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Idaho Fish and Game

In The Field

Deer season opened this week in much of the Panhandle Region. A few calls have come in from landowners, upset with hunters on cultivated private property without permission. In the interest of 'cultivating' good relationships between hunters and landowners, this is a good time for all hunters to review Idaho's trespass laws found on page 10 of the 2000 big game regulations, and page 11 of the upland game regulations. The current Idaho trespass law was passed in the late 1980's. The law states that "no person may enter private land to hunt, fish, or trap without permission if the land is either cultivated or posted..." Proper posting consists of signs or 100 square inches of florescent orange paint or entirely painted florescent metal fence posts every 660 feet around the property or at reasonable access points. Idaho's law is more "hunter friendly" than trespass laws in surrounding states and most of the rest of the US. In most states, permission is required on any private ground. With so much of Idaho land publicly owned, and much private land interspersed among tracts of public ground, it isn't always apparent if land is public or private. Idaho's law accommodates this possible uncertainty of ownership. Yet some hunters seem to be pushing this luxury to the limit. One call I took this week was from a landowner who had encountered some hunters on his private timber land. When contacted by the landowner, the hunters acknowledged that they had noticed signs prohibiting trespass. But they added that there were not enough signs to meet the legal requirement of a sign every 660 feet. They hunted anyway, because they knew the land was not adequately posted for prosecution. This type of attitude will certainly lead to the landowner posting every inch of property and never allowing any future hunters. According to a survey of rural Idaho landowners, 88% will allow hunting on their property if hunters ask permission first. Much of this property is posted, but the landowner will still allow access. A common misconception is that a landowner cannot grant permission to hunt posted ground, and that even the owner may not hunt on posted property. I have never understood where this belief originated, but it is very widely held. "No Hunting" signs simply prohibit hunting without permission on land that is not cultivated. Hunting is not permitted on cultivated land without permission, and no signs are needed to close access. Landowners are more likely to grant access to their land to people who ask well in advance. Some landowners set a "quota" on their property, and those who ask first have the best chance. Sportsmen may pick up free hunter courtesy cards at Fish and Game offices. These contain spaces for the hunter's (or angler's) name, address etc. to be given to landowners who grant access to their land. Landowners in turn sign a card the hunter keeps which verifies permission to access the property. The cards do not increase the landowners liability in the case of an injury. These simply provide proof that the landowner has been personally contacted prior to entering private land, and provide the landowner a record of who has permission. Sportsmen can improve landowner/sportsman relations considerably by their behavior. In addition to always asking permission in advance, there are other principles that apply to hunting activities. Road hunting is one of the most irritating practices to landowners, as this leads to shooting from roads onto private property near buildings, livestock and people. In addition, shooting from or across a public road or from a vehicle is illegal and dangerous as people (poachers) climb in and out of vehicles with loaded firearms. While Idaho law does not prohibit possession of a fully loaded gun in a vehicle, common sense and accident statistics indicate this is a foolish practice and one which can only hurt the image of the tradition and sport of hunting.