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Why landowners close their acreage

August 15, 2009
By Kenneth Cobb

Last week, I did a column on getting ready for hunting season and concluded the article about what a person needs to do before hunting on fenced or posted acreage. This week, I would like to have a column about the landowner's viewpoint when it comes to permitting people to hunt on their acreage.

When I was still a teenager and just out of high school, I did some volunteer work with the auxiliary police in my hometown. A part of our training was to attend classes in basic law enforcement conducted by a city police sergeant. In one of the classes, the police officer emphasized, "There are people in this country who make their living suing other people." For a while, I thought this was an exaggeration. Currently, it is no exaggeration at all.

Frivolous lawsuits have gotten out of control to where they are an economic problem. A large landowner worried about a liability lawsuit has good reasons for posting his land. It is good to know West Virginia law does offer some protection against liability to landowners who allow free use of their land. I know if I owned a large tract of acreage, I would still be somewhat skeptical about letting people I do not know hunting on it.

Nearly 30 years ago, I asked a good friend if I could have written permission to hunt on his land. His reply was, none of the place is posted or fenced so if you want to hunt out there, go ahead. A few years later, he called me over to his side and told me that he was going to have to post his land. His youngest son had purchased a deer stand for more than $100. It took him nearly two days to get it mounted. A day or two after it was mounted, he went to get in it and someone had removed it and carried it off. The person who did this had no respect for private property at all. A thief is someone who thinks another person's property is his property and all he has to do is just take it. Disrespect for private property has to be one of the leading reasons why rural landowners do not allow their acreage to be open to others.

Anytime I have hunted on private land with the owner's permission, I have always tried to conduct myself like a guest of the landowner. There are many other reasons why rural landowners close their acreage. A few of them are property damage such as damaged fences; hunters not picking up their litter, hunters leaving gates open and shooting carelessly. When I was a small boy, we had a cousin who closed his land to just about everyone because a squirrel hunter did not look to see what was beyond his target and ended up shooting a horse.

There are farmers who use posting out of necessity. They do not want people in their hayfields with all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). A hunter in a cow pasture may not intend to shoot any cows, but the farmer has an understandable concern for the safety of his valuable livestock. Posting may also be necessary as a safety factor for logging operations. A certain place may be a favorite hunting location; but if this section of the woods is being logged, a hunter is just simply in the way, not to mention the danger to the loggers. To make a long story short, taxpaying landowners have the right to manage their land in any manner they choose and that includes posting.

People who willfully trespass on posted or fenced acreage are a disaster to ethical and honest hunters. Such people are the ones I really do not care to have hunting with me. Respectable hunters can minimize the impact of posting on the West Virginia tradition by presenting themselves as responsible people. Get that written permission before hunting on private acreage that is fenced or posted.



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