Hunts are supposed to be exciting and a bit nerve-wracking, but that excitement is supposed to come from the hunter’s encounter with a game animal – not a trespasser.
I’ll never forget the day I was turkey hunting on private land in Florida with the landowner when he suddenly told me to stop moving. At first I thought he’d spotted a gobbler, but then he took off running toward the fence. That’s when I saw the young male trespasser desperately trying to scale the fence to escape the landowner’s wrath, but he wasn’t fast enough. The landowner grabbed the man’s leg just as he was about to swing it over to the other side and pulled him off the fence.
The landowner put the terrified guy in his truck and lectured him as he drove the trespasser back to the property line by the road. The young man was so scared and upset, that I doubt he’d ever try sneaking over the fence again. But, not all trespassers are that remorseful. Had the trespasser been armed or confrontational, things could have turned ugly.
According to Lieutenant Michael Weathers with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the landowner did not act wisely when confronting the trespasser. He said a person who is willing to trespass isn’t concerned about breaking the law, and could be dangerous.
“Keep things in perspective,” Weathers said. “You don’t want to get hurt or killed over the deer or turkey that trespasser is hunting. Remember that the money you pay for your fishing and hunting licenses goes to support the wildlife and fisheries agencies. We are there to help land and lease owners solve problems such as these. That’s what we get paid to do, so call us.”
Mike Stroff who runs hunting operations in Texas and South Dakota, says calling the authorities is the best move, especially if you don’t know the person who is trespassing.
“You don’t know what that person could be up to on your land,” Stroff said. “He may not even be hunting. He could be growing marijuana or doing something else illegal. On my Texas property, I worry about encountering illegals who are smuggling drugs. If I confronted one of those people, I could pay with my life.”
Of course, it is infuriating to know that someone is trespassing on your land, but you can’t let anger put you or even the trespasser in danger.
“I’ve learned over the years that many hunters trespass unintentionally,” Stroff said. “If you do confront the trespasser, you can often tell within a few seconds by their behavior whether or not they mean to trespass on your land. So, don’t lose your cool right off the bat. Often, it’s just a misunderstanding.”
Sometimes angry land owners will set traps or sabotage vehicles or treestands in an effort to discourage trespassing, but doing so usually doesn’t work and often creates more problems.
“Sometimes a landowner will remove a trespasser’s treestand he finds hanging on his property with the hopes the trespasser will come to the owner to ask for his treestand back,” Weathers said. “But in states like Alabama, where hunting without a permit is an automatic $1000 fine, the trespasser is better off forgetting about that treestand than paying the fine.”
Weathers also said that some landowners will put out nails on their roads to damage the trespasser’s truck or ATV tires, but doing so is illegal, and it usually doesn’t dissuade the trespasser -- he or she just gets sneakier. Plus, the trespasser will often seek revenge, and you don’t want that.
Findlaw.com states, “Booby traps, trip wires, bear traps, bamboo tiger pits, and other devices intended to ensnare, harm, or potentially kill trespassers are at best a legal liability -- and at worst, the basis for criminal charges. Many states have outlawed these trespasser countermeasures, and even if there's no explicit criminal law banning them, they present a huge risk for injuring or killing unexpected guests on your property.”
So, stop digging that bamboo tiger pit and take the practical and legal measures listed below to deter or stop trespassers.
Build good relationships with your neighbors. They can provide additional eyes and ears when it comes to looking out for your property. Make sure you return the favor by keeping an eye on their property as well. Make a point of letting your neighbors know who has permission to come onto your property, and ask them to let you know if they see suspicious vehicles, including ATVs, on your land.
A trespasser’s most common excuse is that he or she didn’t see the posted signs, so eliminate that excuse. Under the law, a person who sees a No Trespassing sign cannot enter, remain or participate in any activity on the property without permission. So, make sure the signs can’t be missed. Place the signs within sight of each other and clearly visible from any roads or trails. Sure, a sign may not stop a willing trespasser, but most state laws require that a trespasser knowingly or intentionally enter someone's private property. So, a sign is most effective in providing notice.
Weathers said in some states, such as Alabama, it’s the responsibility of the hunter to know property boundaries – even if no signs are posted.
“If a person is caught on someone else’s property hunting with a gun or bow, even if there are no posted signs or warnings, he can be charged with hunting without a permit, which carries an automatic $1000 fine,” Weathers said. “But, if an unarmed person simply trespasses onto your property, in order to be charged with trespassing, he must have done it knowingly, meaning he must have been warned verbally or with signage to be charged. Either way, it’s a good idea to post numerous signs, and make sure you know your state’s laws for trespassing.”
Fences provide a legal and practical way to define borders and keep trespassers away. Make sure you check your city or county fencing ordinances before you choose a fence material. You’ll also want to consult with your neighbor before building a fence that borders his or her property to avoid future issues.
Trail cameras are an affective and legal way to keep an eye on your property and track game.
“Just know that if your game camera turns up missing, a trespasser probably took it,” Weathers said. “If a trespasser suspects his photo was taken by a game camera, he’ll take the camera to hide the evidence. In fact, game camera theft is almost at epidemic proportions these days.”
If you’re using trail cameras to keep an eye on your property, conceal them us much as possible. Consider hanging them in bushes or on blown-down trees. Also place some up high, out of the line of sight, but angled downward. Don’t use versions with white flash, as the flash will alert a trespasser to its location. Cameras with time-lapse or field scan modes allow you to place your camera at a greater distance to the area you want to watch, making it less likely that the camera will be discovered.
Call the authorities if you suspect a trespasser or catch a trespasser in the act. Plug the number of your local sheriff’s office or conservation officer in your phone so you can call immediately if a situation arises.
“If you run across signs of someone trespassing, such as tire tracks, foot prints or treestands, leave them undisturbed,” Weathers said. “You can take a photo of the evidence, but don’t act. Call us. If you encounter a trespasser, call the experts and let us handle it.”
Doing so relieves the landowner of many of the risks and liabilities of dealing with the trespasser personally. If you are able to get a photo of the trespasser or of his or her license plate without confronting that person, then do so.
“Again, remember, a deer or turkey is not worth losing your life over,” Weathers said. “Some trespassers are dangerous. Call us and let us do what you pay us to do.”