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Avoiding Conflicts Between Hunters and Property Owners

A waterfowl hunter in front of a residence.
Photo by Chris Spies

One of the more frequent complaints from landowners is in regard to discharge of firearms. Many non-hunters are unfamiliar with firearms and the prevailing media reports of firearms typically involve their use in crimes. Firearms, shotguns especially, can be loud and difficult for a person to determine where or how far away a shooter may actually be. Gunshots that occur unexpectedly, particularly in early morning hours, may cause landowners to be alarmed or disturbed.

Hunters have a legal right to hunt on most public lands and waters. However, landowners may object to hearing gunshots, be concerned about their safety, and try to exert ownership rights over the land and water near their property. If you have concerns, you can find information below that may help conflicts be better understood, mitigated, or avoided.

Private Property

Riparian Rights

Riparian (shoreline) landowners are afforded certain rights by virtue of their proximity to public waters. For example, they have the right to seek a permit from the state to use the underwater lands in front of their property for placement of a boat dock or mooring. As with any private property, landowners have the right to access their own property, including the shoreline.

Trespassing

The Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) (leaves DEC website) does not allow hunters to enter private property without permission or to use private property to access public lands and waters. Hunters must avoid using private property for access to public lands and waters and must not enter areas posted with a warning for trespass. Trespassing is illegal even on unposted property. At any time, anyone asked to leave a property (posted or not) by the landowner, occupant, or authorized person, must do so immediately.

If a hunter wounds game, they must obtain permission from the landowner prior to accessing the land in pursuit of the wounded game. If permission is refused, the hunter may not access the property in pursuit. DEC cannot compel a landowner to grant access. If the hunter has reason to believe the landowner intends to illegally possess the wounded game, that should be reported to a NYS Environmental Conservation Officer.

Trespassing on areas posted against trespass pursuant to the Environmental Conservation Law is punishable by a fine of up to $250 and/or up to 15 days in jail.

ASK Stickers


ASK Permission Sticker

Permission to access property can be granted to specific individuals. An individual should make contact with landowners, requesting permission to access land for a particular use (hunting, tracking wounded game, etc). Access to the property is dependent on the landowner's discretion. While verbal agreements are common, written permission from the landowner bars prosecution of trespass, therefore it is the recommended process. For the landowner's convenience, the DEC provides, free of charge, small ASK permission stickers that can be attached to posted signs to provide a visual indicator that permission for access may be granted upon request. Some landowners find written permission a convenient way to get to know guests and to keep track of them. They write simple notes or make homemade forms granting permission.

The DEC also provides free blank Landowner Permission Records (PDF), as well as ASK Permission Brochures (PDF) explaining the program. Physical copies of these forms are also available free from DEC regional Wildlife offices, or by writing to NYSDEC, Bureau of Wildlife, Albany, NY 12233-4754.

Landowners and lawful occupants are encouraged to allow access to responsible individuals requesting access. Many are people who respect property, people, and the environment. Responsible guests can help you care for your property. DEC relies on hunting as one of the tools of wildlife management. Regulated hunting and trapping help control wildlife populations to avoid disease, unhealthy wildlife, environmental damage, crop and ornamental plant damage, and highway accidents.

Read more regarding Posting Your Land, Public Rights of Navigation, and Accessing and Navigating Waterways.

Discharging a Firearm while Hunting near Dwellings

The Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) generally prohibits discharge of firearms within 500 feet of a dwelling or other occupied structure, unless permission is received from the owner. However, for waterfowl hunting, the NYS Legislature recognized that human settlement patterns and waterfowl habits warranted special consideration. When hunting ducks or geese that congregate on near-shore waters, it is safer for a hunter to shoot away from shore than to shoot toward shore from open water. In recognition of this, the ECL specifies that when hunting waterfowl and shooting over water, discharge of firearms within 500 feet of a dwelling is allowed, as long as there is not any dwelling, public structure, livestock, or person within 500 feet of the shooter in the direction they are shooting (ECL Section 11-0931).

A waterfowl hunter may legally hunt from shore, a boat, or blind even if there is a house less than 500 feet behind him or her, as long as shooting occurs out over the water and away from the house.

Landowner Responsibilities

It is important for landowners to recognize that their control extends only to the property they fully own. Landowners may not interfere with or exert control over legal activities occurring on public lands and waters. Specifically, it is illegal for any person to harass a person who is legally hunting or trapping (ECL Section 11-0110). Additionally, it is illegal to disturb a trap lawfully set by another person or to remove a lawfully trapped animal from another person's trap. At the same time, it is reasonable and helpful to advise the hunter/trapper of any concerns you might have. Landowners should be mindful of nearby hunters, especially those provided permission to access their land.

It is also important for riparian landowners to be familiar with hunting laws so they understand what is legal. If a landowner observes behavior they believe to be unsafe or illegal, they should contact a NYS Environmental Conservation Officer.

Hunter Responsibilities

Family of four after hunting two turkeys
Family Turkey Shoot

Hunter behavior is often scrutinized by the public. Inappropriate actions or simple poor judgment by just a few hunters can lead to controversy and result in the call for additional laws, regulations, or local ordinances that would restrict all hunters.

It is important that hunters be aware of and obey all state hunting laws, as well as any local discharge ordinances. When using public lands and waters, it is essential that hunters access these areas legally.

Hunters also must show ethical and courteous behavior to local residents. A little courtesy and time spent before a hunt can go a long way to avoid or minimize problems. Here are some suggestions:

  • Consider contacting landowners adjacent to where you will be hunting, well in advance of your hunt. Let them know when and where you will be hunting. They may be less concerned if you only plan to hunt a few days or at certain times of the day.
  • Take the time to explain to the landowner your intent to abide by the laws and regulations pertaining to hunting, your familiarity with the locations of houses, and your desire to be safe.
  • Plan out your shooting directions, and verify that the spot you choose to hunt is safe and in compliance with the law. Keep in mind that shot pellets, especially when discharged at a high angle, can sometimes travel farther than 500 feet.
  • Identify any concerns the landowner may have and discuss them before you go hunting.
  • Leave your hunting location as clean as you found it. Be sure to pick up your empty shell casings and other litter you may find.
  • In urban and suburban areas, be particularly mindful that prior permission from neighboring landowners is necessary to allow you to track and/or retrieve wounded game.

Trapper Responsibilities

Father teaching children how to trap beaver
Photo courtesy of Noble Armstrong

It is important for trappers to remember that public perceptions can play an important role in the future of activities like trapping. Most people are neutral or indifferent to regulated trapping; the actions of just one trapper can sway public opinion in either direction. For this reason, it is important that trappers follow all state regulations and make every effort to be responsible and ethical. An ethical trapper is one who respects landowners, other people, the furbearer resource, and habitat.

Below are some tips on being a responsible, ethical trapper and helping to ensure the continued wise use of the resource:

  • Respect landowners' rights and always obtain permission before trapping on private lands. Identify any concerns that the landowner may have and discuss them before setting traps.
  • Ask landowners who else might be using their property during trapping season. Be sure to communicate with them regarding where and when they may be using the property.
  • Be aware of other people using the outdoors and avoid interference with their activities. Remember that traps cannot be set on a public road, and that body-gripping traps set on land shall not be within 100 feet of the public trail except on Wildlife Management Areas.
  • Be aware of free-ranging domestic animals and avoid trapping where there is a high risk of catching them.
  • Know and use selective and humane trapping sets with appropriate trap types and sizes.
  • Don't set more traps than you can effectively handle.
  • Check traps as early in the day as possible.
  • Fully utilize trapped furbearers whenever possible. Dispose of animal carcasses properly.
  • Make an effort to trap any areas where furbearer populations are overabundant or are creating a nuisance.
  • Avoid destroying living vegetation to make sets.

Resolution of Conflicts

Mutual understanding and courtesy shown by hunters and landowners can go a long way toward preventing conflicts. However, there are some situations where the parties themselves are not capable of resolving conflicts. In those situations, it is appropriate for either the landowner or hunter to contact DEC's Division of Law Enforcement at their 24-hour hotline 1-877-457-5680, or the Bureau of Wildlife at the Regional DEC office nearest you.

For a handy "pocket reference" for police officers and waterfowlers, contact your nearest DEC Wildlife Office or email your request.