Let’s make landowner permission your own personal hunting custom


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Do we need a law to talk to our neighbors? A few years back, I went on a DIY waterfowl hunt to Saskatchewan. No guides, just a good friend and a truckload of decoys. Reading online forums, we knew that hunters should ask for landowner permission, as most of it was private, but that it was freely given. What we weren’t prepared for was the warm hospitality of the people of prairie Canada who invited us, camo and all, into their living rooms for coffee and to chit chat about why we came all the way from New England to hunt there. Access to hunt was easily given, and the conversation always ended with, “Thank you for asking.”

Now, I never knew if it was required by law to obtain landowner permission. It didn’t matter because it was the custom. You see, in a town of 500 people in the middle of Saskatchewan, law enforcement is really limited, but phones aren’t and word spreads fast. So, ignore the custom and within a short time no one will let you on their land. So when I read about this proposed bylaw in Leyden to require hunters on private and municipal land to have written landowner permission, and to display it in their vehicle or face a citation, I thought back to prairie Canada where folks didn’t rely on red tape and threats of fines to force people to talk to their neighbors. Instead, they made it the custom.

I know that being a private landowner isn’t easy. It’s a constant struggle, from paying taxes, dealing with illegal ATVs, illegal dumping and, yes, problems with hunters. Providing verbal hunting permission is work. Landowners have to spend their time dealing with phone calls and text messages, and the truth is it would be easier to just say “no,” but from my experience in Leyden they say “yes.” Having moved from New Hampshire to Greenfield a few years ago, and being someone who loves to hunt and enjoy the outdoors, I was pleasantly surprised with how open the landowners of Leyden were for allowing hunting access; all that was required was a knock on the door. Leyden reminded me of where I grew up in New Hampshire, a community that understands hunting as a way of life, just like cutting hay, logging, tapping maple syrup trees and spreading manure. But just like in my old hometown, they also understand that courtesy is the law of the land, not of the courts.

Years ago, one could just go hunt on any non-posted land without permission. But times are changing, and access to that land for hunting is changing too, not because landowners are anti-hunting, but because they want to know who is on their property (not an unreasonable request). We as hunters need to start to do our part to meet the landowners halfway if we are to ensure private land access, and prevent the wave of anti-hunting bylaws that are so prevalent in eastern Massachusetts but are now popping up here.

Today it is easier than ever to find landowner information from the comfort of your own home. Just Google “Massachusetts Interactive Property Mapper” where you can search a map of any town and find landowner names, addresses and approximate property boundaries of the properties you want to hunt. Let’s make landowner permission your own personal hunting custom.

I could go on about the serious issues with this bylaw, like how will the police know if a car on the side of the road is someone hiking, broken down or hunting. Also, many private lands in Leyden are permanently protected under state-funded conservation easements that allow public access, including hunting. This proposed bylaw will not apply to these lands; so how will the police keep track of this, especially when new land is conserved all the time? Does the town want tax money paying for the police department to chase down suspected hunters or investigating real crimes and saving lives?

But this isn’t just about what this poorly thought-out bylaw does, but what it says about a community and their shared values. A law requiring in-depth paperwork and a burden onto both law enforcement and landowners is not reflective of the welcoming and independent nature of the landowners and people of Leyden I’ve come to know. Instead, I hope to see the community of Leyden remain as a place where a customary knock on your neighbor’s door and a conversation is all that is required to hunt and, who knows, maybe they’ll even tell you where that 10-point buck is hiding.

Tom Wansleben is a New Hampshire native who now lives in Greenfield and hunts in Franklin County.