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Hunting, Animals, and Trespassing

A hunting license is not a license to trespass, but state laws treat hunters differently when it comes to trespassing. Some states have laws that specifically address trespassing while hunting, and others rely simply on the general trespassing statutes of the state.

Posting Requirements

In about half of the states, posting is not required to prevent trespassing; that is, it is against the law for hunters to trespass on private property without the landowner's permission even if the land is not posted. Where posting is required, some states have laws specifying how to post land.

Firearms, Dogs, and Wounded Animals

In some states, trespass while in possession of a firearm is a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and/or a fine up to $5,000. A few states have laws that address hunters trespassing to retrieve dogs or wounded animals. In most states, however, hunters may not retrieve dogs or wounded animals if they cannot legally hunt on that land.

Trespass By Livestock

In the old courts of England, the owner of live-stock was held strictly liable for any damages to person or property done by the livestock straying onto the property of another. The mere fact that animals strayed and damaged crops, other livestock, or personal property was sufficient to hold the owner liable for the injuries inflicted by cattle, sheep, goats, and horses. This strict liability position made sense in the confines of a small island such as England, but in the United States with herds of livestock wandering over vast expanses of land, a different process developed. The legislatures enacted statutes which provided that livestock were free to wander and that the owner was not responsible for damage inflicted by those livestock unless they entered land enclosed by a legal fence. These became known as open range laws. Subsequently, certain states reversed the open range laws and required the owners of livestock to fence in their livestock. This position was similar to the common law position, only instead of strict liability, the livestock owner could be held liable only upon a showing that the livestock escaped due to the owner's negligence.

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