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Serving: KS

What landowners should know as hunting season approaches

Slideshow: Learn the basics of liability and handling trespassers this hunting season.

Kansas is about 97% privately owned. That means Kansas farmers play a huge role in access to hunting grounds.

The sport is a big deal in Kansas both economically and recreationally. State and federal statistics say hunting annually brings about $400 million in revenue to Kansas from an estimated 5 million hunter days.

The fall and winter seasons can also bring stress to those landowners who allow that hunting on their property.

Liability issues, though rare, are an obvious concern should a hunter get injured. Dealing with trespassers is certainly the most common hunting-related crime most landowners face.

Below are some quick facts that details a landowner’s rights when it comes to liability and trespass issues. Chris Tymeson, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism chief legal counsel, provided legal translation of state rules and regulations.

Tymeson cannot, and did not, offer legal advice on either subject.

Liability

Legally, people can file a lawsuit against someone no matter how ridiculous the charge or low the chances of getting a settlement.

Fortunately, there is a law designed to help protect Kansas landowners in most hunting situations. Tymeson referred to it as the Recreational Use Statute, and said it dates back about 55 years. It basically says those who partake of outdoor recreation, including hunting, on private land are responsible for their own safety

An exception is if the landowner is aware of possible hazards, gives permission anyway, and someone is injured. A landowner directing a hunter to known hazard, like an uncovered well, is an example.

Under the statute, landowners are still afforded protection if leasing their property to hunters or outfitters. It would be wise to consult a personal attorney, however, to make sure landowners are properly protected under commercial conditions.

Private lands enrolled under the agency’s Walk-In Hunting Area program also fall within the protection of the Recreational Use Statute.

Trespass

Trespassers can damage property, interfere with normal farming operations and mess up hunting opportunities for those who have permission. While the law is on a farmer’s side, the legal system often makes getting violators prosecuted difficult.

Kansas law permission is needed to access any private property, posted or not. It’s the same with a nice backyard in Johnson County as it is some remote pasture out near Johnson City.

Most farms and ranches in Kansas are posted as per hunting. On properties where “Hunting by written permission only” signs are up, hunters must have signed, written permission from the landowner on their person while on the property.

Marking the tops of fence posts or sides of trees with an 8-inch band of purple paint, 3 to 5 feet above the ground, state the land is posted hunting, fish and trapping by written permission only.

Any game warden or member of a sheriff’s department can issue citations for those on such lands without seeking the landowner’s approval. However, complaints signed by landowners generally carry more weight in court.

There are no circumstances where a Kansas landowner is required to grant access to a member of the general public. That includes to someone looking for a hunting dog that’s crossed a property boundary. It’s the same for hunters searching for wounded or dead game. (Many landowners grant access for retrieving dogs or wounded game, as long as no weapons are carried on to their land.)

The presence of a member of law enforcement with such a hunter does not force the landowner to grant access.

Every agreement as per land rented or leased needs to include a provision as to who can grant hunting access within a written contract.

There’s never any guarantee the trespasser will receive legal punishment. Justifications for fines often vary from county to county.

One Linn County landowner had clear trail camera photos of a trespasser repeatedly coming and going on to his land. The trespasser’s face could be seen clearly as could the numbers and letters on the utility vehicle’s license plate. The court refused to hear the case because there wasn’t a “No Trespassing” sign directly on the private road the trespasser traveled, even though he passed several on the same property while traveling a public road.

There have been a few cases when a judge has fined a trespasser the cost of a hunt on property where legal hunters are charged a guide or trespass fee.

Landowners with sincere concerns about trespassers may want to contact their county attorney ahead of time to learn what’s needed to increase the odds of prosecution.

Pearce writes from Lawrence.

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