December 2, 2004
by Chris Feeney
Maybe I should think twice about publicly ridiculing what seems like an endless number of trespassers that I encounter while hunting, taking into account the recent slayings in Wisconsin… Nah. Regardless of those tragic events, I’m still going to point out to my readers each and every time some thoughtless wanderer mistakenly crosses the property line.
Granted, I might think twice about confronting said trespassers. One expects people to be civil, but these folks are armed with high powered rifles and they are tossing the law to the wind by trespassing to begin with. So is it any wonder that one of these lawbreakers has not stopped at crossing the fence, but has gone on to assault the legal property owners?
I take my hunting seriously, which is why it upsets me so much when a trespasser tromps into my hunting spot and spoils my fun. Regardless of my displeasure, I try to avoid a big show. I’ll normally whistle, or wave my orange hat to let them know they’ve been spotted. I may go as far as shouting out “Nice shot !@#$%*%” if they poach a deer. Or offer a map if I know the lost traveler. Typically that’s more than enough to notify the parties they’ve been busted. But with the recent problems, I might do so and then duck for cover behind a tree, just in case.
Okay, I shouldn’t make light of the fact that some hunters might shoot back. The guy in Wisconsin killed six hunters after they attempted to ask him to leave their property. The lawyers will try to turn this into a racial or ethnical issue. The shooter, a Laotian immigrant, claimed he is unfamiliar with the United States concept of private property, and only shot the eight property owners (killed six and wounded two) after they used racial slurs toward him and fired the first shot. I’m betting that in Laos they don’t run down unarmed victims and shoot them in the back, on private or public property.
While I’ll stop way short of defending the shooter, I suspect it would be rather intimidating to be confronted by a number of armed men, calling you names and telling you to get off their property. That in no way justifies the response. I guess it just reaffirms my original stance, that one should not trespass. If you don’t have enough time to familiarize yourself with the ground you’re hunting and the location of boundaries and property lines, I suspect you’ll find trouble sooner or later.
I always joke about that old sign that says “trespassers who survive will be prosecuted.” Well I guess that story may bring new meaning to that old joke, except it may be the other way around. It can’t help but make property owners a bit leery of dealing with trespassers.
That may not be all bad. We may think twice about walking down to the encroacher and politely asking them to leave. Sure that’s the neighborly thing to do, the polite way to handle the situation. But what does it really accomplish? If the person knowingly is trespassing, the fact that the only punishment they face is a kind discouragement likely will only encourage further transgressions. Most people like me, then sit in their stand and worry and fret all day that someone will be upset over the deal. There’s nothing right about that. Here your rights have been violated and you’re concerned about the trespasser’s feelings.
Instead we should just call the law. No, I’m not saying throw the officers into the line of fire. But I’m sure the conservation agents and the sheriff’s department are busy. Troublesome trespassers that keep these folks from doing more important things are sure to face the brunt of the punishment. Locally our legal officials take this issue very seriously. The fine is substantial. While the violators may be in worse humor, they obviously will feel the effects of their deeds far greater than any cussing I could give them.
Ultimately my goal is to keep trespassers from spoiling my hunting. I’m not concerned with punishing the violators. Instead I seek deterrence from future problems. Granted, in my mind the two go hand-in-hand. A stiff punishment will not only steer repeat offenders away from their course, it may also intimidate prospective troublemakers.
It is a sad day when you have to earn the reputation as a mean old son of a gun, just so you can hunt in the privacy and safety of your own spot.