Dealing With Deer Hunting Trespassers

Sitting here with my feet firmly planted atop this big desk and losing myself in this chair, I find my mind bouncing back and forth. Opening day of the 2010 firearm deer season breaks loose here in Michigan just 4 hours from now. I’m neither tired or excited. Or maybe I’m too excited to realize I’m tired and I’ve reached that balance in between that offsets the other. Either way the hype is missing right now and to be quite honest there’s a touch of disdain towards these two weeks that once so fully engulfed me in tradition and strategy.

I spend numerous hours in the woods all year long and being a landowner I concentrate on the local deer herd and any changes in their daily patterns. I can attest without the need to thumb through any of my notes that the biggest change I’ve seen is the disappearance of the deer. I’m not going to whine about the loss of deer to the huge pack of coyotes that have over-run the area even though that is the circumstance. The fact is I haven’t locked myself into just hunting here. I’ve been diverse enough to have several areas to hunt just in case. But I have an absolute affliction with hunting my own property just like anyone else but it isn’t all for the hunt. I’ve found myself in the expanding role of being the guardian of the gate so to speak. It’s become a two week battle with a different kind of coyote that also appears in packs and believes my property and the deer within are his if he can sneak in and shoot them.

Unlike the pack of coyotes chasing down the local whitetail deer population during the darkest hours of the night, hunters, trespassers, invade our area this time every year. It’s a likely fact that someone will come along, run their truck into the brush aside the road, load up their rifle, and begin hunting our property even though it’s legally and clearly marked as private and trespassing is not allowed. And this is where the touch of disdain comes through. Even though I am known as a bit of a hot-head when this subject arises I am going to offer some sage advice to dealing with trespassers. I’ve experienced the entire garden variety and have found that there are a lot of probabilities when booting someone from your land.

You’re probably think about slamming on the brakes right now when you read that some temper-stricken landowner is going to offer advice about trespassers. I don’t blame you. But let’s get this straight right now. My demeanor regarding this subject isn’t only the result of someone dis-respecting my personal property. There is a huge safety aspect that over-rides everything else. I don’t have words for the action of bullets flying over mine and my daughters head while we’re hunting our own property and some moron decided to ignore our signs and has just jumped a bedded deer that happened to run in our direction. Put yourself in those hunting boots for a moment and let’s hear what your initial reaction would be. Let’s see how well you maintain your cool and remain calm. And then let’s put you face to face with the person who was zinging bullets into the brush next to you and your child. You can create your own scenarios but the end result is confrontation to some degree.

Last year I heard a gunshot that jumped me right out of this chair even though there is no public hunting property around this immediate area and only one other hunting party nearby. It turned out to be an out-of-state hunter who drove by and saw a doe standing at the edge of my pond getting a drink. As I approached the scene he was just walking off the property and ironically enough he brushed right against a no trespassing sign. Literally the sound of his nylon hunting coat brushing against the sign was loud as hell yet he calmly asked who I was. No regard for the fact that I had just arrived from the very direction he had shot. In fact I saw a doe on my short 200 yard walk to find out what was happening and figured that was likely the animal he shot at.

Pond where whitetail deer drink

As I walked up to the hunter I noticed an empty cartridge on the ground next to his truck and could see where the deer had been standing in the soft sand at the edge of the pond and, replied to him that I was the landowner and he was trespassing. Immediately he claimed he didn’t realize the property was private even as I stood where the empty cartridge was and pointed to where the doe was standing and he practically had to shoot around the private property sign 30 feet away. The same sign you just brushed against when you walked OFF my land I reminded him. He look un-phased and to be really honest he seemed more annoyed with me than anything. Like I had ruined his hunt or something. Obviously my approach was getting nowhere and my message was lost somewhere in the mix or, he simply didn’t care.

I asked if he had any clue that my daughter and I often hunt in that same brushy area beyond where he had shot at the doe. Of course he couldn’t have known but that seemed to finally hit home with this guy. The color of his face became a bit pale and his voice took on a hollow tone as he packed away his gun professing his sorrow for the incident. I’m not looking to guilt someone into a confession or self-condemnation. I only want to feel safe hunting my own property and not feel like I have to patrol the perimeter every 20 minutes. That leaves me no time to hunt and an uneasy feeling when I am hunting. This particular hunter drove away slowly at little more than idle speed, searching the woods for more deer I imagine. Maybe the message was lost as soon as his truck door slammed. But it brings us to the point of dealing with trespassers who openly ignore your posted property.

Here are 5 points of consideration when confronting a trespasser especially during the firearm season.

1. As the landowner you’re probably going to be more than just annoyed that someone is on your property. Especially when you have others hunting and this brief amount of time of deer hunting is your most cherished time of the year for yourself, family, and friends. It’s important that tempers remain in check when confronting another hunter.

2. You’re dealing with someone of whom you have no emotional or physical connections. This is a total stranger so any form of sympathizing is probably not your first reaction. In most cases the individual is not even local or maybe even from another state altogether. A lot of hunters from other states get a bad rap because of those who openly ignore regulations. Remember that not everyone is out to ruin your day.

3. You’re in the woods not some public street corner. Let’s face it. When people don’t have witnesses hanging around the scene they act differently. It’s natural and yet unpredictable. Remember that your action will probably provoke an equal or greater reaction.

4. You’re both legally carrying firearms that are loaded and ready to fire at a moment’s notice. We’re not talking about short-range handguns. High powered rifles and shotguns often equipped with optics for precise shots and many of these hunters are experienced marksmen just like yourself. If you had met like this in any other scenario the panic button would have been pressed at first sight. You should instinctively keep your finger off the trigger while talking with another person.

5. The trespasser may perceive you as a greedy landowner. It’s a common relation between landowners and those who do not own property. It’s much the same as the view of many out-of-state hunters by the landowners so to be fair the door swings both ways. There tends to be some resentment from both sides.

This all leads to the fact that this is a dangerous scenario especially when tempers race out of control and there is a certain burden on the landowner to act responsibly and within reason. We can easily connect the dots between each of these 5 points and find the ingredients for disaster. In light of this the very first thing you need to do as a landowner is express yourself without screaming and yelling. Screaming, shouting, and yelling at anyone elevates adrenaline levels and often provokes a defensive or retaliatory response. This is my own largest personal hurdle. I want to grab the person by the collar and physically drag them off the property but let’s face it. That would probably provoke a defensive move which could spark the shouldering of a firearm by either party. Instead use a loud enough voice to get the trespassers attention and identify your direction of approach through an open hand signal.

At this point break out the cellphone and a digital camera if you have one. The phone itself can play double-duty. If the person refuses to leave or is acting erratic you can make a quick call for possible assistance or allow your phone location to be traced. By assistance I don’t mean another person to help you drag someone off your land. With behavior indicating an erratic pattern just walk away. Let the proper authorities deal with the person. It’s also really easy to setup a quick contact that you could send a text message, or picture to, instantly if something were to go awry. As well many options are open to have photos sent to an online hosting service automatically. Just think of the option as possible evidence if you need to contact the authorities to press charges but the individual leaves before they arrive. Plain and simple it is proof that the event took place.

That brings us to another area that can elevate tempers. Even if you’re completely fed-up and trying to press charges you shouldn’t attempt to hold someone until the local authorities arrive. Put yourself in that position. You’re probably going to be scared as hell to begin with and certainly not interested in standing around waiting for the cops to arrive. You’re going to walk especially when you realize it might take a really long time before the Sheriff shows up. Making physical contact or threats can lead to panic and an aggressive reaction. Remember you’re dealing with a total stranger and their reaction could be based on many underlying factors unknown to you especially if you’re attempting to take the law into your own hands. If someone decides to walk away from you, again, let them walk and take the proper steps to have them removed legally if need be.

I have called the Sheriff twice and both times the people left quickly long before the sheriff arrived. Both times were different people who I had previously escorted off the property one which had decided it was selfish that I owned land and didn’t allow everyone to hunt there when they pleased. Both people again were not locals and nothing ever came out of the situation with the exception that I never saw the trespassers again. Again, don’t expect someone to hang around and wait for the law to arrive just because you tell them they should wait.

Some landowners go as far as unloading their firearm when talking to a trespasser. Personally I understand that this alleviates the tension and possibility of conflict but it’s not a step I take. For one I would feel more uncomfortable if I unloaded my firearm and the trespasser didn’t reciprocate. I’m not here to make friendly gestures I’m here to kick someone off my property. Maybe it’s my own hardened human nature but I don’t know this person other than the fact that they blatantly broke the law and invaded my privacy when entering private property. That’s enough for me to at minimum be on my guard. If everything went wrong my weapon is my protection from someone who is already armed. I’m not about to give that up voluntarily but the choice is obviously yours.

If all goes well, like it usually does, the individual will simply comply with your request to leave the property. I escort each person out the quickest route regardless of which way they entered the property and the direction they need to go. If this means they have to walk an extra mile to get back to their location then maybe that’s all they need to keep them from entering the property again. I typically don’t make conversation along the way and I follow behind the person as we walk off the property. If possible I will wait until the hunter is out of sight before I walk away myself. Again, I’m not trying to make friends. I want to make a statement that I don’t approve of their action and I always revert back to the fact that there is a huge safety factor involved. You will see that most trespassers seldom take into consideration the safety aspect of knowing your target and beyond regardless of the number of years they’ve been hunting.

The problem here is often the fact that trespassing fines are so light in stature that many hunters feel it’s worth the risk. Is the real answer hiding behind a breakdown of the laws where we categorize different levels of trespassing to a larger degree? Should your next-door neighbor trespassing on your suburban lawn in the summer months carry the same weight as wandering through my forest with a firearm looking to remove a deer? I don’t have those answers but they hardly seem equal. There are different levels of trespass and many local authorities will lay claim that a warning is the first course of legal action towards an offender. My suggestion is just don’t allow yourself to become a target for those who want to literally walk over your rights as a landowner. Being proactive about your intentions to keep people off your property usually sends a strong signal down the wire and will work in your favor.

Don’t get me mixed up for that old crabby guy that lives by himself in a cabin peeking out the window looking for someone to yell at. While some of that statement may be true I allow neighbors to pick raspberries on the property every year if they can beat the bears to them. The neighborhood kids from a few miles around play hockey on our pond every year. And along our property is an ATV and snowmobile trail that we keep open accessing a state forest where these riders enjoy hours of fun all year long. We draw the line during the deer firearm season but understand that even though my emotions want me to react a certain way it’s important to be civilized and approach the subject with some degree of respect. The courtesy to neighbors, even though they are distant, also earns some measure of respect as you can watch out for each other’s property. In fact, the second year I lived here a neighbor shouted to me from his truck while I was picking raspberries about 200 yards away. When I approached he told me how I was trespassing and that the owner would be notified. He was surprised and nearly as amused as I when I told him I was the landowner. We may not know each other face to face but we know to watch out for one another when and where we can. I still tell the story about nearly getting kicked off my own property by the neighbor who has since moved away.

For those looking for way to reduce the instances of trespassing there are some helpful tips for any landowner.

Effective placement of no trespassing signs

First of all you can’t simply assume that everyone knows and understands your property is private. There is a reasonable responsibility to posting your property as private and that entry without permission is not allowed if you don’t want hunters on your land. Now there are different rules for proper sign placement for many states, territories, and provinces, so I simply won’t cover that area. You will need to check that requirement on your own. Also there has always been some debate on what types of signs to use and there is a wide choice of signs available. For myself a simple No Trespassing sign seems sufficient. Its to the point and cannot be mis-interpreted. I’ve heard some hunters say how they hate seeing a sign that simply says keep out and that the sign didn’t really say anything to them about the property being private. You need to remember not everyone thinks as you. There have also been discussions about No Hunting signs and that a person couldn’t hunt his own land if he attached No Hunting signs. The sign is there as a deterrent to others, not as a reminder to the landowner.

As for sign placement being proper I generally place my own signs so that you cannot lose sight of one before seeing the next. It’s pretty simple to walk along and space your signs properly. It leaves no doubt that the notice was ignored when you find someone has entered your land from that direction. But you can go beyond your basic sign placement for better results and some annual maintenance will be required.

First off I always try to place a sign where deer are crossing the road. There is an impulse for hunters to investigate when they see a well-worn deer trail that has crossed the road. Often I will place that sign just to the side of that active deer trail to help ease the interest of anyone looking to take a quick peak. Also I will place signs prominently in areas that look inviting or show signs of deer activity such as rubs on trees or trails to watering holes. It may sound like you would have a sign nailed to every tree but that’s not the case at all. If done with a little thought the signs will be no more intrusive looking than a place where someone actually measured out every placement.

As for maintenance I check the condition of my signs once per year a couple weeks before the firearms deer season begins and replace the signs that are worn, have been damaged, or have gone missing. I also bring a pair of pruning shears to trim branches that may have grown over the sign throughout the year and I bring a few extra signs just in case. You can tuck everything into a fishing creel pretty easily and it makes for satisfactory transport with plenty of pockets and space.

Here’s one last closing tip that can save you a lot of headaches and time running back and forth along the borders of your property searching for trespassers. A trail camera can help especially if you purchase a unit that sends you a photo each time a new one is taken or even a simple text message that alerts you to a new photo waiting at an online hosting service. Set the camera or cameras up in areas that exhibit higher levels of human activity and let them do the work for you. You never know what images you might capture. It could change your entire hunting season.

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About James L. Bruner

James grew up in an outdoor family and recalls some of his first memories outdoors with his father. “I remember being very young and my dad carrying me on his shoulders out to the duck blind where a cold day of watching decoys dipping on the waves was complimented by the time spent together.” In the years that followed, moments like those were played time and again in a number of outdoor activities that included rabbit hunting, fishing, deer hunting, grouse hunting, and of course more waterfowling. View Entire Bio