Unposted: Hunting, neighborliness, and private land

When Cath and I moved to our home here in the hills on the eastern side of the Winooski Valley, there was one group of people I wanted to keep off our few acres: hunters.

Anywhere you stood on our land—or fired a rifle—you were within a few hundred yards of our house. In most spots, you were a lot closer than that.

Our driveway is part of an old railroad bed, long used as a trail by hunters, hikers, bicyclists, cross-country skiers, and snowmobilers. Decades ago, after part of the railbed embankment washed out and disappeared downstream, a trail detour was put in around our house and driveway.

That detour winds through our woods just seventy yards from the back porch.

With safety in mind, and not liking the idea of hunting much, I did the obvious thing. I bought a roll of those ubiquitous bright yellow signs. Several went alongside the trail detour: not blocking it, but telling folks to stick to it.

Six years later, I started hunting.

Our few acres, though convenient, offered little opportunity. And, anywhere I stood—or fired a rifle—I was close to the driveway, the house, a neighbor’s house, or the frequently used trail. State land offered greater opportunity and safety, if I drove some distance to reach it. But the most convenient combination of opportunity and safety was offered by the hundreds of acres of timberland stretching out behind our house: others’ private property.

So I asked permission to hunt there.

Landowners who had grown up elsewhere thanked me for asking, and said yes.

Landowners who had grown up here were baffled by my question. Their land wasn’t posted. Didn’t I know that meant I could hunt it? (I did. The liberty to hunt on un-posted, un-enclosed private land was inscribed in Vermont’s Constitution two centuries ago.)

Talking with these landowners, I got thinking about our yellow signs.

I didn’t want to tempt fate by removing them entirely. In the previous few years, careless hunters had killed two bystanders in Vermont: one man picking berries where a hunter expected to see a bear, and another sitting in his living room watching television a long way from where a hunter missed a deer.

Reading those stories in the newspaper, I found little consolation in the statistical fact that hunting-related injuries to humans are (1) very rare and (2) almost always self-inflicted or inflicted on another hunter.

Hunters still needed to know that our few acres were not a place for shooting.

That message, though, could take a different tone.

© 2010 Tovar Cerulli


  1. Fair enough. But have you ever considered a shotgun? The limited range is one of its virtues.

    And how lucky that you have private land you can hunt. My friends who live in the country near here say that newcomers – refugees and retirees from the S.F. Bay Area – are posting all the land, shutting down hunting to those who’d gladly shared land amongst each other for decades, even centuries.

    If I’m every lucky enough to get a farm out there, my plan is to post that people need permission to hunt there. I’d like to meet whoever’s carrying a gun on my property.

    • Tovar says:

      In fields and other open spaces, the range differences between rifle and shotgun might make a significant safety difference. Here, though, in fairly thick woods, not so much. Either a shotgun slug or a rifle bullet can easily kill a deer, bear, or human at 100 yards. (Buckshot would, I think, be less dangerous…and less accurate.)

      Some folks actually suggest that, in wooded areas with houses around, shotgun-only restrictions are ironically dangerous. A shotgun slug, they contend, might punch through twigs and brush, where a higher-speed, more frangible rifle bullet might break apart into smaller, less dangerous bits.

      In any case, the rifle-season hunters who pass within 70 yards of our house are almost all toting rifles, mostly .30-06s.

      Yep, it’s a blessing to have private timberland open to hunting. There’s still quite a bit of that here in Vermont, though it’s shrinking.

      If we had land enough for folks to hunt, we, too, would likely take the “Hunting by permission only” approach.

  2. Phillip says:

    Tovar, posted land is one of those hot topics that’s been burning for ages. It’s a common complaint against the “outsiders” moving into a rural area, when they come in and put up those Posted signs where the locals may have been roaming and hunting for generations. I know exactly how invasive it feels, because I experienced it on a large scale back in NC, when the golf courses brought tons of “Yankees” into our little piece of the backwoods. The signs created a lot of animosity (or built on what was already there), and led to a good bit of poaching, vandalism, and other spiteful activities.

    At the same time, new landowners often have good reason for posting the land, including the arguments you put up yourself… safety. I think privacy is another good reason for posting your land.

    As much as I hated seeing my favorite hunting spots closed off, I always accepted the fact that the folks who were doing it had a good argument. It wasn’t open farmland anymore, it was their private home… even if that “home” was enclosed by 20 or 30 acres. I wouldn’t want someone running a bunch of deer hounds through my backyard, or a stranger touching off a rifle a hundred yards or less from my bedroom window. It’s just a sad fact of population growth and sprawl… people are going to occupy the land that was once unoccupied.

    As a side note, I found it interesting that after the “outsiders” started coming in and posting up their land, several of the local farmers started doing the same thing. I’m still not sure why.

    Final note… years ago, I almost always found that folks with posted land would oblige the courteous hunter who asked permission. I don’t see that as much now, either here in CA or back in NC. I guess we can blame that on too many stupid liability lawsuits, combined with morons who can’t be safe or respect private property. But I think it’s also due, in part, to the negative stereotypes of hunters that are being perpetuated by anti-hunters, ignorant media, and the handful of idiots who call themselves “hunters”.

  3. Art says:

    I’m with Holly on this one.

    Here in Michigan hunting is so popular, and acreage so scarce, that normally you have to pay to lease someone’s property in order to hunt. It gets very frustrating at time, though I’m very thankful that I now have a few different pieces of property to hunt.

    One of these days I hope to have my own little slice of heaven. Oh to dream.

    • Tovar says:

      That combination of hunting popularity and scarce acreage is an interesting one, Art. Here in Vermont, hunting is popular and land is fairly accessible. In Massachusetts, where my uncle lives and hunts, hunting is fairly unpopular, and land is relatively inaccessible.

  4. sam says:

    Nobody likes to post land, but the sad fact is it’s almost a part of owning land. Communities used to be more tightly knit and undeveloped land was easy to find. Landowners knew the people on their land and people that didn’t show respect were shunned by the community as a whole. Undeveloped land was easy to find. People didn’t have to be in someone’s backyard. Now, it’s entirely different. You are unlikely to know who is on your land and surely have no idea with regard to their competence in firearm use. Less land is undeveloped, so there is more pressure felt by landowners. These landowners aren’t only people who just moved in, but also landowners with long histories in the location.

    I didn’t post my land for years, but that changed when I finally had enough. Generally I find that most hunters nowdays have little respect for either land or landowners. In fact, my experience shows that the “few bad apples” is a myth and it’s really a “few good apples”. The thing is the bad apples don’t even know they are bad apples and therefore can’t recognize the fact that they are the ones posting the land, not the landowners. I haven’t yet run into a person who wanted to post their land or did it just ’cause.

    • Tovar says:

      I, too, wonder about the ratio of “good apples” to “bad apples.” Even if we agreed on what made for a good or bad apple, though, it seems nearly impossible to measure how many of each are out there. As you suggest, folks aren’t likely to respond to a survey by saying, “Oh, yes, I’m one of the bad ones.”

      Like you, all I have to go on are my first-hand experiences: some good, some bad.

  5. Ingrid says:

    Checking in from my new home in the Northwest. Well, not “my” home yet. Still mooching off of friends in Seattle.

    Holly and Phillip, good points. My husband and I have thought about this a lot, owing to our wildlife rescue/rehab work. We do intend to have a piece of property at some point where we can rehab the animals we take care of — and provide a genuine safe zone for local wildlife. Practically speaking, we wouldn’t want anyone hunting on a “refuge” property we’d created as sanctuary for animals. I’ve always created wildlife-friendly habitats, wherever I’ve gone. And part of the reason we’ve stayed relatively urban is because we find it hard to bear the rural and regular shooting we hear and witness when we visit friends in the country. That’s a personal choice.

    At the same time, we’ve both lived in rural areas (my mate grew up on a farm) and we understand this is the trade-off for removing oneself from the city. I visited a friend up in Modoc County where you could hear gunshots taking down animals next door, and I wouldn’t choose to move there, suffer for what I was witnessing, and then enforce my own mandates. For that reason, he and I have to acquire enough funds to buy a large enough piece of land in animal-friendly zones, closer to cities, so as to have the best of our intentions met while not infringing on others’ rights. Good luck to us, right? Ha. It’s the over-inflated SF Bay.

    I will say that some of the motivation is, undoubtedly, protection of private property. But there has been, over the decades, a changing ethic toward wildlife that does, indeed, come into conflict with traditions of hunting. I know it won’t surprise you when I say that I appreciate the changing awareness and perspectives toward wild animals and our interactions with them. I realize hunters will have a different take on that.

    btw: Gene Bauer, creator of Farm Sanctuary in New York has an interesting story about buying property for the sanctuary and running into some conflicts with local hunters. They all managed to mend their differences, by hanging out together, having some beers, jamming together. The hunters still couldn’t hunt the land but the understanding created between parties over practicality and purpose made for a good relationship. They respected what Gene was doing for the animals. At the opposite end, I worked on one wonderful sanctuary property that does amazing work on behalf of animals. But hunters were so upset, even years later about the “no hunting” policy, they left nice gifts of dead deer on the doorsteps. Lovely.

    • Tovar says:

      Good to hear from you, Ingrid. I hope the Seattle area is treating you and Hugh well.

      You bring up an important set of issues about the urban/rural divide over how people relate to animals. I hope you don’t mind if I refrain from further comment just now, though. My next post will, I think, be about these very things…

    • sam says:

      An observation with regard to changing awareness and perspectives toward wildlife.

      There are many hunters and anglers who are outraged over their license dollars being spent on anything but to increase their game harvesting opportunities. I find this narrow minded, selfish in a way, and a mindset that needs to change.

      I side with others who want our license monies spent on non-game activities too. I want some of my hunting license fee to fund things like white nose syndrome. I frown when we perform large scale habitat management focused only on deer. I also cringe when my money is used to raise fish and subsequently stock our lakes and rivers with “table ready” trophy trout.

      • Phillip says:

        Sam, I won’t say your point is invalid, because there’s certainly something to it. However, I’d challenge you to look at the budget of your local wildlife department and see exactly how much money goes into projects focused solely on single species vs. the amount that goes into projects supporting diversity.

        There are a lot of anti-hunting voices out there trying to raise the same questions you’ve raised here, but it’s largely based on misinformation and misdirection. Contrary to what would be popular belief, most fish and game department projects are designed to address the needs of the entire constituency and not just the hunters or fishermen… despite the fact that hunters and fishermen fund a significant portion of that work. At the same time, because hunters and fishermen are major sources of funding, it would be a foolish business decision to ignore them altogether.

        Keep in mind as well that projects to improve deer hunting access, particularly in the east, are often designed as much to control and reduce deer populations as to support them. Managing that herd is critical, not only to the deer, but to the other flora and fauna that suffer due to overpopulation. So while it may seem that these projects are only to benefit hunters, there’s a bigger picture that a lot of folks don’t (or won’t) see.

        But yes, there certainly are plenty of hunters/fishermen who are quite vocal and plenty who are short-sighted. I think a lot of this comes from the sense that they’re paying the bill, so they should reap the benefits. It’s a misplaced sense of entitlement that seems to run rampant in many facets of modern society.

        All that said… I’m kind of with you on the State stocking fishing ponds. It’s one thing to restore and sustain a natural fishery. It’s another altogether to plant fish specifically for trophy fishing or put-and-take opportunities. I guess there’s some argument that these fishing ponds and stocked rivers help perpetuate the sport and encourage recruitment, but it still sort of seems “wrong” on some levels.

        • sam says:


          Thanks for the feedback. I’m aware of the position and work the Fish and Wildlife Departments perform. Sometimes it is with diverse goals, other times not. Here, we have people who literally want to revert to the old style Fish and “Game” Department and cut all funding for every non-game program.

          Trophy fish stocking is discouraging, but great if you are a kid. My solution so far has to been avoid fishing in those places…which is not easy. I’d really rather see more river bank, habitat, fish ladder, etc type projects than stocking.

      • Swamp Thing says:


        I think that attitude is changing. However, in my neck of the woods, it reverts quickly when the basic hook-n-bullet stuff is NOT managed with those funds, i.e. boat ramps not given minimal maintenance, duck blinds not brushed, whole areas closed to hunting because the state can’t afford to police the area or maintain the gravel access roads.

        It’s interesting to contrast this generally softening attitude (of hunters and anglers) about non-game management with the stiffening attitude of non-hunters (I’m thinking of the Sierra Club and Patagonia here) who in no uncertain terms do NOT want their supporters to have to buy duck stamps or pay Pittman-Robertson taxes on birding/kayaking gear.

  6. There are still plenty of places in Southern Maine that are not posted. But, as a considerate bowhunter, I am careful about being near too many people or their pets. The main problem here is sprawl … most of the open spaces and old farm lands are being developed. It is a problem for both the hunter and the animals.

  7. Tovar — In Massachusetts, the system works the other way. Hunting on private property is prohibited unless you have the written permission of the owner. I think that kind of system may work well for property owners because it puts them in the position to vet all the hunters who want to use their land. You don’t have to feel like churl for posting your land, and you only have to allow hunters who give you some sense that they’ll be respectful, responsible, and safe.

    • Swamp Thing says:

      That’s the way it is on most of the east coast. A real bummer!

      “Hunting without permission” is a separate criminal charge from “trespassing” which only occurs if the property is posted.

  8. The Massachusetts trespass law makes a lot of sense, Tamar.

    To the rest of you, may I suggest encouraging more bowhunting. Despite any mental images involved, there’s increasing evidence that it’s not only safer for hunters, but more humane to the deer. Also, hunters would be more open to input from non-hunters if non-hunters were footing their share of the bill, but most want only to dictate how the hunter’s money is to be spent. As for the increase in trespassing and posting, I blame it largely on the general decline of manners and gentility in our society.

    Tovar, thanks for addressing a growing problem.

  9. Ingrid says:

    Gorges, you write: “Also, hunters would be more open to input from non-hunters if non-hunters were footing their share of the bill, but most want only to dictate how the hunter’s money is to be spent.”

    I’ve had this discussion here briefly with Tovar and some of the other commenters. Those of us who don’t hunt — especially those of us invested in wildlife issues or rehab — would welcome a tax/tag/fee on non-lethal activities. I’d love to have more say and put the same (or more fees) behind my opinions.

    But frankly, when I propose this with the majority of hunters with whom I speak, the idea gets shot down. On the one hand, we non-hunters — because we don’t contribute tags and other fees — are not supposed to have a say in how our wildlife departments exercise their stewardship over wildlife and lands. But when we express a desire to pay in the same way that hunters do, and thus rightfully have more influence, it’s not necessarily seen in a positive light by those who now control those decisions.

    I’m all for a non-lethal wildlife activities fee and tag program. Where is the movement toward that end? We would undoubtedly contribute more funds to the coffers, owing to our numbers. I’m also a wildlife photographer and welcome the opportunity to be more involved in decisions and funding. Keep in mind that public lands are also financed through public monies, not just through hunting fees, so we do all, actually, have a right and entitlement on some level.

    • sam says:

      That is the way it is here. There is no public funding mechanism because there is a core body of hunters who don’t want public funding. It’s a catch22. The same groups that oppose public funding cry foul when their license monies are spent on non-game efforts. And it even goes beyond that. One proposal from these people was to require a tag on all non-motorized watercraft. This was unless one had a hunting or fishing license..then you wouldn’t need a tag on the watercraft. How having a hunting license gets one a free tag never was explained. There wasn’t really anything wrong with requiring a tag except that the proposal indicated that the money be strictly used for Fish and Wildlife Dept fishing access points. So, not for Forest and Parks access points, or for things like invasives, water quality, etc. And then on top of that, the use priority for FWD access points was left unchanged in the proposal. Here, there is a policy that maintains that fishing license holders have access point use priority over such uses as non-fishing kayakers and the like. These people wanted to charge a usage fee (even for people who don’t even use the access points), but were unwilling to provide fair access.

      That’s what public funding is faced with. On the other side of the coin, there is a considerable group of hunters that do want public funding, but they don’t have the political clout to make it happen and perhaps don’t readily speak up over fear of backlash.

      • Phillip says:

        I’m not sure about other places, but around here in CA, the biggest (only)objection I’ve seen to expanding the access fees to non-hunters is that those additional fees get charged back to hunters too. And I can’t blame them for that. I think it’s purely reasonable to object to being charged twice for access to wild lands, waterways, and other resources. (Actually, if you figure for taxes, that would really mean we’re being charged thrice!)

        The thing is, besides my half-serious post on the topic, I haven’t heard much call for spreading the costs of wildlife management and conservation to non-hunters. The hypothetical objection that, “it would give the non-hunters/anti-hunters too much power,” is pretty weak. In the states I know best, CA and NC, non-consumptive users have a lot of political clout in the decisions made by the fish and wildlife departments.

        Of course, once you add in the division amongst the ranks of hunters and fishermen, along with the loud voices of birders, hikers, ORV groups, and others, it’s often hard to tell which lunatics are running the asylum at any given time.

    • Swamp Thing says:

      I believe that you are being sincere about your experience with non-hunters expressing a desire to pay. However, organizations like the Sierra Club and companies like Patagonia have paid millions of dollars in congressional lobbying to make sure that birding, kayaking, and hiking supplies are not subject to Pittman-Robertson taxes. USFWS has proposed it several times, and each time there has been an anti-hunter freakout over it.

      I’m a hunter. My professional background is in the restoration of habitats for endangered reptiles and amphibians, so I get it. Sadly, my experience is that more hunters and anglers “get it” than do non-hunters and non-anglers.

      • Ingrid says:

        Well, thank you for believing I’m sincere. I’m a wildlife rehabber as well as a conservationist who’s been involved in many restoration, habitat and wildlife projects throughout my life. I have yet to encounter one person or organization (in my personal experience, admittedly a small anecdotal sample) that doesn’t support alternative and additional funding options for wildlife and resource endeavors. I should have clarified this was my perspective.

        Of course, there are contentious stipulations to address in all funding options — such as the long-time disagreement over funding of game versus non-game habitat projects, a valid criticism by non-hunters. Since I posted here, however, I have discovered there is some momentum (thankfully) in the direction of non-hunting and alternative fees, as evidenced by endeavors like “Teaming for Wildlife” (in association with various state orgs and groups).

        As far as Sierra Club, I am only familiar with the case where the Sierra Club challenged Pittman-Robertson funds on the public overview provision. Sierra asserted that the public review of fund dispersement was being violated in terms of P-R monies. Can you provide a link or information about the other activities — preventing fees on non-lethal activity? I’d definitely be interested in this, even though I’m not a Sierra Club member. My understanding is that Sierra Club has recently incorporated more pro-hunting stances in their general terms (Sierra Sportsmen, etc), so much so that some non-hunters have been uncomfortable with the leanings. Perhaps my information is incorrect.

  10. Doug Thorburn says:

    Quite a different situation up here in British Columbia. This morning I was out (fruitlessly) hunting for elk about 10 minutes out of town. From where I was hunting I could have gone all the way to the US border without encountering private land.

    Our access controversies stem more from the maintenance of forestry roads, which provide the bulk of the backcountry access. Once forestry operations are completed these roads may be partially de-activated to prevent erosion, or mass wasting. Sometimes they are trenched to block vehicle traffic (usually out of concern for a sensitive wildlife population). Some roads remain passable, but have restrictions on motorized vehicles used for hunting.

    Debates rage within the hunting/fishing clubs concerning the perceived “right” to motorized access to public land. Conspiracy theories abound concerning the motivation of the government and forest companies to block access to certain areas.

  11. Ingrid:

    I can understand both your frustrations and the hunter’s fears over that situation. Many so-called environmentalists and modern-day conservationists don’t know or care that it was hunters, farmers, and ranchers that started the whole conservation movement, despite the fact that they’re often cast as the bad guys these days. So, since hunters make up only about 15% or so of the population, they’re afraid that they’ll be voted completely out of forest and field. No doubt that’s why many aren’t in favor of non-game “tags”.

    I think one thing that needs addressed is to find a way that hunters, fishermen and trappers absolutely CANNOT be barred from public land or unfairly restrained on private land which is open to such past-times. Also, many fringe areas are not legal to hunt due to proximity to highways, dwellings and other sensitive areas. Perhaps non-game work could be concentrated on those areas, or places where access is so completely unavailable that little hunting is done there anyway. It also needs to be remembered that many plot management projects also benefit both game and non-game species.

    As a land-owning hunter, I too, sometimes find myself at odds with the majority of hunters. Sunday hunting is one – not for religious reasons (though I AM a Christian), but because I think the landowner should have one day a week that he can walk his place without fear for his life from the minority of hunters who shouldn’t be allowed in the woods in the first place. Also, I’m for allowing crossbows, yet “bowhunters” with vertical-wheeled shooting machines (compound bows) somehow think it’s immoral to turn that same bow sideways and put a stock on it. Every single argument that they use against it is nothing more than a cover (often a lie) for their own selfishness.

    Some non-hunters WOULD try to rid the world of hunters, and some hunters would figuratively stab their own brothers in the back to get their way. How DO we overcome such selfishness?

  12. Rodney Elmer says:

    Mechanized access will be the first to go in Canada, the errosion, trash, rescues and up keep, cost money. Free public access to private land even done by respectful people takes a great toll on generous landowner’s in tough economic times as well. The darkest side of posting is hunters keeping others away from a publicly owned resource for their own personal advantages and gains.The heater hunters and lazy fools looking for short cuts only cheat themselves. I’m sure I won’t run into to many hunting celebrities in Maine this fall , on publicly open land. The south Texas ranch that holds genetically engineered, 150″ bucks, under a grain feeder, won’t make much money of me this year! The beauty of the hunting experience , comes from the opprotunity and FREEDOM to make personal decisions. To partisipate in Nature and to belong to it and not yourself feel like an evasive species. The tree huggers, greenies, land conservers and folks who want to save everything are really politely saying there are to many people on mother earth and it is nature’s rule that if we live beyond the earth’s carrying capacity, the balance will shift dramatically, as is more than evident to all already! An idividual man’s knowledge and respect for nature’s rules will enhance his survival and those he educates. The human wave will indeed crest and those who understand , will survive.

  13. Ingrid says:

    Rodney Elmer wrote: “The tree huggers, greenies, land conservers and folks who want to save everything are really politely saying there are to many people on mother earth”

    It’s a lot simpler to characterize those of us with viewpoints opposing yours, in this simplistic and derogatory way. Most people I work with who are involved in environmental issues — “tree huggers” by your estimate — are actually thoughtful individuals rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty for the sake of causes outside their own self-interest. They’re looking for ways to protect and care for and fight diligently for the public commons … the wild spaces that you ostensibly rely upon for your future survival … as the human wave crests.

    • Rodney Elmer says:

      Do you think man will be able to limit himself in all ways? I’m a tree hugger myself, all the way to the wood stove! Believe me our view points are not opposing. I hope everyone does even small parts in being responsible in there earthly, social and educational impacts. Technology will probably help man , but not completely. Those dirty sleeves have great positive impacts and foster positive examples and results. Discussing life with my father 25 years ago, contemplating having a family and trying to decide how many childern are appropriate, my father said ” The world needs good people.” Will this not be the ultimate issue? I hope man finds balance, but I sometimes struggle with my feelings of guilt on my own personal negitive effects on the very things I care so much about. I see evasive plants and I want to rip them out and often do, but that need to belong feeling, is also legitimate.

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