October 22, 2019
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What you need to know about the law that allows hunters on your land

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Spectators watch as moose are brought to the Ashland tagging station on the first day of the 2015 Maine moose hunting season.

Maine had more than 219,000 licensed hunters in 2016, and those hunters find spots to recreate in a heavily forested state. One thing you might not know is that hunters generally are allowed to pursue and shoot game on your property, whether you granted permission or not.

Simply put, hunters, hikers and explorers are typically allowed access to woodlands that aren’t marked with “No Trespassing” or “Access by Permission Only” signs or other markings.

“If it isn’t visibly posted, you do not need landowner permission to access it,” Cpl. John MacDonald of the Maine Warden Service said. “It’s different for all-terrain vehicles. You do need permission to ride on the land.”

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine has more than 17 million forested acres. Much of that land is open to hunting. In fact, in a practice that may seem foreign to some who move here from other states, Maine hunters are allowed to assume that land is open if access is not specifically prohibited by posting.

[Lawmaker still wants to regulate foraging but drops support for wild picker law]

In the wake of the Saturday shooting death of a Hebron woman by a hunter, many Mainers will likely be re-examining their own access policies on land they own. The woman, Karen Wrentzel, was on land that was not posted, according to MacDonald.

Here are several basic rules to keep in mind.

A law on the books in Maine protects landowners from liability in the case that recreational users injure themselves on land the landowner has chosen to allow access on. Those landowners are not required to warn against hazardous conditions, unless failure to guard or warn against those conditions is ruled willful or malicious.

Many hunters do, however, ask for permission before using land they don’t own, and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s warden service has a landowner relations expert, Warden Rick LaFlamme, who can help serve as an intermediary in disputes or a resource for recreational users and landowners.

[Out There: What would it take for you to shut off access to your woodlot?]

Landowners sometimes choose to post their land against hunting or to more clearly let recreational users know what uses are permitted.

According to Maine law, in order for property to be considered “posted,” it must be marked with signs or paint in a manner than is “reasonably likely to come to the attention of an intruder.”

According to the DIF&W website, “signs must indicate that access is prohibited, that access is prohibited without permission of the landowner or landowner’s agent, or that access for a particular activity is prohibited.”

If recreationists find purple stripes on trees, rocks or posts, that’s a signal indicating that the landowner has posted the land and access is only allowed if that owner grants permission.

Signs or paint stripes must mark the property each 100 feet and should be placed at all locations where people would access the property on foot or from a public road.

Even without posting, a landowner can exhibit their desire to exclude recreational users from their property.

“Landowners may also, verbally or in writing, personally communicate to others that access is prohibited,” according to the DIF&W. “Remember, it is unlawful to remove, deface or destroy a sign or paint mark that is placed in order to prohibit or restrict access, and it is unlawful to post the land of another without the permission of the landowner.”

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