Hunting on Private Property
Trespass violations, posting property, and access issues are all concerns that affect a landowner's decision to allow hunting.
Hunters are reminded that it is unlawful to hunt on private property without the permission of the landowner, and hunters must have the permission of the landowner to track or retrieve wounded game on private property.
On Posted Property:
It is unlawful to hunt without written permission of the landowner and is punishable by a fine of up to $2500 and/or 12 months in jail.
On Property Not Posted:
It is unlawful to hunt any unposted property without permission of the landowner and is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Landowners may post their property by any of the following methods:
- Using a paint mark of aluminum color paint consisting of a vertical line at least 2 inches in width and at least 8 inches in length, no less than 3 feet and not more than 6 feet from the ground or normal water surface and visible when approaching the property.
- Signs that specifically prohibit hunting, fishing, or trespassing on the property.
What Landowners Should Know
For landowners, finding responsible hunters can provide many benefits for both the landowner and sportsmen allowed access to the property. There are benefits of having responsible hunters included as an important part of the landowner's wildlife management plan, especially if they are absentee or do not hunt themselves. There are many in-kind benefits of such relationships including road maintenance, habitat improvement, security, and safety. Hunt clubs are also helpful, and lease fees can offset property taxes. Information on locating responsible hunters can be found by contacting local civic groups like Ruritans, or 4-H Clubs, sporting goods shops, and area landowner contacts that participate in Tree Farm or Stewardship Programs. Members of sportsmen's conservation organizations that are dedicated, reputable partners with DGIF promote safety, ethical practices, habitat improvement, and scientific management of wildlife.
Concern about legal liability for recreationists prevents some landowners from permitting hunting on their property. However, the Virginia General Assembly has addressed this concern in Virginia Code Section 29.1-509. Amended in 1982, this law exempts landowners who provide recreational opportunities to the public from liability for injury or damages, provided:
- the landowner does not charge a fee.
- there is no gross negligence or "willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition, use, or structure" on the property.
The property owner should eliminate obvious hazards such as open wells and falling down buildings, or fence off and identify with warning signs any hazard that cannot be eliminated, such as a rock quarry. The landowner may wish to consider insuring the property subject to casualty and obtain comprehensive liability insurance. These are relatively inexpensive additions to standard and homeowner insurance policies. Sportsmen can be asked to help provide financial or other support in return for permission to use the lands.
Fundamentally, sportsmen are responsible for their own safety and for any damages they cause to the property of others. Lease agreements and individual permit cards (sample available here) include codes of ethical conduct while the holders are on the property.
Furthermore, landowners can require sportsmen to show proof of insurance. Sportsman insurance is available through insurance companies and national sportsman organizations.
Detailed information on leasing, liability, and posting can be found in Extension Publication # 420-035 entitled "A Landowner's Guide to Working With Sportsmen in Virginia."