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April 15, 2008

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Discussion Topic: Private Property Rights Vs. Public Game Animals

A familiar debate is coming to a head in Montana. The particulars are a little convoluted, as always, but it boils down to the same old problem: When a public resource (big game) lives on private property, who gets dibs? Should the public have access to a resource they own? Should the state have full power to manage a resource on private property? Should landowners or lessees (read outfitters) be able to make money from a public resource?  Right now, Montanans are taking sides and seem poised for a fight.

From the Great Falls Tribune:

On one side there is the newly formed United Property Owners of Montana, a group that believes recent restrictions imposed on bowhunters by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commission erodes private property rights by further limiting outfitting nonresident hunters. . . .

In the meantime, Kurt Kephart, a Billings hunter, and his group, Montana Public Wildlife, have begun the process of putting three initiatives on the November general election ballot [aimed at protecting the public’s interest.]

He said Montana is heading down the path of Texas and other states, where the only hunting is fee hunting. He said that when landowners and outfitters arrange a lease-hunting agreement, it leaves out the public, which is the true owner of the wildlife.

"Just because you have a hunting license doesn't mean you have the ability to make a contract with a landowner to do something with our wildlife," Kephart said. "There are two private parties in that contract and the third party is the public, and they are not even in it."

Be sure to check out the full article and tell us what you think.



HELLO, Mike Diehl

Are you ready to get back into this little delimma!?

No, a hunter has no right to pursue a game animal onto private (posted!) property. The game pamphlets already state that you must seek permission to pursue wounded animals that have crossed onto private property!

Okay, Mike and I agree that the "people" OWN the game. The state, with taxpayer dollars, manage the "herd". You find no argument here from me.

BUT, (there's that but [butt?!] again!) as I explained to Mike Diehl. I grow a food plot on my own land. My property is small(80 acres), most of the animals are transient. THE STATE, COUNTY, CITY or any other Gov't resource was NOT spent working, planting and maintaining MY food plot.

Should I be compensated for improving habitat? ...nourishment? NO?!
Then don't just help yourself to hunting my place!


Mike Diehl

As far as I'm concerned, the guys who post their land and lease it are getting well-earned pushback.

As far as discussion of this topic goes, however, I've been there, done that. It's Montana's business and no big deal to me until we see what Montana does and what effects come of it.


Bubba I agree with you,
Unless you've came to my door got my permission and shook my hand you have no right to touch my land. I don't care if your deer is dead and only 2 feet away from the edge of my property you have no business goin' on my land. But don't worry all you need to do is come and talk to me and I'll let you get your deer.




While I agree with the aspect of you being able to shoot deer on your private land and that others need to secure permission to hunt and/or recover their game from private land, should others be able to make a profit from "publically owned" wildlife?

Personally, I say yes. The "hunter" pays the outfitter for his services, not the animal. The tag the hunter purchased from the state, allows him to kill a "publically owned" animal.

That's how I see it anyway.


Chad Love

I think this is a little different wrinkle than what we were discussing earlier. Back then we were debating private landowners hunting on their own land.
I generally disagreed with Mike then, and I still do, within reason.
However, the subject of outfitting brings a whole new dimension to the debate and I think it strikes at the heart of the question of where hunting in this country is going.
Is the de facto national model going to be something like in Texas, where virtually everything is privatized and opportunity to hunt is dictated wholly by how much you're willing or able to pay, or is it going to remain the fundamentally populist, public domain model it's traditionally been?


Isn't there state land to hunt on by you? By me state land is everywhere at least over a thousand acres of pure woods for everyone to hunt.


If it's on your land...do what you want with it.


No name,
It is my land and I'm keepin' people off of it. I don't manage my property to have someone come in and ruin it. I've had it happen many times and it gets expensive to keep "re-building" and fixing what they have destroyed. The one time they came through and ripped up my food plots with their ATV's. Do you know how expensive it is to spray the plots? And have to go buy more seed and more gas to run the plow and tractor?


Mike Diehl

"However, the subject of outfitting brings a whole new dimension to the debate"


"Or is it going to remain the fundamentally populist, public domain model it's traditionally been?"

That's the heart of it. As long as hunting and getting a good quality hunt remains accessible to the base of the middle class, the American tradition will continue. If it becomes a pasttime available only to elitist snobs, then no one's gonna care when the antis come around looking to put an end to it.

Walt Smith

I own and pay taxes on 70 acres with a 22 acre lake in the middle of it. I inherited the property from my parents. The property is posted and I do not give access to anyone other than family to hunt or fish on this property , much to the to the wah-wah-wah of the general public whom my father allowed to fish the lake. By the way the lake is a killer bass and bluegill lake. Do I loose any sleep over my decision or worry about people saying bad stuff about me?? Heck No! I pay over 5,000.00 per. year in land taxes, why should I let every tom, dick, and harry on my ground for nothing??? No way! public land is right down the road Mo Fo.


I suppose one of my problems is the fact that I spouted off before I actually read the "article".

Chad L. - Mike D.

You are both correct. The last argument (discussion) was over hunting "public" property on "private" land.

Texas was one of the first state's to go to the lease system.
It worked very, very well. My dad got on his first lease for $25 per annum! The lease ran 1-1 through 12-31.
Through the years (29 to be exact!) we maintained that same lease, knew the landowner and got along famously! As lease prices escalated, ours grew also. After my grandfather passed on, dad got another leasee and he and I split "his" spot. I never missed an opening day! As time went on, another leasee dropped out and "I" picked up a full share!
One of the best memories of my life, and generated many, many great memories. Deer, squirrel, ducks, feral hogs, catfish, crappie, sand bass, forty two games, kerosene lanterns and wood heaters! My heart saddens as the memories wane!
It all progressed quite well until the Webb county, South Texas and Texas "Brush Country" Muy Grande's began to fill hunters minds. Suddenly, groups like Frito-Lay and Dr. Pepper leased huge plots in the name of "entertainment" and the lid was off. When an old farmer left his 30 sections to his educated children, none of them either wanted the land or the accompanying taxes, let alone the sweat and heartache of operating a ranch of such massive deminsions! Big corporations stepped in and began not only paying their taxes for them, but would make improvements also. Suddenly, running cattle was not only profitable, but HAD to be done to suffuse the massive sums paid them for the priviledge to hunt!
Do I blame them? Hell, no! Grampa's ranch, wrested from the cat claw, mesquite and prickly pear was suddenly worth paid up taxes, college educations and a fat estate!

There is still lots (don't have any idea how much) of public land in Texas. There is probably a spot near you, if you can afford the fuel!



If you don't own the land or pay taxes on the land you should not be able to hunt it without permission. Besides, no one actually owns the animals. I don't see bucks running around on a leash with a collar with my name on it. If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence then you need to ask politely for permission or buy some ground yourself.
We hunters would have more land to use if it weren't for urban development and anti hunters. No one would give permission to hunters to use their land if they have had a bad experience. A few bad apples ruin it all for everyone else.

Mike Diehl

"Besides, no one actually owns the animals."

That one fails the baloney detector test.


How on earth do you think anyone owns the animals?

Mike Diehl

Don't know about you but in my state they're "publically owned" as a matter of law. That's where the state gets the authority to regulate their use (in the form of licenses etc). Maybe that's what you meant before, but they're definitely owned.

Walt Smith

They (the animals) might be publicly (the state) owned , but that gives you ( the non-land owner public) any right to pursue said publicly owned animal on my said privatly owned, taxes paid, non-public f'nnn ground. Go buy your own acerage and then you'll feel the same way all landowners do.KEEP OFF!!

John R

Boy there is no easy solution to this one! I understand both sides of the debate. Private property is just that...PRIVATE and belongs to the landowner. If all the local game hangs out on a particular landowner's property then tough ti**y. That should be incentive to develop food plots on your own property. If you paid for the land, and pay taxes on it, then its yours period.
I can see the dilema as Mike Diehl pointed it out in that we need to maintain more public land.
If enough public land is not kept and maintained, that will bode ill for all of us. If it ever gets to the place where I can't afford to hunt or ot becomes another elitist club then kiss hunting bye-bye. Speaking only for myself, if it ever gets to the point whereby my hunting opportunity is gone then you betcha I will care less about hunting isues since I can't do it. I will also squawk about my taxes being used to support wildlife management when I will have no access to same. These are times when sportsmen should stick together.


My land is my land and I call the shots. My requirements are:
1. You ask permission. If you don't and I catch you, you get a lecture on manners.
2. No vehicles. There's a log landing for parking.
3. You have to be a member of the NRA or NAHC. NO exceptions.
4. Treat my land like you own it.
5. Don't come back with people I have not OK'd.
I've had hunters using my land for years(30+) and very few problems.


Pierson v. Post (1805) was the first ruling on this topic. Post was hunting a fox on uninhabited land, Pierson intercepted and killed the fox. Thus, property in wild animals is only acquired by occupancy and pursuit alone does not vest any right in the pursuer. Although this ruling is over 200 years old, a case can be made that if you shoot a deer that ultimately winds up in private property, you haven't 'occupied' that deer, and thus there's no vested rights to it.

What do I think, aside from the law? Get out of my pasture!


I agree that wildlife is the "public's" property although like the others stated they have spent many dollars making their property great wildlife habitat and nobody should be allowed on the property with out permission. Would you let just any random person come into your house. Same difference.

On the issue of payed for hunts and leases for hunting I'm not sure where I stand. I know that the amount that landowners charge for hunting make it only possible for rich folks to hunt. I also think that shooting domesticated deer, elk, and birds shouldn't even be considered hunting. I also don't like the idea of high fences very much. I think the publics wildlife should be able to move freely from one place to the next.

SD Bob

I read the full article and it seems like something is missing? If the intent of one group is to ensure compensation for access, either monetary or verbal? Then I have no problem! If the intent of the other group is for the general public to have unlimited access to private land because the elk roam both public and private ground? Then I support the landowner to restrict access? Most TV and radio signals are public domain but come home from work and find a stranger camped on your couch watching/listening and you'll be a little heated too.


Hunting is declining where I live, because there isn't much natural habitat left and public lands are completely over crowded. The first day of any hunting season is like a three ring circus in Iraq. So we essentially have a system where people who can afford it hunt on preserves and people who can't go home empty handed or risk their lives on opening day. At least bow hunting seems to be very popular. This could be because you can bow hunt on a few acres without bothering your neighbors. I think land owners are much more apt to let you take game if there's no shooting. Maybe I'll sell my grandfather's 30/30 and buy a bow.


There's a lot of misconceptions in these posts. First of all, Montana is different than other states. Hunting/fishing/recreation is the state's number one economic factor although the we still allow the aggie component to believe they are. Kepharts bunch are trying to level the playing field between public property rights and private property rights. Someone mention "vested proeprty rights", when our taxes pay for CRP, wheat, wool, and other subsidies, don't we taxpayers have some sort of "vested right?" Evidently, it's OK for us to pay for something we get no benefit from. Yet, the same people who lease their place to outfitters also block the everyday hunter from accessing the public land where they graze their cattle for 10% of the going market rate because they can make good money marketing "exclusivity".... the outfitter takes his paying clients onto the same public lands while the public hunter is kept off in many if not most leased ranches in Montana. When you begin to simplify it as "it's my property, stay out", you're missing the bigger picture, here. Oh, and Bubba, virtually NO public land exists in TX; there are a few very small national forests in East TX and they're leased to the Type2 license program and are only open for hunting to those who pay an extra fee, very typical of the TX wildlife management system. Once again, I caution you posters to find out what you're talking about first.When I was a kid, we just walked out our back door and went hunting, the local farmers didn't care. Maybe some of us are simply trying to hang onto what little opportunity we still have even if it means we can't hunt private property. Bottom line, ranchers/outfitters have no right to sell what they don't own, our wildlife. When your fee is set on whether you kill a buck or a doe, or a bull elk or a cow, then it's selling our wildlife.

Mike Diehl

"My land is my land and I call the shots. My requirements are:
1. You ask permission. If you don't and I catch you, you get a lecture on manners.
2. No vehicles. There's a log landing for parking.
3. You have to be a member of the NRA or NAHC. NO exceptions.
4. Treat my land like you own it.
5. Don't come back with people I have not OK'd.
I've had hunters using my land for years(30+) and very few problems."

These are all perfectly reasonable and I do not see how anyone could complain.


Mike, I agree, I wish more people were so reasonable, this conversation about private versus public would never gotten started. As an aside, though, as for #1 (and#4 for the most part), in Montana hunting on private land without permission will get you arrested, fined and maybe jaqiled, plus you lose your game and hunting/fishing priveleges for several years. I wonder if HDM would consider talking sense to our ranchers?

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