flat-shooting magnum calibers as opposed to easterners who often employ slower, heavier bullets in their “brush” guns.

To a New Englander like me, one of the most peculiar habits of southern hunters is hauling deer out of the field whole rather than field-dressing the animal. You’d get some strange looks if you brought an undressed deer to the check station in Maine, but down south that’s the way they do it.

I just don’t see the logic of hauling an extra 30 or 40 pounds of weight unnecessarily. Some say it’s to avoid attracting predators like coyotes, but I’ve shot a few deer over a fresh gut pile. It is understandable in cases where they’re managing their deer herd and collecting data like live weight vs. dressed weight.

I know very few turkey hunters who don’t use decoys at some point during the spring season. But turkey decoys weren’t legalized in Alabama until 2005, and then only after a very contentious process. Purists felt the decoys offered hunters an unfair advantage and were an affront to the sport. They’re now widely used throughout the state and the turkey population is no worse off for it.

Decoys are an integral element of duck hunting, and in most regions hunters put out a spread on open water and shoot from the concealment of a blind. In Arkansas, where the mallard is king, they hunt flooded timber, sitting or standing against the trunk of a big cypress in among the decoys and shooting at birds as they filter down through the treetops. I suspect the same tactic might work for blacks and wood ducks in the hardwood swamps up north.

One of the most varied practices across the nation is the use of bait. In Maine it’s allowed for bears and predators but not for deer. In West Virginia you can bait deer but not bears or turkeys. There, and in several other states like New Jersey, it’s a relatively recent phenomenon intended to control burgeoning deer numbers in certain areas. Some states now allow bait in developed areas but not in rural areas. Meanwhile, other states have ended their long-standing tradition of baiting out of concern for the spread of diseases like CWD.

In Texas, bait is not only legal for deer hunting but represents the principle tactic. Most Texans hunt from an elevated stand or shooting house overlooking a feeder. And if it weren’t for corn and other supplemental feed, Texas probably wouldn’t have near the number or quality of deer that exist in the state.

Hunters do sometimes adopt customs of other regions. Rattling was once limited to a few areas like Texas and Quebec’s Anticosti Island, and a fair number of hunters didn’t think the tactic would work anywhere else until they tried it. Banging a pair of deer antlers together is now common practice throughout the whitetail’s range.

Food plots, the mainstay of southern deer hunting, were all but nonexistent in the northern states but are now widespread in the upper Midwest and are starting to catch on in the Northeast. They’re used not only to attract deer but to provide better year-round nutrition, particularly in winter when food is scarce.

These are but a few examples of the numerous and varied tactics that are or once were endemic to certain geographic areas. Seeing and trying them makes a richer experience for those who travel to hunt. It also allows hunters to be more enlightened and perhaps gain a greater acceptance of things that might otherwise seem foreign and different.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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