IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) - Remember the adage “treat others how you would want to be treated?” Well, that doesn’t apply to just elders and grade school teachers. Hunters and private landowners share a unique relationship that often gets overlooked until about a month or so before hunting season opens.
With many of Idaho's hunting seasons in progress or soon to begin, Idaho Fish and Game urges hunters to abide by the above mantra and treat landowners the way they would want to be treated if someone were hunting on their land.
Irresponsible hunters make up just a tiny fraction of the overall hunting community, but their effect on landowners ultimately drive many to close up their land to the rest of the population. Trespassing, litter, property damage and discharging firearms close to livestock or buildings account for most of the trouble. Unfortunately, it’s another classic case of careless actions of a few that impact hunting experience for the rest.
"We are fortunate that the majority of hunters are respectful and considerate to landowners,” said Sal Palazzolo, State Wildlife Habitat Program Manager for Fish and Game. “But each year, we deal with problems related to irresponsible behavior of a few.”
Getting permission to hunt private land may seem daunting, but the extra effort is worth it. According to a survey of rural Idaho landowners, 88% will allow hunting on their property if hunters ask permission first. However, how hunters behave before, during and after the hunt will determine if they are allowed back.
Are landowners liable for hunters on their property?
The answer may not be as complicated as you’d think.
If you’re a landowner who allows access to your land, either for recreational opportunities, which includes hunting and fishing, without charging or in land-access agreements with the government, then you are not liable.
Idaho Code 36-1604 allows landowners to provide recreational opportunity on their lands in an “as is” condition, without being subject to liability. People who enjoy the benefit of recreating on property for free are responsible for dealing with potential hazards on the property.
For landowners interested in learning more about the potential financial and technical benefits for maintaining, developing or improving fish and wildlife habitat on their lands, check out Fish and Game’s Lands and Landowner Programs webpage.
Building the foundation of trust between the hunter and the landowner
Before asking, sportsmen should consider the landowner’s perspective. Hunting season falls during a very busy time of year for farmers and ranchers, as many are rushing to get their fall work completed before winter. A steady stream of phone calls and hunters appearing randomly at their front door takes time away from getting work done and can be overwhelming.
When asking, be polite, friendly and ask during reasonable hours. Calling or knocking on a rancher’s door at 6 a.m. the day you want to hunt is the best way to get a door slammed in your face. If you haven’t already obtained permission before the season begins, a face-to-face meeting at the landowner’s house a few evenings before you plan to hunt is usually appropriate.
Hunters seeking permission are required to get written permission from the landowner, preferably before the season begins. A permission form is available in the 2023 Big Game Season and Rules booklet, at Fish and Game offices and at any county sheriff’s office. Other methods of permission are still legal, but written is the best.
“A little courtesy goes a long way, and those hunters who plan ahead and ask permission in advance have a good chance of being let on,” Palazzolo said.
If allowed to hunt, both hunters and landowners should clearly understand what “permission” is being given. For instance, is permission for a single day or for the whole season? Is permission only to hunt deer, or is it for elk or just upland game birds? Also, are you asking permission just for yourself, or will others be hunting with you? And never assume because permission was granted last year, that the same applies this year.
“Don’t just assume,” Palazzolo said. “Iron out all the details with the landowner well in advance.”
Landowners want to know who’s on their property, and some even manage hunter numbers by setting a limit. The limit makes for a higher quality hunting experience and helps the landowner keep track of who will be on their land and when.
If your request is denied, don’t take it personally. Be understanding and remain polite, whether or not the landowner explains the reason for the decision. Remember, your courtesy and show of respect may affect the outcome of future requests.
“Hunting private land is a privilege, not a right,” Palazzolo said. “If hunters respect landowners and show their gratitude whether the answer is yes or no, they can establish relationships that both will appreciate.”
During the hunt
How a hunter behaves while on private land is critical. This includes knowing where to park, keeping safe distances from pets, livestock and buildings, leaving gates the way they are found and knowing the property boundaries. Keeping vehicles off fire-prone vegetation and muddy roads are other concerns for landowners.
“Remember that you are a guest of the landowner,” said Palazzolo. “Follow their wishes, and chances are you’ll be invited back.”
Landowners also appreciate if you leave the area better than you found it. Again, this is just good manners and shows respect. This includes picking up your empty shell casings and trash and not cleaning birds or other game near roads, ditches or in areas frequented by people or livestock.
Remember, not picking up your empty shell casings is considered littering under Idaho law. If you notice something wrong or out of place, notify the landowner immediately.
After the hunt
Success during a private land hunt is only half-marked by tagging an animal; the real test is how you close up shop and treat the landowner upon your departure.
Hunters who are thoughtful and respectful of a landowner’s property have a much higher chance of getting access next hunting season. When you are done hunting, drop by and thank the landowner for allowing you access. Send them a thank-you card, gift certificate to a local restaurant or other tokens of appreciation. Simple gestures go a long way with the landowner and help build a positive image of hunting.
If mentoring a young hunter, consider providing them with an opportunity to ask a landowner for permission and to express their appreciation after the hunt. As part of the mentoring process, it is important that young hunters respect landowners and their land.