January 18, 2020
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Most readers say they want hunters to ask for access to their land

John Holyoke | BDN
John Holyoke | BDN
The Hebron land where Karen Wrentzel was shot and killed in 2017 is now posted, and no access is allowed without written permission.

Last week, in what for Maine has traditionally been a non-starter, I asked if readers thought it was time to reconsider a generations-old land access policy and to require hunters to obtain permission before recreating on land they don’t own.

Many took the time to comment online, and we shared some of those viewpoints in a story last week. Today, I’ll add to the conversation by including emailed comments from a number of readers.

A quick primer: In Maine, longstanding custom has dictated that unless a piece of land is posted to prevent access, folks are permitted to hunt on that land. Requiring advance permission to gain access — a practice known as “reverse posting,” would flip that model upside-down, and automatically assume that there is no right to access unless it has been specifically granted.

Here are a few responses, edited for length and clarity. And in the interest of continuing what can be a productive dialogue on the issue, I’ve offered some responses.

From Al Larson of Orono: Many of us can remember the days when we would just head out for a day in the woods with no thought of trying to find the owner to ask for permission. I would get out to hitchhike somewhere with a pistol and knife on my belt, holding a rifle in my hand, and folks would stop and give me a ride. Perhaps naive on my part, but open woods were everybody’s woods. That is the case today in Norway and Sweden.

But the times, they are indeed a’changing. More people, more disposable income, more sense of entitlement, more desire for easy access, and perhaps less respect for leaving the natural environment the way it was. I don’t have the answers, perhaps some of your readers will. But I have posted signs on my land as I don’t want to worry about bullets whizzing through my windows.

Hunting season is approaching. Let’s look forward to a safe and enjoyable time for all that head out no matter which activity they are pursuing.

John’s response: I think we can all agree that a safe, incident-free hunting season would be fantastic. And all of us hunters have to realize that safety starts, and ends, with us.

From Lyn Donovan of Camden: Yes! A thousand times yes. Landowners should have the right to post their land off limits to hunting, trapping, baiting, firearms, trespassing, and have legal recourse against violators.

John’s response: Landowners can put all kinds of limitations on those who access their land, including those listed above.

From an anonymous reader: I haven’t read the article all the way through yet. Why would you want [to] bring back bad press? I know you need to sell your stories or you wouldn’t have a job. Please find something on a more positive note ole boy. I may never read anything you write about ever again. If you think people want to keep reading about how an incompetent hunter made a mistake you are wrong. Find something else to write about!

John’s response: I’ll keep this short and simple: As soon as you read the column all the way through, I’ll pay closer attention to your career advice.

From Gale McCullough: I am a naturalist not a hunter, but I am extremely ambivalent about posting our land. I grew up and lived in Vermont for many years, and hunting season was a scary time for us because we wanted to be in the woods as freely as during other times of year. But we did not post our land because we supported the philosophy that, though we owned the land, we were actually caretakers for others to enjoy it. Also, we did not own the “game” and so decent people had the right to hunt to supplement their family’s diet as well as carry on the tradition of fathers/mothers teaching their children the ethics of the hunt, and teach them skills and respect for nature (as well as for the land owners). We maintained that tradition when we bought land in rural Maine, even though we moved onto our land the year Karen Wood was killed.

But there is an undertone developing now that makes me feel uneasy and less positive toward hunters. First of all the fierceness over the right to bear arms seems to have crept into the delicate balance of respect and tolerance between landowner and hunter. I get the sense of antagonistic entitlement rather than courtesy from some hunters.

John’s response: It’s incumbent on those of us who hunt to have the best relationships with landowners that we can. I think too many have taken the state’s open access tradition for granted, and if we’re not careful, all of us will suffer for that oversight.

From Rick Hesslein: I think it is valid to make this change, and I thank you for bringing this forward! There have been too many incidents from “hunters” that demonstrate there are too many without enough respect or responsibility to have unrestricted access to private (or public) lands with deadly weapons. Also landowners are not supported well enough by laws that allow certain hunting practices, such as hunting dogs to access even closed private land. Things must change!

From Steve Najjar: I’m surprised to see the same type of article from you twice over the span of a year. You miss the mark by failing to mention the Maine open space recreational use property tax incentive that many landowners accept. Getting permission to hunt private land is a good idea but should not be legislated. I personally took down posted signs when I purchased a medium sized forested lot.

John’s response: The thing is, people are still upset, and more landowners are upset about how they’re being treated. My goal is not to write inflammatory pieces about the access issues, but to further a dialogue that accurately reflects the reality that many are experiencing. And one thing I keep hearing is, “I’m ready to post my land because some hunters aren’t treating me the way I want to be treated.”

From Jan Velli: This state is much more populated than it was only a few 20 years ago. People should get permission to go onto someone’s land no matter what their intention. Unless they’re the ones paying the taxes on it, it’s not their right to be picking blueberries, cutting wood, sitting by someone’s pond, four-wheeling, snowmobiling or hunting. Would you let just anybody come onto your property who wants to pitch a tent and have a group barbecue on your lawn without permission? I can’t imagine letting a total stranger onto my property with a loaded gun, unless I knew them and their skill level. Too many “weekend warriors” out there.

Have feedback? Want to know more? Send us ideas for follow-up stories.

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