If you’re a landowner struggling with trespassing issues, you’re not alone. Landowners across the country, especially riparian landowners, are struggling to keep their property secure. Trespassing can occur for a variety of reasons, but most trespassing is done out of ignorance and not malice. I can honestly say I have never met a sportsman who repeatedly trespassed, once he or she knew they were on private property. Good sportsman respect private property.
Below are a few questions you might want to consider if you are having trespassing issues.
1) Is your property posted legally? Posting requirements vary widely from state to state, and simply putting up a “no trespassing” sign occasionally on your property may not be adequate, or fulfill all of your legal requirements. Check with your local sheriff’s office, or wildlife agency to see what your state requires.
2) Do you really own the property you are trying to post? On upland property (meaning property not under water) it is usually a cut and dried case, but this is not always true. Most deeds specifically lay out your property lines so check your deed carefully before you post what you think is your property.
3) Even if you do own private property, you may want to consider allowing the public to fish or hunt on your property if they follow certain rules like not leaving trash, fishing catch and release, and making sure any gates used to access the property are closed. You may also consider asking for a small fee for such activities which you have every right to do. Also keep in mind if you are a new owner, the previous property owners may have allowed such activities in the past, and old habits can be hard to break.
4) Is trespassing an ongoing issue, or is it only occasional? You might need to see that you have properly posted your property. If however you have posted your property in accordance with the law, you might want to consider contacting your local law enforcement or sheriff’s office and speak to them. Please understand these officers are often spread thin, so it may take them a few days to follow up with you. Please be sure to be courteous, and leave all your contact information along with your precise problem so they can follow up with you.
5) What should I do if I see a trespasser? If you feel comfortable approaching a suspected trespasser, please be polite when confronting them. Chances are better than 50/50 that they have no idea they are trespassing and will leave immediately when politely asked to do so. Should you find a persistent trespasser, you should summon law enforcement. If this is not a feasible option, and you don’t feel comfortable approaching them, you can always take a photo of their license plate. While this won’t guarantee any sort of conviction, it does give law enforcement a place to begin.
6) What if I am not sure, but I want to post property that I think should be private? This is a thorny legal issue and is best directed towards a qualified real estate attorney. While you are well within your legal rights to post your property, it is illegal to harass hunters and anglers while they are afield. If you are in the wrong, you might find yourself being charged with harassment. In every state where I have conducted an inquiry about trespassing, people (private landowners or not) can be charged with harassing a sportsman who is legally hunting or fishing.