Sharing a moment with a friend after taking my 2016 Utah general season muzzleloader buck. Photo credit: Phil Bondurant
Regardless of who fills the tag, the success should be shared by all. Photo credit: Phil Bondurant
It's times like these when great hunting partners really shine. Photo credit: Phil Bondurant
Throughout life, we encounter countless people that influence our lives in one way or another. These relationships vary greatly based on the emotional and physical value we give them. Our appreciation and love for our families places them at the top of our list. We place value in other relationships, like an honest car mechanic or a familiar face at the local sporting goods store, but these tend to find rank lower on the list (although they can climb the ranks rather quickly if your truck has problems the day before the opener). Regardless of the connection or value, the rules to a successful relationship require a few simple ground rules, sometimes referred to as “The Code.”
One person that should rank high on the list for any hunter is their hunting partner. Hunting partners are much more than buddies roaming the hills looking for animals. It is a bond between friends that is forged through blood, sweat and tears. These are the people that have seen you at your highest of highs and, if you’re like me, have seen you at your lowest of lows. Good hunting partners are right alongside you to celebrate the crowning moments of your hunting career and they are the first ones to pick you up off the ground when you miss the big one for the second time. You spend hours in the hills laughing, joking and teasing one another about everything, yet find time to talk about serious issues like religion and family. In no other relationship would you answer nature's call with only a few small bushes and trees separating each of you while you ask if they still have an eye on that buck or bull. There is no doubt that a good hunting partner has enough dirt on you to blackmail you for life, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.
It doesn’t matter who your hunting partner is, how you hunt or what you gender is, the value of a good hunting partner rivals some of the most important relationships we have. The amount of trust between partners is comparable to family, even when that partner is not a family member. They have the codes to our garage doors, know where we hide the spare key and may even have the combination to the gun safe. We empower these individuals to positively influence our lives and place a significant amount of trust in them—both in the field and in life. Think about it: you wouldn’t spend 10 days in the middle of nowhere with a stranger holding a firearm or bow if you didn’t trust them. That is how horror movies start.
Although the Hunting Code has many variations, there are a few basic rules that are consistent across any partnership. Some rules apply only to short day hunts with fairly new acquaintances while others apply to week long backcountry hunts with best friends. Some of the rules are funny and highlight the shenanigans that occur between friends while others are more serious and ensure everyone involved is safe and returns home happy. Regardless of your experience in the field, hopefully you can relate to some of the rules on the list, finding both humor and understanding in them. Like the commonly referred to “Bro Code” or “Girl Code,” below is a list of common rules every hunting partner should know.
This one seems like common sense, but it happens. Friendships have been lost over this exact situation. Your secret spot is just that: a secret. Make sure you keep it that way. For tips on preventing the accident leak of your hunting spot, check out this article.
Only a few circumstances warrant you leaving your partner on the hill. Leaving for family emergencies, serious injuries or illness or other tragic situations require no explanation. If you agreed upon a time that one of you had to leave before the hunt started, then all is well. Otherwise stick it out; you’ll be glad that you did.
This is an extension of #2. If you took the time off work and the animal is taken care of, stay behind to help your partner fill their tag. If you were planning on being there until a certain day, stick it out until the hunt is over. If the situation was reversed, wouldn’t you want the help and the camaraderie?
Do your best to be on time. 10 minutes is one thing, two hours is a completely different story. Our vacation days and time in the field is precious. Being on time maximizes this time and shows respect to your buddy.
You never know when you might need this. Having it allows you to contact important people if there is an emergency, but it also allows you to update everyone when you pack your animal out to the truck and find cell service before returning to camp to help fill another tag.
Sometimes explaining an area to a spouse can be tough. If you don’t come back or something happens, your hunting partner probably knows the area, knows where you parked or how you are hunting the area, which can aid in recovery efforts, if needed.
Is it mutual consensus that certain animals are off limits? How do you determine who gets first shot? If you spot an animal first, do you have claim to him the entire hunt or is it fair game each day? Answering these questions ahead of time can eliminate disagreements and save wasted time on the hill while you work through the details.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If your partner takes off after an animal, it is your job to help him or her be successful. Remember, success on a hunting trip is shared among the group, so their successes are yours as well.
There is no simple way to put it. Number one is OK if your back is turned. Under no circumstances can you visit a bear in the woods while in plain sight of your partner. Being within earshot is questionable at best, but there must always be at least 10 yards between the two of you and enough brush to camouflage your efforts.
This means during the hunt as well as after the hunt. Remember that it’s a team effort, but posting pictures and telling the story is reserved for the hunter. Be respectful and let them have their moment if they wish. On the other hand, give thanks where due. Although it’s probably understood, it’s nice to hear it once and awhile.
There is no outline for who, what and how relationships between hunting partners are defined; all we have is a list of unwritten rules to follow. For new hunters, these guidelines might as well be Greek. For the experienced and weathered guys, some of these rules are like doctrine and faithfully followed each year although they may have never been spoken or written down. Another great read that revolves around the subject of hunting partners is an article on How to choose the best hunting partner written by Dave Barnett.
A word of caution: if you show up for your next hunt with a contract detailing the code and looking for a John Hancock at the bottom of the page, you will be laughed off the mountain. However, knowing and understanding the code not only shows respect for your buddy, it also improves the hunting experience and improves your odds of being successful. Following the code does not eliminate disagreements between friends and the frustrations that follow on slow hunting days. What it does is guarantee that the friendship continues long after the hunt when all you have left is the memories of days past. For me, that is the true value of the Hunting Code.