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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 do not often hunt, but I love to fish.
I feel exactly as you do about party limits. We each catch our own. It as all about being outside, not about killing fish.


I do not shoot over my limit either. I also count wounded birds as part of my limit. I hunt with my 2 sons and they do the same.

Mike in Kansas

Looks to me like there are a whole bunch of stand up gentlemen commenting on this blog. Thanks for keeping the ethics of hunting on the right side of the tracks boys.

Mike Diehl

I've never limited out on anything but if I did I'd do as you do.

I'm pretty incredulous at the thought of giving away pheasant though. I'd love to limit out on a pheasant hunt somewhere and I'd happily clean the birds.

Brian T

"Shooting my limit" of birds has happened to me exactly 3 times in my 45+yrs of shotgunning. Lunch comes early, what you do is up to you. I quit.

Chris in TX

To Mr. Petzal,

Knowing your love of fine rifles, I humbly submit for your viewing pleasure/torment:


Keeping in line with that Pete Norene rifle that taunts you, please note that the above rifle is also left handed and in a suitable African caliber.

Chris (A fellow southpaw)


here in ohio, the real laws are frequently ignored for the good ol' boy rules. there is this odd mindset where everyone thinks that they were around way back in the day where there were none of these (confounded) rules and there were 2 flags. (PS...ohio is a yankees state, boys. sorry.) they think they are some sort of rebels, and that the current laws are for them to break as they see fit. pretty annoying. and it goes far beyond waterfowling. tagging deer for other folks is common practice, and i have found far too many untagged deer hanging in barns. you get the sense that quite a few take pride in breaking the laws. they brag about it. cool...

i'll say it again. how is a young hunter supposed to feel confident that he'll be hunting at an old age, when this kind of crap is so frequent?

the hunting and shooting sports are under siege, and they're looking for any and all iniquities they can find to call us out on. we're very lucky that the antis are idiots, and are afraid to set foot in the woods. i worry about what they might see if they are ever willing to really come out and see us. i use "us" very loosely.

Clay Cooper

Bourjaily, remember back in what was it 1978ish when the point system came out. A fella was blasting away at every duck that passed. Louisiana Game and Fish had a check point just before the dam checking game and deer season was open to. Anyhow this “master Blaster” fella was in front of me along with his group. There were seven ducks in the truck bed so the GW asked who shot what? Master Blaster said he shot five and one just happened to be a Red Head! You were allowed 100 points and a Red Head counted as 100 points, can you say “BUSTED!”

Jim in Mo

Boy you got that right about counting points. If you want a canvas back or red head go ahead and shoot it and stop. If you want a bag of ducks shoot tiel or mallard first and then shoot the high point duck. It's ok here if you go over the 100 point limit if the last duck shot was shot while you were still under 100.
And don't think the Federal wardens aren't watching.


Point system was early 70's I believe. You were supposed to stop shooting when you reached 100 pts.Mallard Drakes were 35pts, Hens 85pts. You could shoot 3 drakes and limit out at 105 pts. You could shoot 2 drakes first, then a hen, but only in that order. If the game warden didn't see which duck you shot first, he'd put a thermometer up its rear and see which one died first. When steel shot first was required a new tool was employed..a magnet. Lots of folks who bought up shotshells by the case were still shooting with lead long after it was illegal. I still to this day have lead shells from 1982. Current system makes more sense. Still though, on "party" hunters, often the GW will stand back watching the hunters to see who actually limited out and you better not keep count by putting all the birds in a pile. That is a sure way for everybody to get a ticket. Keep up with your own stringer.


Between my wife and I, we will eat two mallards at a meal, and have enough left over for two sandwiches for later. My limit on ducks is two. We can't stand frozen duck. We can eat one goose before it spoils. My limit on geese is one. There are 3 stock ponds within 1/2mi. of my house, and I hunt them in rotation. My neighbor once asked me, as I was returning home, how did you do? I said I got my limit. He replied he'd only heard two shots, so I couldn't have killed 5 birds. He couldn't understand that I would stop shooting so early, when the birds were still flying. I refuse to shoot any game for anyone else, and if a companion shoots any for me, he's stuck with it, because I will not accept it. I enjoy hunting as much as anyone I know, but discovered as a 10yr. old that hunting was much more than killing. I have spent many hours sitting in my blinds on afore mentioned ponds truly enjoying watching the ducks as they would land in my small spread,without firing a shot. Just as I have spent many hours watching deer feed, breed and frolic within easy rifle range and only took pictures. And with a tag in my pocket. Different strokes for different folks. YOU DO IT YOUR WAY, BUT I LIKE MINE.


i do not bird hunt (honestly, because i never learned how to clean a bird, and i have no one to go with) but your way of shooting sounds like me all the way. why would i want to go on a hunt, and have somebody else shoot my game for me? if i was going to have my game shot for me, i would rather just hand over my license, and have it and game arive back at the same time. kind of like shopping over the internet. it is nice to do if you do not need to touch and feel the goods, know EXACTLT what you want. but it lacks the fun of going out and actually grabbing and looking at what you are going to buy before you do. which is why i would never buy a firearm on-line. unless it was a rare, hard to find peice that i could only find there. anyway, back to your post. the FUN of hunting is IN THE HUNT. so why give the best part up?!

Jack Ryan

If I wanted a "team" sport I'd play some kind of kid's game with a rubber ball instead of hunting and killing things for food. If I wanted to take home something some one else killed I'd stop at the grocery store and pick up something that's already cleaned, in a bag and ready to cook. I'm not hard up enough for something to do that I need to spend my time cleaning some jerk's game or spending my time socializing for that "fuzzy" feeling.

Shoot your own.
I'll shoot my own.
Clean your own.
I'll clean my own.

Hunting is not a team sport.

If you are too lazy to clean it, don't want to eat it, stay home and take up golf.

SD Bob

When I moved to South Dakota I knew no one. I came out here in hopes of expanding my hunting horizons. I've met several top notch men who I now call friends who seem to lack this party limit mentality but that doesn't mean I don't know those who do. I just don't consider them friends and don't hunt with them. I keep my mouth shut and let them tempt fate with the game warden.

Dr. Ralph

Sounds criminal to me. If you shoot and can't tell if you hit or not something is wrong. Maybe the birds get mixed up but you still know how many you've taken. Same for fishing. Reel in your own fish and after you limit drink beer and laugh at your friends reminding them often of their inferiority.

We used to have to put in for doe permits and invariably someone would forget to apply and ask if they can shoot one on your tag. The answer was not just no, but hell no! We already look bad to a lot of folks, no reason to reinforce the idea.

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