On Oct. 28, 2017, 34-year-old Karen Wrentzel headed into the woods on her own land to dig around, as she loved to do.
A hunter, Robert Trundy, showed up a bit later. Thought she was a deer. Shot her dead.
On Tuesday, Trundy accepted a plea deal that calls for him to be sentenced to seven years, but he’s only expected to serve nine months in jail. The remainder of his sentence is suspended, meaning he only has to serve it if he violates his probation. He will be on probation for four years once he is released from prison.
For years, Maine has been governed by a custom, if not a specific law, that allows hunters and other recreationists to use land that they do not own, so long as that land is not posted, or so long as the landowner does not otherwise prohibit the practice.
BDN Outdoors editor John Holyoke asked readers for their thoughts on this custom in his latest column, and you had a lot to say. We’ve rounded up some of the responses we received in our comments section and social media below, edited lightly for clarity.
greymont: “Long past time to change this antiquated tradition. Times change, people and communities need to learn to change also.”
akarobertkilpatrick: “I own prime hunting land–mowed hayfields, apple trees along the stone walls, and surrounded by woods, all a half-mile from the road. My neighbor and his son have killed many deer there, and the neighbor’s young daughter got one her first youth-hunting day, as did his grandson! In fact, he’s put up two permanent tree stands on the two big pasture-pines.
“That’s all fine with me, and he has my oral permission, the kind that goes without saying after so many years–oh, and every so often I get a few frozen venison steaks out of the deal. Written permission? Noooo, he’s my neighbor, for heavensake. I remember the day his son was born, his dad driving through Belfast, honking, shouting, ‘It’s a boy, it’s a boy!’ I gladly fire up my tractor to haul the deer out for him.
“The one thing I ask of him is that if he’s out there, he park his truck on the road by the house. Then we know he’s there and won’t go back with the dogs and screw up his hunting, and that truck also keeps other hunters from parking and going back.
“Those other hunters, whoever they are, I’m not so crazy about. Do they know I have horses out near the road? Are they sober? Will they do what some jerk did one November and steal the Xmas ornaments my daughter hung on some trees? In no case, living here for fifty years, has one of those non-neighbor hunters ever asked permission. Okay, fine, the land isn’t posted, but they still scare me.”
woodysway: “I’m sure most of you remember the late Gene Letourneau. I had the privilege and honor of being one of his bird hunting buddies. Every year — EVERY YEAR — before each season began, Gene would call every landowner on whose land he intended to hunt and ask permission. When they couldn’t be reached by phone, he would drive to their homes and get permission face-to-face. He had hunted these properties for many years and most landowners would tell him he didn’t have to ask permission any more. But he did – every year. I sat in his office and watched him do it. I went with him when he went to a home to ask permission. I also saw his example passed on to a number of people. Truth be told, even though they said he didn’t need to ask permission any more, I think those folks looked forward to his call or visit – so they could ‘talk’. And talk. And talk.”
“If you are hunting on MY land without permission you are trespassing!!! If I find hunters doing that I WILL POST my land!!!
“I’m not anti-hunting and DO give permission but I DEMAND to know who is there, set some ground rules, and retain the right to deny access if necessary.
“Abuse the PRIVILEGE and I’ll take it away!!! It is only common sense.”
WaxlyM: “I can see the difficulty of getting permission from a paper company to hunt. But if the land is owned by someone who’s living on it, you should ask permission. It would never feel right to me to do otherwise.
“If Trundy had attempted to render aid or do anything constructive at all, I’d be less pissed about him only getting 9 months. He left her there to die and did not render aid…he should have gotten life in prison. His behavior and the light sentence overall are poor examples for hunters to follow.”
Gail_J_VanWart: “It is absolutely time to change the laws, and LONG past time, in my opinion. The idea that one can feel they can just go where they desire on land they do not pay taxes or insurance on, for any reason, is just plain illogical. Also, the idea that a landowner is the one burdened with the responsibility for costly signage to post their land in order to keep intruders away (which trespassers often simply tear down) is pretty backwards thinking. It should simply be up to the person hiking, biking, hunting, etc. to gain written permission, with known boundaries of the property, from property owners if they want access to private lands. I wouldn’t thrown a picnic in your yard without an invitation, so why on earth would you feel you could do anything on my land without permission. That’s a pretty simple concept. In this day and age it is very dangerous in rural communities during hunting season, as well, to even allow hunter access to various residential rural areas. Bullets have been know to travel beyond boundaries and that is another situation that needs updated consideration in many communities.”
Keith_Cassady: “I grew up in southern Maine and started hunting as a young teenager. My father taught me that you had to speak to the landowner and get their permission to hunt the land. They would say yes or no, and no arguing.
“I didn’t realize the accepted standard was different from that, and in the populated parts of the state I don’t think it should be.”
SmartenUp: “Written permission, or stay away!
“And Trundy? He should have gotten life in prison without parole…he left and failed to give aid to the injured (by him) person. That alone…oh, and NO parole! Keeps us all safe from the types of him…”
Susan Elizabeth Frauenhofer, via Facebook: “I would really like someone to tell me why I need to post my OWN property against someone doing something on it without my permission? I own the land I live on and I am the only one to pay the taxes and upkeep on that property. I am the listed owner. My property lines are very visibly marked by either tape or a fence. Yet it is MY responsibility to make sure there is either purple paint on everything or signs stating you need permission to hunt. If a property is clearly marked so you can tell you’ve crossed a line, there should be a requirement that you have permission to continue on your path. And then if something tragic happens because someone is careless, the person faces almost no penalty because they were ‘hunting on property not posted’. What happened to trespassing? I don’t hunt but my extended family does. I am not against it but if you do it on my property, you should be obligated to get my permission first.”
Norm Constitutionalist DuBois, via Facebook: “No it’s not…..as tragic as it is ….Maine’s hunting death rate is extremely low.”
Robert Williams, via Facebook: “The only people allowed to hunt on my land are family and friends. Have had a few problems with out of staters who had no respect. Even drove had the nerve to drive across my front lawn and guess where they were from. You guessed it. Even the forest Ranger knew without me saying.”
Chandler McGrew, via Facebook: “I moved here from Alaska by way of Texas 35 years ago and was SHOCKED to learn that I could trespass on someone’s property without their permission. Doing that out west can be ‘problematic’ to say the least.”
Michael Gray, via Facebook: “Really John Holyoke? Do you really think restricting access would have prevented something as boneheaded as someone mistaking a human for a deer? Please don’t put such ideas in the politicians’ heads. I enjoy your articles, but you are dead wrong with this idea. If a landowner doesn’t want people on their land, they post it NO TRESPASSING. Why would we need ANOTHER law to further enforce this?? It is up to the landowner to post land, it’s simple, inexpensive, and has been done for as long as Maine has existed. Why mess with something that works, when 1 mistake by 1 person is all this is about? Keep our access the way it is, thousands of hunters, fishermen, foragers, and hikers, would all be very disappointed if we had to seek permission on EVERY property we crossed. My point is, there is already CLEAR law about keeping people off private property. Why confuse the law with more laws, when the existing one has a 200 year track record of being sufficient? Does 3 isolated incidents warrant a chaotic new regulation that would affect hundreds of thousands of law abiding outdoorsmen?”
Sue Burnham, via Facebook: “It has been PAST time for permission only hunting for a hundred years. One needs permission to take fir tips for wreath making, you’d think taking wildlife would need the same.”
Kathryn Krudewig Swift, via Facebook: “We built a home in the woods 20 years ago and then posted our land. The signs were torn down. I now play loud music outside during hunting season to let hunters know we’re there and to scare the deer away. I shouldn’t have to do this.”
Linda Dow, via Facebook: “My land was posted and still they came…had enough nerve to drag out dead deer in my driveway.”
Linda Lorenzen, via Facebook: “Failure to clearly identify your target before pulling the trigger is going to be just as much of a problem whether you ask permission to be on the land or not. Say farmer Jones gives you permission to hunt on his 35 acres out behind the barn. How do you know when you’ve crossed a property line and are now on somebody else’s land who didn’t give you that permission? Would we all have to put strings up showing our property outlines in this scenario?”
Sandie Sabaka, via Facebook: “I sent you my thoughts privately last year and I stand by them. Other states legislate asking permission. Why is that so freaking hard? Even with our posted land, I wake up to gunshots close to my home and (uninvited) hunters dragging dead deer out of our land. It’s unconscionable I have to fear for my life every damn November. I hate that month.”
Melinda McLeod, via Facebook: “If times were like when I was a kid, I’d say we may not need to change policies given the incident.
“But given the times we are in now and the carelessness of some hunters, perhaps we need to change how we Mainers allow access.
“No trespassing/hunting unless posted otherwise may be a common sense shift in policy.
“Many landowners will still allow hunting and other recreational activities on their land, but it doesn’t put the responsibility on landowners to mark up their land against it.”
Stacy Ricco, via Facebook: “If I see someone on my land, I’m calling the cops. Period. I don’t care why you’re there. If you didn’t ask my permission, you’re trespassing.”
Bill Kinter, via Facebook: “If your property is not posted in some way then it is open to hunting by the general public without land owner permission. Don’t believe me, go ask your local Maine Game Warden.
“I go along with public land being open, but private property should note be open unless the land owner closes it.”
Gayle Lee Munzner, via Facebook: “I personally don’t think so.”