By: Marshall Chriswell
This time of year in Pennsylvania, outdoor sportsmen clean their rifles, don their blaze orange and camouflage winter gear, and head into the woods. Deer hunting is a time-honored tradition in the Commonwealth; it is a great opportunity for bonding with family and friends, and of course stocking up on some tasty venison to enjoy for the months to come.
However, hunters should be aware that Pennsylvania has enacted important statutes and regulations that, if not properly followed, can result in civil or criminal sanctions, including fines or loss of hunting privileges.
This week, in honor of Pennsylvania (firearm) deer hunting season, I will shed some light on Pennsylvania hunting laws. I won’t mention every single statute and regulation, but my posts should give you a good idea of the laws of the land.
When planning your hunt, one of the first things you must do is determine where you are going to hunt. One of the most common legal issues to arise during hunting season is that of property rights.
Contrary to the belief of some, hunting on private property without permission is trespassing – even if the property is unoccupied, and not posted or fenced. In Pennsylvania, you may not hunt private property without the permission of the landowner. Written permission is not required, but it is advisable.
If you hunt on private property without any knowledge as to whether hunting is permitted there, you may not have committed a crime, but the landowner may sue you for trespass and recover money for any damage that you caused to his land. They may also call the game commission or the police and have you removed. Further, the landowner will not be responsible if a trespasser is injured by a dangerous condition on his land.
However, if the owner of a property does not permit hunting on his/her land, and you still hunt despite being aware of the owner’s wishes (by posting, fencing, or other notification from the owner), you may also be charged criminally. If you are convicted, you will be fined, and the offense of “criminal trespass” will be a part of your public record for employers, banks, and everyone else to see. If you are found guilty of other violations of Pennsylvania hunting laws in conjunction with criminal trespass, the penalties can be more stringent, and you may lose your hunting privileges for up to fifteen years.
The bottom line is that private property is just that: private. You should always ask permission from a landowner before hunting their property. Many landowners are happy to grant you permission, but if you trespass, the landowner may decide to close his property to hunters altogether. Then, you will lose a promising hunting spot, in addition to risking criminal charges.