Hunting customs vary, sometimes considerably, across this great land of ours.

In some cases it’s a result of local conditions – long-range optics for spot-and-stalk hunting will never be too popular in the north woods of Maine. In others it’s simply local convention or tradition. Some methods of pursuit or preferred species seem downright strange to us, but folks from away might look at us just as oddly.

For example, I never saw anyone hunting deer from inside an enclosed structure until I went south of the Mason-Dixon Line. For decades, more likely centuries, the most popular deer hunting method in the north woods was still-hunting: silently slipping along in hopes of spying a wary whitetail before it spies you. A less common but even more endemic tactic is tracking down a big buck in the snow. Folks don’t do that in the midwest because there’s not enough cover to conceal the hunter, or down south because there’s no snow. Besides, most anywhere outside New England you simply don’t cross property lines.

Tree stands, now the most popular hunting method just about everywhere, didn’t really catch on up here until the advent of modern bowhunting. Erecting one used to mean hauling an armload of two-by-fours into the local woodlot. Permanent, and often rickety stands were eventually supplanted by lock-ons, ladders and climbing stands, and eventually the enclosed shooting house. I find it somewhat ironic that shooting houses are far more popular in the warmer climates of places like Alabama and Texas, while northerners still prefer to brave the elements.

Speaking of Texas, the most popular deer hunting method there would be considered abhorrent in the Northeast. Not only do most hunters hunt from a shooting house, but those fully enclosed structures are, more often than not, strategically located within shooting distance of a corn feeder. To many that might seem to give the hunter an unfair advantage, yet somehow Texas manages to sustain a deer population of around 4 million, while the deer harvest in some counties exceeds that of most New England states. I don’t think the resource is in danger of being depleted any time soon, which is really the only thing we should be concerned with from a conservation perspective.

Waterfowlers seem to follow somewhat similar trends. When building a duck blind, the goal of every New Englander I’ve ever known was to make it as small and invisible as possible, while still allowing sufficient room to maneuver, with comfort seldom much of a consideration. In the bays and sounds of North Carolina, they hunt from large, uncovered box blinds built high enough on stilts that you need a ladder – or in better versions, a staircase – to access them. And while we Yankees slip into our sloughs in kayaks and canoes, hunters on the Great Salt Lake reach their honey holes by airboat.

Sometimes it’s not how they hunt, but what they hunt that is so odd and different. One of the most glaring examples is something most Mainers, even hunters, probably never considered. Let’s see if you can guess what the No. 1 game bird in North America is.

A typical reaction might be the wild turkey. Interest and participation in hunting this most wary adversary has skyrocketed over the last three decades as populations were restored and hunting seasons were established and expanded, then expanded some more. If that’s your guess, you’d be wrong.

Ruffed grouse, or partridge, might be a popular guess from someone from Maine, or Minnesota or Wisconsin. They’re certainly quite popular among the northern, predominantly forested states, but the number of birds and those who pursue them drops off rapidly as you move south into the farm fields and backyard lawns of much of the rest of the nation.

Farm fields bring to mind images of a gaudy cock pheasant bursting from a thin strip of fallow forbs between cornfields, just ahead of a pair of stoic setters. While quite popular in a few western and midwestern states, hunting for this Mongolian transplant is largely a put and take affair east of the Mississippi.

The No. 1 gamebird in North America is … drum roll, please…. the mourning dove. According to the most recent figures available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 840,000 hunters spend approximately 2.4 million days afield each year to harvest 13.8 million mourning doves. Despite that, or maybe because of it, the dove population is estimated at 274 million and growing. In some predominantly agricultural areas they’re even a costly nuisance. Yet Rhode Island is the only New England state with a dove season. Cross out New York, New Jersey and Michigan, and the rest of the country gets to join in the fun.

I suppose it’s human nature for us to view something foreign as odd or suspicious. I was more than a little tentative the first time I was invited to sit on the roof of an off-road vehicle with a loaded gun while we rambled around a Texas ranch. But that’s the way they hunt in the arid southwest. Crossbows were maligned for ages for the devastating effects they would have on game. There are now more states with crossbow seasons than without, and game populations in all those states have increased. Climate, temperature, tradition and personal preference all play a role in defining local hunting customs. Some may seem quite foreign and strange to folks from outside the neighborhood, but all have a few things in common, including protecting the future health of wildlife populations and the present safety of those who pursue them.

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

[email protected]

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