It’s becoming a sign of the times for hunters everywhere as over-aggressive, anti-hunting landowners try to spread their views against hunting onto adjacent lands—or into areas—where they simply have no or very limited rights. During many recent hunting seasons, waterfowl hunters were the target as on-shore cabin and vacation home owners called and complained to game department officials, and local law enforcement agencies, when the off-shore waterfowl hunters began legally hunting and shooting during early dawn hours.
The tactics to curb, control, or stop hunting on adjacent private and public lands and bodies of water has become big news. One of the most noted cases involved former TV anchor Tom Brokaw attempting to stop deer and big game hunting on private property adjacent to his private ranch near Big Timber, Mont. This anti-hunting tactic is growing, and hunters everywhere need to be informed on how to counter the problems.
“Our department puts faith in the hunters, and if an unhappy landowner complains, I explain that the hunting activity is legal and will continue,” said Brandon Bergquist, a conservation officer with Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources. “I don’t think it’s up to the hunters to justify their actions. I also let the complainer know that ‘you chose to live in that area, and it’s an area set aside for the use of hunters.’” Bergquist also noted that he explains to landowners they could be charged under Iowa’s hunter harassment laws if they try to stop or interfere with legal hunting activities off their property.
The tactics of anti-hunters to stop hunting in their neighborhoods often begins with a phone call to the game department law enforcement division or to their local law enforcement agency. Of course the complainants veil the fact that they are anti-hunters bent on stopping all hunting everywhere by expressing concerns about public safety and loud noises—otherwise known as gunfire. But hunters also have rights.
“Legally, there’s nothing that they (the complainers) can do,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department information specialist Al Langston. “Hunters should note that some areas have barriers and safety zones prohibiting hunting or discharging firearms near dwellings and buildings, and to follow these guidelines. And the landowner could file charges if property is damaged.
“If someone complains, however, we back up the hunters,” continued Langston. “No laws say we must do anything to stop legal hunting. Our game wardens will look into the complaint. But just because someone doesn’t like hunting or shooting, they can’t stop hunting on public land.”
Langston has himself experienced a situation where someone tried to stop him and a group of Boy Scouts from legally shooting on public land. He and his troop were camped in a remote national forest area and legally plinking with .22 rifles when someone else camped in the region heard gunshots and complained. Soon forest rangers came into Langston’s camp and demanded that the shooting stop.
“I knew the laws and regulations thoroughly, and after I explained the laws to them, the rangers went away,” Langston said. “I knew I had every right to be there, and I told them so.”
He recommends that hunters know the laws for the area, be aware of established safety margins, and use ethics and common sense to keep the situation safe for everyone. Langston, however, noted a situation where a public walk-in area established on private property by his department was closed because someone rained shot down on a farm building. The private landowner cancelled the contract and stopped the public hunting access to that property.
Aside from being the actual landowner, a complainant has no rights to stop hunting on other private land or public property where hunting is authorized, no matter how much they try.
“If someone does not like hunting, they simply cannot stop legal hunting on other private property or public hunting lands,” said Langston.
Over the Line
When complaining by an anti-hunter does not stop the hunting, they sometimes turn to confronting hunters in parking lots or as they leave the woods. Avoid these confrontations when possible.
If you do come face to face with an irrational anti-hunter while afield, take notes and images when possible. Write down license plate numbers, snap pictures with a camera or cell phone, and be prepared to testify in court. Then make that call and alert a conservation officer of the harassment. Landowners and hunters have rights, and laws to protect them. Letting one small problem pass often encourages bigger ones in the future. Stand your ground.
If complaints from across the property boundary or on the local shoreline have not impacted you, be prepared. A recent search discovered growing complaints by those opposed to hunting from coast to coast. Problems have arisen on Eld Inlet in Washington state, along rivers in Montana, and around lakes in Florida. In many cases it’s the same scenario: landowners complain when they discover someone is hunting nearby. The fact that it’s public—or someone else’s private—property means nothing to the complaining anti-hunters.
To date, I could find no valid claims of damage to property or buildings by the complainants that was caused by hunters on adjacent properties or public bodies of waters. While arguing the absurd, some antis have complained that they were afraid of arrows falling out of wounded deer and landing on their property where they could possibly get cut.
In all cases the antis want to force their views onto everyone else. What should you do when you find yourself the subject of this public pressure? And what if an unhappy landowner suddenly appears and starts complaining to you?
“Be certain to politely emphasis your concern for safety and property,” said Sergeant Ashley Thompson, an enforcement officer with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. “Plus, be aware of the local game and hunting laws, and obey them.” Thompson hears complaints in areas near public lakes and national forests in central North Carolina where homes and cabins continue to be built closer and closer to established public hunting lands.
Hot Topics On All Grounds
In some cases, it’s important to note that states control hunting regulations and have forbidden local councils from changing or creating laws pertaining to hunting and trapping. When deer and controlled hunts are the hot-button topic, local councils and governing bodies sometimes take odd steps to avoid the issue or encourage anti-hunters to take action. Middletown, N.J., for example, offers a free brochure to residents explaining the hunting season, some basic hunting laws, and how to prosecute trespassers. The brochure also gives pointers on what’s legal on adjoining properties, and how to contact the state’s game department with complaints.
Another hot-button hunting topic that can cause many calls and complaints is hunting with hounds, especially hunting deer with hounds. Dogs obviously don’t recognize boundaries, yet hunters must retrieve their dogs when they stray. The Humane Society of the United States has a section on its website devoted to informing supporters of how to file successful complaints against hunters. The ridiculous information indicates that hunting hounds often kill livestock and create situations where many landowners are afraid to go outside. More absurd is a statement on the site that “hound hunters often clear roads onto private property, cut down trees to make access easier…” Statements like that defy logic but help anti-hunters grab headlines.
The Bad News
Unfortunately, many small local newspapers also discover these controversies, make contact with the complainant, and “fan the flames” through inaccurate, biased reporting. In Liverpool, N.Y., residents (private landowners) along Onondaga Lake complained about waterfowl hunters on the lake (public property). The newspaper quoted the complainant as saying that the hunters were using rifles to hunt ducks, an obvious violation of federal law. That comment, and talk of public safety at a local park, were emphasized in the article.
When a complaint by a private landowner about waterfowl hunting on public property near Fair Haven, N.J., reached the governor’s office, the local newspaper included comments from anti-hunting residents about the hunting sounding like gun battles in Iraq. The private landowners were trying to stop hunting on the Shrewsbury River, which is public property. The newspaper also reported that local gun ranges and deer hunters contribute to the area’s loud noises (a stab at other hunters and shooters). To further arouse readers, the reporter quoted one resident who proclaimed to be a gun collector and target shooter as saying, “I’m totally against hunting. I’m an animal rights activist.” Another quote indicated one complainant was stepping up his efforts to “stop the madness” of hunting. Few comments by hunters were reported.
Kudos to the hunters who face reporters and unfriendly neighbors and make informed, rational comments about legal, ethical hunting, and who stand up for their rights. When you’re in the field this season on land where you have the right to hunt, be sure to stand your ground against attacks, and keep hunting.