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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Hunting Ethics #1: Abandoned Tree Stands On Public Land

In the United States, our greatest national treasure is our vast public lands. Stretching from coast to coast, 28% of all land in the United States is owned federally for the people. According to Backcountry Chronicleswhen you add in state and city-owned land, 31% of all land in the United States is open to hunting by the public. This is an encouraging figure.

Our state of Michigan has close to 7,000,000 acres open to public hunting. When you figure in our 600,000 hunters every year, that leaves over 10 acres per person to hunt! However, as we know, the most populated areas also tend to have the least amount of public land. To break it down, if you head to the U.P. you can likely find somewhere to hunt on public away from others. For those of us in the southern lower, we will likely be sharing our public land with many other hunters. This can lead to some ethical dilemmas from time to time.

Tree Stands Left In The Woods

A common topic of debate in hunting groups is the issue of abandoned tree stands in the public woods. In Michigan, it is legal to leave a tree stand on public land from September 1st to March 1st. The stand must have your name, driver’s license number, and address on it visible from the ground. Permanently affixing any stand to a tree is illegal, so the stand must be portable. Finally, the Michigan Hunting Digest (published by the DNR) states that, “Your name on a tree stand or ground blind on public land does not guarantee exclusive use.”

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This stand has seen better days.

A walk through any state recreation area in Michigan will likely turn up a dozen or so empty treestands. They may range in condition from old rotting plywood stands to shiny new hang-ons. Some of them may also feature reflective markers that lead the way to the stand. Occasionally you may find a hunter using one, in which case you can politely back out and hunt a different location. We can all agree that this is the ethical thing to do. It is also easy for us all to agree that stealing or tampering with someone else’s legal stand is objectively wrong and immoral. Those are the easy situations to interpret. More often than not, though, they sit empty. Upon finding an empty tree stand on public land, a question of ethics may arise…

The question so often debated, is a two-part one:

First, is it ethical to sit in and hunt an empty stand?

There is no easy answer here. We all own the public land equally. On the one hand, the owner of the stand was aware when they hung it that other people could use it. However, I think we can all sympathize with the guy who only has one weekend to hunt each year and arrives late to find someone else in his stand. What if it’s hung in the only good tree in a hunt area? What if you walk by the stand every day you hunt the property and never see anyone in it?

At the end of the day, it is everyone’s land. You have a legal right to hunt that tree and even that stand if no one else is in it. However, you may want to ask yourself how you would feel if it was your stand? If it is legitimately the only tree in a particular area, and the stand is empty use it. If there is any way to hunt the next tree or a different area with more trees to choose from then that is probably the best option. Avoid using someone else’s stand if at all possible. It will ensure you are acting as an ethical hunter and avoid any potential conflicts which could arise. If you do find yourself with no other option than to hunt that stand, and the owner arrives to hunt, I would recommend letting them have their stand.  Personally, I have no idea how safe someone else’s stand is. Also, I figure that if the spot has been hunted before, then the deer may be aware of the stand anyway.

Second, is it ethical to hunt next to someone else’s empty stand?

This one is a bit more clear, in my opinion. If someone is in a spot when you arrive there, graciously back away (or quietly hurry through) and hunt a different location. Should the spot be empty when you arrive, then feel free to hunt it. We all own the public woods and no one person has any more right to a particular tree or location than anyone else. If you are purposely seeking out someone else’s stand location, then most likely you are acting unethically. If you happen upon it while hiking and it seems like the best spot to set up, go for it.

This being said, as much as you can avoid hunting in someone else’s spot it is probably wise to do so. Some folks can get very upset to find another hunter in “their” area. While this attitude is annoying, it is not worth an altercation that could result in heated tempers or worse. The more you hunt, the more you will develop your own spots which will always be better than someone else’s.

That’s it for part one. I would love to hear you weigh in on these ethical quandaries in the comments if you agree, disagree, or just have a different take on the issue. Stay safe and hunt ethically.

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