By Pete Rogers
For two seasons, I was unable to hunt our property that is two and a half hours away due to some family issues. It was a glorious day when my son and I were finally able to return and drive down and begin scouting and getting ready to hunt. It was mid-summer, and we were getting reacquainted with our land. Walking down Middle Road, so named because it is in the middle of the property, we began to get to the clearing when I noticed a ladder stand. As we got closer, I saw that some rye grass of some sort had been planted in the road and the clearing. There were also a hog trap and bait piles on the property. A little more investigation showed three more stands, a tripod stand, climber and lock-on stand. Furious was not even the word for it. I was sick to my stomach.
Three sides of my 300 acres are bordered by a 1,000-acre hunting club. Evidence showed they began using our property as part of their club during our absence. (For clarity, there is a road that is the property line.) The ladder stand and food plot was a measured 342 yards from the property line. This was intentional. The Tripod stand was 500 yards from any property line.
In my home state of South Carolina, all private land is considered posted unless you have written permission on your person. We do not have to put up signs or gates to be protected. Since that day, I have become very proactive in my efforts to keep trespassers at bay. In researching this story, I met a fellow who wants to remain anonymous, but we will call him Steve. He is a “recovering habitual trespasser.” Many of the suggestions here came from him and what he looks for when considering hunting someone else’s land without permission.
Trespassing Prevention Checklist
Here are some tips and tactics that have helped a lot at keeping people off of my land:
Put up Gates
While this may seem obvious, putting up gates is essential, especially in rural areas and absentee landowner situations. Gates keep people out, such as the curious drive-by or the guy who thinks it is part of the neighbor’s land. Locked gates tell people someone owns that land, and you are not wanted on it.
As stated earlier, I am not required in my state to post my land, but it is a good idea as a reminder. It also helps in court cases to show that you have signs up all around your property. Make sure your signs are on the property line or inside the line. Place them on trees, posts or other obvious places. I try to put a sign every fifty to seventy-five yards or so at or above eye level so they are seen from a distance. Metal signs are best as they have to be replaced much less often. I have been using the Tyvex signs due to cost and the number I need. These last about three to four years before they need replaced.
Visit at Random Times
Once I was able to start going down to my property more regularly, I began doing so at random times, both during the off season and during season. I might arrive late Friday night and take Monday off of work and hunt through Monday. I might also take Friday off and arrive Thursday night. Sometimes I drive down for the day on a Wednesday, or occasionally I will stay for a week or more. Locals watch to see when you come and go. When you are unpredictable, they are less likely to go on your land when they can go on someone else’s who is easier to pattern. Steve says this is one of the most important things. Habitual trespassers will watch your land, just like burglars stake out a house before breaking in. They will watch to see when people come and go, and make their move when the landowner leaves. After talking with him, I also employed another tactic. Two or three times during my stay, I will drive out of my gate and go to town – only to come back in an hour or two, thereby confusing the trespasser about when I actually left.
With the affordability of game cameras today, there really is no reason land owners don’t have an array of cameras watching your property 24/7/365. Whether you use cell cameras or regular game cameras, having them placed where you suspect trespassers access, you increase your chance of catching them and having evidence to prosecute them. Cameras should be placed watching each gate, main road, possible parking places, suspected stand sites, etc. It is a good investment. Some of the wireless cameras and video surveillance cameras are excellent choices if you have a way to send the signals to your phone. We will cover how to keep them from being stolen in a future story.
Faux Surveillance Cameras
Many game camera manufacturers actually make and sell faux camera cases for this use. Placing faux cameras is a huge deterrent for many trespassers. They see the camera and leave. As Steve said, “When I see a camera, I assume there are three others I didn’t see, so I get out of there.” I just recycle my old broken cameras into this role. I mount them facing the gates in a place they will be seen. If they are stolen, I just pull the card from the real trail camera, and I have them red-handed. Having a real camera watching a faux camera is one of the easiest ways to catch someone doing something they should not be doing.
As stated earlier, I had a lot of trouble with my neighbor using my land when I was gone. Rather than get into an argument with them, I went and had a conversation. It ended agreeably, and they removed their stands. Since then, I have asked them to keep an eye out for anyone who did not belong, and I would do the same. It has worked well.
Enter your Land into A Property Watch Program
In my home state, and other states, we can register our land with the DNR for active patrol. By registering the land in the Property Watch program, we guarantee that we will prosecute any and all trespassers. In exchange, the Game Wardens have access to the land to patrol it at all times. We post signs telling people we are in the Property Watch program. Steve tells me: “Knowing someone will prosecute is enough to keep me out.”
Get A Reputation
A Game Warden friend of mine tells me that they hate trespassing cases because 85% of the time, the land owner will not press charges. The wardens spend hours looking for and catching the criminal only to have the land owner not press charges. “It is a huge waste of time and resources.” One warden tells me: “If I know the land owner will press charges, I don’t mind at all trying to catch trespassers. But putting in all that work only to have them change their mind is frustrating.” When you get a reputation as someone who does not tolerate trespassing, you keep people off of your land. Be willing to press charges 100% of the time.
During this past turkey season, I was walking along one of my skidder trails when I noticed something in the road. It was a camouflage glove. As I bent down to pick it up, I knew it wasn’t mine. I don’t wear that specific pattern. At that moment, I suspected someone trespassing, so I began looking for other signs. Sure enough, there were tracks in the soft soil. I saw a size shoe different than mine and no one else has had permission to hunt. I followed the tracks into the woods until I lost them, but I continued on a path I assumed someone would walk. At the property line, there were tracks from an ATV right up to my line. I immediately called the neighbor and reported what I found. He assured me he would discuss this with the members of his hunting club. I reminded him that I would press charges if I ever found them on my property.
Protecting your property is a constant battle. Being able to keep others off of your property is something only the diligent can do effectively. Steve reminds us: “If I think there is a hint of a chance someone is going to catch me or press charges, I will not risk it. There is plenty of other property I can get to where the land owners don’t do this.”
Owning land is something many aspire to and work hard to accomplish. When you have the chance to do this, the last thing you want is someone stealing your resources and your pleasure. Following these tips for keeping people out will help to deter most unwanted guests.