Land access etiquette
Hunting access issues across North Dakota and the United States can occasionally move from spark to wildfire in a matter of seconds.
Just about everyone who has spent even a little time hunting has a story to relate, from a hesitant knock on a rural landowner's door that led to a life-long friendship, to blocked roads to public lands and even verbal harassment of legal hunters.
For the next two columns I'm going to share some views and a couple of personal experiences. My intention is to help others understand the complexity of the issue, and try to foster a more constructive dialogue for hunter-landowner relations.
Here's one story I've told dozens of times and I still find it hard to believe it even happened, and I was a central figure.
On a Sunday afternoon several years ago, a friend and I were out looking for a place to hunt gophers when we drove by a pasture that looked promising. We didn't see any "no hunting" signs around the area, but with a farmstead down the road I decided it would be best to at least stop in and let the landowners know if they heard some shooting after lunch on Sunday afternoon, it was just my buddy and I down the road past the shelterbelt.
We drove up the road and pulled up by the back steps. It was my turn to break the ice, introduce myself and essentially ask for permission.
While the land was not obviously "posted," so we wouldn't get in trouble legally if we had just gone out there, it's always a good idea to confirm the landowner's permission. In the past I've heard landowners tell me they had put signs up which had been torn down, or for some other reason were not visible, so it's a better option to err on the side of caution.
Sure, some landowners don't post their property because their philosophy is make their land open to all hunters and they don't want to be bothered. Many other landowners have a similar philosophy, but they do post their land as a means to keep track of who's on the land, and some enjoy a short visit and have every intention of allowing hunting access if someone's not already out there.
Since this land wasn't posted, as I approached the house I was fairly confident I'd be cordially met and have a good hunter-landowner interaction. But as so often happens in sophomore trigonometry, I was wrong.
The lady met me at the door and I immediately could tell she either didn't want to be disturbed, or in general didn't like hunters, but I was still optimistic. I related how my friend and I noticed her land wasn't posted, but we saw cattle in a field down the road and her farmstead in between, so we decided to stop in and confirm it was all right to hunt, and make sure we hadn't missed any signs.
She met my polite inquisition with a firm, hard no, and added, "if I let you guy's hunt, then I have to let everyone hunt."
Regardless of what I thought of her rationale, it didn't matter. It was her land and she didn't have to offer up a reason or even a reasonable concern to keep us out. We had no choice but to take our gopher hunting somewhere else. And despite our initial disappointment, I'm glad we asked, rather than assuming that because the land wasn't posted that the landowner was inviting us to go ahead.
Situations such as this are actually not as common as you'd expect. The point is for hunters to never assume or take access for granted, and when denied legal access, there's no point in pushing the issue. Accept and respect the landowner's request and move along.
On the other side, landowners who are hesitant about allowing hunting might consider how hunters could help with managing local geese, deer -- or gopher -- populations. The benefit of hunting is not always just for hunters.