Maine has a tradition of open access, but authorities still advise checking with owners before hunting on private land, even if it is not posted, said Jessica Leahy, an associate professor at the University of Maine School of Forest Resources.
“It’s good practice to check in with a landowner and even to thank them. Hunting on private property is a privilege, not a right,” she said.
Leahy cited the Great Ponds Act, which dates to the 1600s and allows crossing undeveloped private property on foot to hunt or fish on bodies of water of 10 acres or more.
“It was originally intended for sustenance, with the idea that you can’t keep people away from a resource they need for food. Over time it morphed to include recreational hunting,” Leahy said.
Leahy said that among landowners in Maine, access rights — for hunting and riding all-terrain vehicles — is the second most common concern after illegal dumping.
By checking with landowners, hunters can make themselves aware of other hunters in the area as well as how close they might be to camps or homes, she said.
Tom Doak, executive director of the Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine, a nonprofit that helps owners protect and preserve their land, said he believes property access disputes happen more often than reported to law enforcement.
According to the most recent statistics from the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there was one hunting-related fatality in Maine in 2011 and seven non-fatal injuries.
Doug Rafferty, spokesman for the department, said there haven’t been significant fluctuations in those numbers over recent years.
The number of hunting licenses, meanwhile, has declined slightly from 211,055 in 2001 to 203,638 in 2011, according to the department.
— Rachel Ohm