Is It OK to Hunt the Line?

You head into the woods to do some early season scouting and find a strange stand set right on your property line. No, they aren't trespassers; and no, it's not one of your hunting buddies. It's the neighbor's new son-in-law who married his way onto the property. His stand is set 3 feet on his side of the line. This stand will ruin your spot. It's time to call the law, or is it?

I get calls and e-mails every year from hunters who get worked up over this kind of thing. They ask us for advice, but short of suggesting they have a friendly chat with the neighbor, legally there is little they can do.

Legally speaking the guy is not trespassing (at least in most states he isn't). Property law is pretty clear on boundary line ownership. You clearly own everything on your side of the line, and your neighbor owns everything on his side. Anything straddling, the actual boundary is owned by both you and your neighbor and neither of you have a right to destroy the other's property. That's why line trees are usually more mature than surrounding timber. There is some legal wiggle room here (intent to trespass or shoot across a line) but most law enforcement officials want little to do with boundary line hunting disputes. This is a matter of ethics.

Hunters have a long standing tradition of establishing and upholding what is acceptable behavior in the woods and what is not. Hunter ethics are a corner stone of our hunting heritage. A grouse hunter would no sooner shoot a bird off a limb than put a fake fiver in the collection plate. There may be no law against it, but it just isn't done, it's not what we do. But can the same be said for hunting boundary lines?

We asked our network of whitetail watchers and here's what a few had to say: "If you set a stand looking over your neighbor's property you are not minding your own business and respecting the line. Are you really not going to shoot across the line if the buck of your dreams ambles by at 28 yards when no one else is around?"

Another respondent had a differing opinion: "I bought the 40 acres to hunt and I own it. I am going to hunt every foot of it. If I back off the lines, I'm down to 20 acres. I'll stay on my side and you stay on yours."

Since most felt that hunting line was a breech of hunting ethics, I took a stab at consensus building and came up with some guidelines:

If you are going to hunt close to a neighbor's line, rig your stand so he can't see it, and where a mortally wounded animal is unlikely to cross onto a neighboring property. Bowhunters can hunt closer to the line than gun hunters but no one likes to look across the line and see a stranger set up in a stand. And of course, never, ever set up where an errant shot can reach you or one of your neighboring hunters.

What do you think and what would you add? Or, are you a, "I own it, I hunt it, kind of guy?"

Let us know in the comments section.