Six hunting ethics to remember while in the field

Any hunter knows that getting outside for “the hunt” isn’t just about filling the freezer

Many days and hours are spent amongst trees, cattails, or fragrant sagebrush just for the beauty of it, at least that’s what we tell ourselves in those quiet moments or when we come home empty handed.

“It was just good to be outside,” we tell ourselves.

There’s immense truth to that, and it’s hard to spend that much time outside in special places of solitude and beauty and not be grateful that we aren’t in front of a computer or stuck in traffic. Harvest or no harvest, it’s just nice to be in nature with some fresh air. However, having some company helps.

Deciding to go deer hunting? That may likely be the day you finally spot some elk, and vice versa. While waiting in a blind for waterfowl to soar past, you may catch a glimpse of river otters playing nearby. While hiking for grouse, you may hear and see large flocks of sandhill cranes overhead who are beginning to migrate south.

These exciting or humbling moments are what build relationships with the outdoors, forming true foundational values of care and respect for nature through appreciation of all it has to offer. Hunters are valuable conservationists, which is no surprise after spending many hours in the wilderness.

While out hunting this season, don’t forget these top six hunting ethics to help you become a better conservationist, hunter, and wildlife viewer.

  1. Respect the environment and wildlife:

o When harvesting game, take shots that you are sure will ensure a humane harvest.

o Ensure you can retrieve and effectively care for harvested game.

o Take only what you will use, even if it’s under the legal limit.

o Avoid harassing wildlife that are non-target species. If an animal is fleeing or appearing upset (fur or feathers raised, hissing or growling, intense staring), slowly change direction and give the animal space.

o Tread lightly while afield. Cause as minimal damage to landscapes as possible.

o Leave no trace. Pick up your pet waste, trash, and gun shells. If a behavior is something you would not want 1,000 other hunters to do in a space, then avoid doing it yourself. Leave a place the same or better than you found it.

o If hunting with a pet, ensure that it does not harass non-target species or others in the field through barking or chasing. When passing other people, keep your pet on leash or under voice control.

2. Respect property and landowners:

o Always get permission to hunt on private land.

o Leave gates as you found them and never damage crops or property, including fences, outbuildings, or livestock.

o Thank the landowner.

o Be the good example of an ethical hunter that you’d like to see if they were on your own property.

3. Show consideration for non-hunters:

o Be considerate of non-hunters’ sensibilities and strive to leave them with positive images of hunting and hunters.

o Do not flaunt your harvested animals.

4. Hunt safely:

o Always exercise caution.

o Only take shots when you are sure of your target and have a good backstop.

o Use binoculars to identify your target, not a scope attached to your firearm.

o Remember that hunting and alcohol do not mix.

5. Know and obey the law:

o Know what you are hunting or aiming at. Properly identify an animal as legal before taking aim. If you don’t know, let it go.

o Obtain proper tags and licenses.

o Hunt only in allowed areas and during designated times and seasons.

o Obey bag and possession limits.

o Use only legal hunting methods and equipment.

6. Support wildlife and habitat conservation:

o Learn more about the habits and habitats of game and non-game wildlife and their management needs.

o Share what you learn and experience in the outdoors. You may just spark interest in another future hunter and conservationist!

o If you see a violation of a hunting regulation, please report the incident with WDFW’s law enforcement. Reports have the option to remain anonymous.

o Report species you see. Researchers and biologists greatly value having data that is reported from the public. Consider the following resources for reporting all game or non-game species:

Report a wildlife observation with WDFW

Share your bird sightings on eBird

Report all wildlife (including insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, mammals, and more) on iNaturalist

Most importantly, be sure to have fun this fall and safely appreciate the outdoors. Take it all in, share your experiences with others, and happy hunting!

Resources adapted from WDFW’s Hunter’s Code of Conduct



The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.