Grass Is Always Greener …
Hunters who sit on property lines press limits of law, ethical behavior
Though most hunters respect boundary signs, poachers and line sitters often do not. (Don Mulligan photo)
It’s human nature to want to see what’s over the next hill. For some reason, we all believe what’s over there has got to be better than what’s over here.
This idea that “the grass is greener on the other side” has served some hunters well. It motivates wilderness hunters to press-on in the face of adversity, and if channeled appropriately, is the purest definition of perseverance.
But the need to explore the other side of the fence can create problems, too.
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Where wide-open vistas have been replaced with property lines and boundary fences, human nature collides with hunting regulations and ethics.
Physically crossing a property line without permission is trespassing. It’s easy to recognize and is punishable in every state.
There are however, actions that may not be illegal, but are considered by some as unethical. Those situations define us as sportsmen, and often lead to conflict between hunters and landowners.
Case in point: line hunters. They set up on or very near the boundary line of a property that they do not have permission to trespass on or hunt.
Every state handles the situation differently, but universally, law enforcement agencies say it is an avoidable scenario.
Todd Arbuckle is a deer hunter who recently dealt with the worst kind of line hunters first hand.
After 45 days of chasing mature bucks with a bow on his large Indiana lease, Arbuckle was looking forward to evening the playing field when gun season started.
Instead of deer, however, opening day was filled with visions of blaze orange dots on the boundary lines of his lease. In some places, hunters were actually lined up along the fence.
None were standing on his side of the fence, so he didn’t approach them. As long as they didn’t cross the fence with their body or a bullet, their only crime was an ethical one.
Later, after it was too late to confront the line hunters, he received some frustrating news.
“We found out trespassers make their way onto the property next to ours, then maneuver to our fence line, since it's the longest distance from the road,” he said. “The violators destroy in one day what takes us all year to build. They ruin the hunting on 50 percent of our lease because of their illegal movement along our fence line.”
According to law enforcement in most states, Arbuckle did the right thing by ignoring the line hunters he thought had permission to be there.
“There is no legal recourse until it can be proven someone trespassed over the line or shot across it,” said Sergeant Jason Sherman, Illinois Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement. “We won’t get involved with calls about hunters sitting on the fence.”
Additionally, Sherman said it is a misconception that Conservation Officers will retrieve a deer that travels onto private property where the landowner will not allow it.
“We only follow up on calls that involve alleged rule breaking,” he said. “We’re not in the business of tracking deer.”
The laws regarding line hunting and deer retrieval are very similar in most states, including Texas.
“We call shooting across a property line trespass by projectile, but it must be proven that the shot originated from across the line for us to pursue the case,” said Scott Vaca, Assistant Chief of Texas Wildlife Enforcement.
There is no minimum distance a feeder or stand needs to be from a property line in Texas, but law enforcement there gets a bunch of complaints about both of them every year.
“We won’t retrieve a deer for a hunter, but sometimes we’ll talk to a landowner to try and obtain permission for the hunter,” he said.
Both officers said the best way to handle line hunting is to either not do it, or create a relationship with the owners of adjacent properties prior to season.
“If relations aren’t salvageable between neighbors, it’s best to back off the line,” Sherman added.
Some line hunters are so blatantly unethical, however, it’s unlikely a conversation prior to season will change anything. In those cases, the best defense is often a good offense.
In places where law enforcement is aggressive about the situation, some line hunters have been charged with hunting without permission.
Besides a cooperative officer, a landowner needs to photograph a line hunter in his stand. The hunter and stand need to be positioned in such a way that it is nearly impossible to shoot at anything unless it is on someone else’s property.
Trail cameras have become an indispensible tool in this fight, but owner beware. If someone is willing to sit on the line and shoot across a fence, they likely won’t hesitate to steal the evidence.
A better idea is to simply inform the line hunters there are hidden cameras pointing at the line. It may serve as enough deterrent to keep them honest.
Another trick involves hanging a blaze orange hunting vest on a hanger behind a tree deep enough into the woods that it is just barely visible to the line hunter.
Move it around very week to make them think someone is hunting the other side of the fence every time they’re there.
Large, obnoxious signs in front of line hunters spook deer for a while and will certainly get their attention, but check local laws before doing this. Unbelievably, in some places it might be considered hunter harassment, even if the sign only says, “no trespassing” and is on the right side of the fence.
Expecting a boundary line hunter to pass on a shot at a big buck because it’s across the fence ten feet away is like asking an alcoholic to sit at a bar for four hours and not take a drink.
Both are unlikely but both can probably be avoided with either a good relationship with law-abiding neighbors or a strategy to handle everyone else.
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