If Public Access Exists
New technologies outpace ethics.
The phone call had caught the rancher off-guard. The conversation had started out awkward and headed south in a hurry.
“Mr. Jones, I noticed from accessing the new satellite maps provided by the state that you have several small parcels of BLM on your ranch. I know that huge bucks have come from your area over the last few years and I’d like to get your permission for my party to cross your land and hunt the BLM.”
The caller owned a tech startup near Sioux Falls and only hunted with the best equipment that money could buy. He had paid to hunt the adjoining ranch for several years but noticed that much larger bucks seemed to gravitate to the neighbor’s. They weren’t pay hunt and had refused his offers of cash. A twisted trip through the legal quagmire of South Dakota’s access laws seemed to provide him an opening to pry his way in where common sense would have suggested he shouldn’t.
“This is just a friendly call to let you know that I’m going to hunt that BLM whether you give me permission to cross your land or not and that my lawyer has assured me that I have a case if you attempt to stop me.”
The call hadn’t sounded friendly to the rancher at all. His family had owned their ranch for generations. They were comfortable with the longtime friends who came out each season and had no need for the money. He had told the hunter in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t welcome to trespass on his ground and that his own children would be hunting in the area. It wouldn’t be safe and he couldn’t be liable for the intruder’s safety.
To make matters worse, the hunter had paid to have the ranch flown and inventoried. A small company with expensive aerial photography equipment had set up at the highway and flown drones over the ranch. They had taken pictures of the bachelor bucks while they were gathered and in velvet. The biggest whitetail the rancher had ever seen was out there this year and both men wanted one of their own son’s to shoot that deer.
While the situation above is hypothetical, it is not far from truth.
Egos, money, and tempers guarantee a stress-filled season for state game wardens and the legislature has only been able to put band aids on a problem that has been brewing for years.
New technologies and satellite mapping take all of the guess work out of an old problem.
In the past, anyone could post a no-hunting sign on public lands to cause confusion. Most hunters could be persuaded to go elsewhere and avoid possible conflict even if they were fairly certain they knew where boundaries existed. But as money and measuring tapes have turned hunting into a profit driven competition, you are certain to find people ending up in the courts and wardens forced to confiscate trophies as evidence.
Even if an animal is shot on public ground, not all dying where they are wounded. Trespass violations are guaranteed and the courts have few teeth to deter bad actors. The fines just aren’t high enough to deter thick wallets.
Today’s smartphone apps take away much of the doubt and show hunters literally where they stand and where public hunting begins. Profiteers provide the names and boundaries of every private landowner in each state and confrontational phone calls and encounters are becoming more frequent.
Section lines are the current cause of confusion. Historically eastern farm grids were opened to small game hunting to keep the pheasant hunters occupied when more farms began leasing their ground to preserves and out-of-state hunters. Today those laws are being contested in court as their application is being applied west river where few roads exist.
The hunting laws only allow access to school sections and BLM “if public access exists,” on “improved roads.” But conflicting legal codes offer some confusion. Until better language is developed, the state has implemented six different programs to gain access for hunters on private lands where they are welcome.
New technology is always being developed ahead of man’s ability to ethically wield it. Until we catch up, there are already millions of acres of land open to all.