Social science methods are increasingly applied in conservation research. However, the conservation sector has received criticism for inadequate application of ethical rigour when research involves people, particularly when investigating sensitive or illegal topics. We conducted a systematic review to investigate a) journal's ethical policies when publishing research that involves human participants, and b) the ethical safeguards documented by authors in conservation articles. Focusing on studies that used social science methods to research hunting of wildlife by local people, we reviewed 185 studies published in 57 journals. Only 37% of journals required authors to report ethical safeguards in manuscripts, and 55% of all articles reported ethical safeguards. We identified a significant mismatch between journals ethics policies and their publication practice, and found ethics were often poorly described, with insufficient detail to determine the quality of the safeguards implemented. We encourage authors to rigorously report ethical safeguards in publications. We urge journals to make ethics statements mandatory, to provide explicit guidelines to authors outlining their ethical reporting standards and to ensure compliance throughout the peer‐review process.