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