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December 10, 2008

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Bourjaily: Party Limits

My friend M.D. called me a few nights ago to say he had permission to hunt a field full of geese and did I want to come hunt? I was already leaning toward “yes” when he delivered the clincher: “You can sleep in. They’ve been flying about 9:30 so if we leave my house by a little after 8:00 that’s plenty of time.”
    In the morning I drove to M.D.’s house. We hiked two blinds and 11 full-body decoys into the field and had a great time, even though there was something about our little spread the geese didn’t like. A few flared outright, most slid off just out of range, but one flock worked close enough that I was able to kill a bird.
A few minutes later, three locked up and sailed into the decoys on M.D.’s side. I didn’t want to shoot over his head and deafen him, so I watched while he shot a double, then swung on the third and lowered his gun. Our bag limit is two and he wasn’t going to shoot my second bird for me. I never did kill a second goose, but I appreciated M.D.’s gesture, which is increasingly rare in the field.

Shooting party limits is the accepted practice among waterfowlers these days. The idea is to shoot out as fast as possible so you can: a.) get in and out of the field quickly so the birds will keep using it, b.) brag about how fast your party limited, c.) post pictures of dead birds on the Internet. Everyone shoots at everything, someone keeps a running body count, and when the group reaches their limit, the shooting stops. Then people start giving away birds because no one really wants to clean the ducks and geese they were so eager to shoot a little while ago. A lot of pheasant hunts run this way, too. I hate it.  I like a leisurely hunt where everyone has a chance to shoot at their own pace, with their own timing, without having to worry that someone will shoot their birds out from under them. 

I won’t shoot anyone else’s birds, nor do I want my birds shot for me. If I do limit before everyone else, I either unload my gun or shoot backup on cripples. Anyone else do the same, or are M.D. and I a minority of two?


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I'm with you and M.D. Where I squirrel hunt, I could limit out in 15 minutes if I wanted. But that's not why I go. I'm out there for the joy of being out there. I usually make it last a couple of hours or so and take no more than 3 on an outting. I'm not trying to finish my hunt as quickly as possible and I don't want anybody else filling my game bag and shortening my hunt, either.

Ted Strong

I'm at a point where limiting out is a nice idea I rarely, if ever, hit, so this doesn't come up often.

But I will say that, particularly when there are a lot of people shooting at locked-up geese or what-have-you, it can be tough to say who exactly killed which (and therefore how many) birds. So, some form of modified party limiting seems to make sense when there's no clear way to tell who killed what.


Amen, PB. This past weekend I was offered the opportunity to help fill a relative's squirrel limit. Thank you, but no thanks. Funny thing, I knew from past experience that as soon as the obligatory bag pictures were taken, the squirrels would have been offered to any taker willing to clean them. Twenty years ago I would have jumped at the chance to help fill a limit. Not now. And I sure don't want anyone filling my limit. Can't say what has changed over the years. My spouse would say I haven't matured at all....


I guess it depends on a lot of tihngs, such as the limit and the person & my mood & the season & if I am paying a guide or not.

For example, if the limit is say 5 or 6 & the person has hunted a while, then I don't mind ALMOST anyone shooting 2 or 3 of mine (big jerks excluded), so at least I get 2 or 3 myself. Newbies can shoot them all, keeps the sport alive!

If the limit is 2, then I guess it really depends on both the mood I am in, and how I feel about the person.

If they are a BIG jerk, then I don't appreciate them shooting any of mine.

If they are a newbie or a youngster or if I just like the person, then they can shoot both or 1 of mine, no biggie.

Why hunt with jerks, you ask? Because that's what you risk when you book a guide for non private parties; never know who you will be grouped with.

Chad Love

I think you're increasingly a minority, and that's why I mostly waterfowl hunt alone these days while I wait for my boys to get old enough to go with me.
I live in an area of my state that fortunately doesn't have a huge number of waterfowlers but unfortunately lies within the zone that opens up a couple weeks before the rest of the state.
So I run into a lot of the groups you describe, I mean big groups of hunters with flotillas of mud-motored grass-covered duck boats bristling with Benellis and Extremas.
So I have to endure two weeks of carnage before things settle down. I can only imagine how bad it gets wherever those guys live when they finally go back there.
I'm a solitary, low-impact, low-numbers kind of duck hunter and I like it that way. If each time I go out I can capture a few moments of joy, shoot a duck or two and get to watch my dogs work I'm happy.
But I don't see too many guys like me out there any more because while it may be a good way to feed your soul it's not a great way to feed your ego.


I agree with you (and M.D.). I am not a waterfowler, but I wouldn't want someone to shoot upland birds for me to fill my limit. I'll shoot them myself - and be responsible for them from there. If I choose not to shoot my limit, or any, it's my decision. I wouldn't want someone to "help" me fill my tag, I'll do it [or not] myself.
Waterfowling may have different traditions due to some nuances, however, I think you and M.D. are majority, in contrast to a more vocal/visible minority.

Del in KS

Bill and I usually shoot our own birds. I give my ducks and geese to him, we keep our own pheasants and I take all the quail (love to eat them) I can get. Oh, and most of the time he winds up with the turkeys and venison. We both love to hunt just about anything.

Del in KS

BTW last week while deer hunting Bill and I watched several thousand snows and Mallards feeding like locusts on a corn field. Alas, we left the shotguns at home.


I don't shoot other people's birds unless I lost count. I then apologize.

If I limit out on Upland birds...seldom do this on grouse...I'll shoot running cripples and handle the dogs while my partner works on filling her/his limit.


Am I missing something or is it not illegal to party hunt on upland and waterfowl as well as big game? I've always understood that you shoot your limit and you are done for the day.

semo jase

I went on a dove hunt where 8 people limited out by 9:00.Only 2 of us wanted our birds so the landowner kept 4 limits.The 2 guys who had to take their birds stopped at the intersection of the gravel we were on and threw them out.so the landowner called the f and g guys to report wanton waste. Illegal here and because the original shooters had also left and the owner was still in the field he was cited for possession of 4 limits.$650 in fines.The two jokers who tossed their birds were back the next day to hunt.

WA Mtnhunter

Good on you Phil.

Party hunting is illegal every state that I hunt in. It is usually not allowed to take any part of another person's limit except where assisting a legally handicapped hunter in some circumstances.

I think you can attribute this to the TV shows that show everybody shooting until "we're done, boys" is announced.

Personally, I like to shoot a couple of birds (usually well shy of a limit) and let everyone else shoot and let my Labrador enjoy the workout - which he does immensely!


i usually hunt alone or with my brother

i only take 1 or 2 birds
as thats all my wife and i will eat.

i get a little upset when fishing with partners and the've just gotta take their limit and yours.

so when fishing it's the same as above.
just enough for wife and i to have a dinner


I think it really depends on the situation. Snow goose hunting for me and the folks i hunt with entails shooting the limit, mainly to save the tundra from further destruction, but anything else, I agree with you


I've seen party hunting for mule deer where there were just stacks of deer for those who didn't get one to pick from. Really kind of disapointing to take a deer that you didn't shoot. Not the most ethical thing I have ever seen.




Ok, a wad of 30 teal come into your blind of 4 guys and each of you mark your own 2 or 3 birds that fall from it.

When singles, doubles, triples come in it is easy, everyone with a shot shoots at a certain bird and no one ever shoots at exactly the same time, so you know who shot what.

Honestly, I know it isn't what the parks and wildlife say, but the group dynamic of a duck hunt is what makes it so appealing to me. When one guy is doing poorly he gets the shot, otherwise everyone cuts loose and you succeed or fail together.

I understand that isn't the law. I know. I hunt with a warden and he has on more than one occasion said, ok, you've shot your 5, now you unload your gun and wait. But why when the group has more to go? Honestly, the guys I hunt with would expect me to keep hunting as a group effort. When we duck hunt, it is hard. We walk death marches out into the salt marsh together for hours, set up and wallow in the mud. We walk out together. And we hunt together.


I see the party hunt thing all the time of waterfowl. I deer and waterfowl hunt. I like the waterfowling after deer season because you can sit around and BS with the boys and to me is more relaxing than deer hunting. But when you get in a group that cares for nothing but a full limit it can zap the fun right out of it. Some people will be pissed if you have 20 birds in the blind but are still one short of the limit. On the other hand many people with this mentality as mentioned before don't want to clean a limit and I love me some ducks, haha. But in general I refrain from hunting with people who do party hunt because it goes against my general idea of what hunting should be and if we got enough birds coming that we might limit out I'd like to do my share of the shooting.

Lulu Bear

Often works the same while trolling for walleye on Lake Erie. Legal fish go in the "Box" and when you reach six fish (the legal limit for one angler), you have one "Ticket". It doesn't matter who actually reeled in the fish, just that the fish made it to the box. When everyone on board has their ticket, the boat is "Boxed Out" and you head for shore where you hang the fish on a huge bragging board and take pictures. I do this quite a bit through the summer with friends and family but think of it as harvesting instead of actual fishing. It's a different kind of fun than fishing native brook trout by myself in a stream no wider than my bathtub.

John C.

I realized that hunting and fishing were both in trouble about a decade ago when I started running into people in the woods and on the water who were obsessed with bag/creel limits and rack size.

I don't understand this obsession with quantity and size. I go hunting and fishing to relax; not to spend my time being stressed out over wether I have filled my tags or killed the biggest animal.

Then there are the people who fill their bag or creel limits and then try to find someone who will take the catch or kill of their hands.

I have a relative whom I would like to disown because he shoots every deer that walks in front of him and doesn't even like venison.

high plains hunter

Guess I'm different than a lot of people when it comes to filling your bag. We always eat what we shoot.
Why some people hunt just to kill something has always amazed me, what a waste of mother natures bounty. People who can't field dress a deer or pluck water fowl or upland birds, please stay at home and do your shooting on your video games. There's many a day I set in my blind on the Platte or in my deer stand in the table land above the platte with nothing more than my camera and just enjoy my hunting buddys company and mother natures wonders.Remember we're only here for a short time, so , lets save something for the next generations


I'm with Phil, but I'm old fashioned. Reading the above posts, its obvious alot of folks hunt in different ways to achieve their enjoyment of the sport. I guess as long as all the folks in the same blind are on the same page its cool. My experience has been a few rich docs and lawyers just want to blast away, but those types don't really understand why they're hunting in the first place.


I am not a waterfowler but do like to shoot my own upland birds to be sure, but I must say the worst thing I have seen are the Amish in PA. They come into public ground in droves and kill any deer that moves. The PA Game Commission does nothing about this and all the public ground is ruined for years. They are like locust they plunder and move on. They have ruined at two of my favorite spots in a three year window.


Glad I don't have Amish around here then, altho I am in PA. We had a couple of local kids who decimated our local deer a few years back, these jerks had a bet going as to who could shoot the most bucks, they would shoot and photograph the deer and leave it lay. I'd have liked to catch them in the act, might have had an accidental shooting if you know what I mean. That was over 5 years ago and the herd is still sub par but at least you see a few deer now.


This year in NE IA I won't shoot a pheasant much less limit out. It will take years to see the birds come back after our record winter and summer floods. Vinton Resident

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