I’ve lived in northern Maine for close to 40 years, and I am still amazed by the land-use laws that stipulate property is open to the public for things like hunting, snowmobiling or off-road ATV riding, unless otherwise posted.
The 170 acres that make up Rusty Metal Farm have, for decades, been managed to promote wildlife habitat. Which is why the farm’s woodlands, pastures, wetlands and the pond support healthy populations of Maine critters from the tiniest to the grandest. And I don’t hunt any of them.
Frogs, salamanders, snakes and toads happily hop or slither around the pond and over my driveway. The pond is home to a family of beavers, migrating geese and some world-class leeches in its depths. Rabbits, grouse and even a fisher or two make their homes in the scrubby brush under trees while the trees themselves are thriving communities of nesting birds like ravens, woodpeckers, owls, blue jays and chickadees. Larger mammals like foxes, coyotes, bears, deer and moose amble from pasture to woodland throughout the year.
It’s very much like living in my own wildlife park. But one where I remain enclosed inside and the animals have the run of the outdoors.
And I certainly don’t want to keep it all to myself by fencing in the entire farm and barricading myself and the animals within. I like sharing the trails on the farm with hikers, skiers, snowshoers and fellow wildlife watchers.
I also hate the idea of posting my land with “no trespassing” signs. I love this farm, and I want to protect my resources, but those signs just selfishly scream, “mine, mine, mine … don’t touch!”
And that’s where conflict comes in when those of us who don’t hunt land and who don’t allow mechanized vehicles on our field roads or trails come face to face with people who presume that sort of access.
In my position as a landowner who doesn’t hunt, I’ve experienced the best and worst from that other perspective.
Over the years, I have had partridge hunters stop their vehicles in the middle of the road in front of my house when they spot a bird crossing in front of them. They have leaped from their still-running vehicles and followed those birds toward my house and ended up very near my sled dog kennel, several times shooting toward my house.
I’ve had a pack of very friendly — albeit slobbery — bear-tracking hounds end up in my sled dog yard and following me on my trails when I was on training runs with my dogs. The people hunting with those dogs saw no reason they could not shoot bears on my land, even on posted land, if the dogs had treed a bear on it.
As one hunter told me as he collected his dogs from my yard, “Dogs can’t read no trespassing signs.”
I have found spent shotgun shells on my trails uncomfortably close to my house and had to argue with people when first politely requesting they not shoot near my driveway.
Then there were the times snowmobilers ended up on my clearly marked “dog sledding only” trails on private land because “we just wanted to see where this trail went.”
Yes, all that makes me a cranky landowner.
But then something wonderful happens that mitigates all of that and makes me realize the vast majority of people not fortunate enough to live where I do actually appreciate the land and those of us who share it.
Two weeks ago during the great Rusty Metal Farm garage sale, a pickup truck pulled in and out tumbled four guys dressed head to toe in camouflage. They had seen the garage sale sign as they were out scouting moose for the opening day of hunting that Monday.
In fact, they were happy to report they had seen two large bull moose at the very bottom of my driveway that morning. They had watched the two bulls saunter off into a field and fade into the woods. These hunters could hardly wait, they said, for Monday morning when they would return to call the moose out and fill their tag.
The looks on their faces when I explained to them their plans were going to take place on my land and that I had better get out and post it “no hunting” quickly, were priceless. I honestly thought they were going to cry.
But here’s the thing. Not only did they not cry, but there was zero argument on their part. If I did not allow hunting, that was the reality and they’d go scout a new location. It was that reaction, more than anything, that led me to tell them, not only had I been joking about posting the farm, but that I do allow hunting on a case-by-case basis with permission.
Suddenly, I had four new best friends.
They explained to me exactly where they planned to set up that Monday, and I, in turn, requested they drive as little as possible on my fields, try not tear up my field roads and don’t leave a mess. Oh, and I added as a joke, “bring me a couple of moose steaks.”
We parted in good humor, handshakes all around.
Two days later, bright and early Monday morning I heard two gunshots followed by the sound of a crew dealing with the fallen moose. That, I figured, was the end of any interaction with the quartet of hunters.
I was wrong, because three days later they were back and handed me a package of the nicest looking moose steaks you have ever seen. True to their word, they had not driven on my fields, had not left a mess and were now fulfilling the final request.
They also thanked me for the access more than I think I’ve ever been thanked for anything. My willingness to share Rusty Metal Farm, they said, made their trip. Not only did they get a moose, but they got it early enough to allow them time to explore northern Maine for several days and even help a young, first-time hunter call in his first moose.
So, yeah, while I am a cranky landowner from time to time, I’d much rather be that landowner who shares and makes people as happy as those four hunters.
But I can only do that when all of us respect my land and all private land. Seems like a pretty clear win-win to me.
Related: How to field dress a moose