The first game bird bag limits in this country were established by the state of Iowa in 1878 as a way to protect remaining populations of Prairie Chicken, Ruffed Grouse and Woodcock. Iowa didn’t employ game wardens until nine years later, so it remains a mystery how such limits were enforced.*
Today, bag limits are utilized in every state across the country as a means to regulate harvests. Liberal bags as high as 50 Willow Ptarmigan a day can be found in some Alaskan units. In contrast extremely conservative limits of a single Sage Grouse per season by permit occur in parts of California. The regulations vary widely and encompass over 27 Galliformes. But one thing they all have in common, the bag limit has become a blight.
For all the gains made in conservation of game much likely a result of both bag limits and shortened seasons, I fear the intent of the bag limit has been derailed by misguided hunters.
Originally when game birds were prolific and subsistence hunting a larger part of the landscape, the bag limit was a maximum, do not exceed. But many modern hunters have allowed a competition mentality to eke into something sacred and pure: our days afield. Every inch of antler gets measured, every single animal to which we are entitled by law gets shot. And the bag limit has now become the meter of success for way too many uplanders.
State wildlife agencies have been all too accommodating to this limit rationale. States such as Minnesota and South Dakota actually write shared group limits into their regs (page 40, MN regs — page 43 of SD regs). They call it Party Hunting? It is a longstanding tradition in some parts of the country. That doesn’t make it any less asinine especially when the same rules are banned for both waterfowl and big game. Why are resident game birds the exception?
For those unaware of the proper protocol for bird hunters, way more satisfying than shooting another person’s birds; put your gun over your shoulder and heap a ration of well-deserved ribbing on your second-rate shooting friends unable to cut their own feathers. Follow that by offering your shells and/or your gun in a declaration that their own must be defective.
If you head to the field with the goal of shooting a limit, you allow a state regulated digit to determine the success of your hunt. Upland hunters should certainly be able to find the merits and joys of days afield beyond the death of a prescribed number of birds.