The Autumn Property Invasion

The Autumn Property Invasion  
Fall means two things for farm land owners: Harvest and hunters.  For my family, managing the hunters has always been more challenging than bringing in the crops.  

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When I bought land and moved back to my roots, I made signs for my mother’s farm. She was old and had been taken advantage of for years.  By trespassers, an unwelcome pest who leased hunting rights next door, and dozens of door knockers every Fall.  Not to mention a local business owner who’d been using my family property like his own for 3 decades, never once offering anything in exchange.


One sign read: “No Hunting.  Don’t Even Ask.  If you want to hunt, buy your own land.”   

The other:  “Hunting privileges on this property reserved for the family that worked their whole life to pay for it.”

Admittedly, not subtle but effective. 

By the way, I’m an outdoorsman.  I fish, hunt, hike, and in general, play outside daily.  So, please don’t go down the anti-outdoorsman path.  I’m also not a property snob or an arrogant heir to millions of acres.  My family made many sacrifices to purchase our property - I fed calves there from age 8.  

Put Your Money Where Your Interests Are
Our family vacation in the 1970s and ‘80s was a day at the state fair.  For this reason I bristle when I hear, “We can’t afford land!” from people who spring break at Disney and holiday in Hawaii.  

Likewise I’m perturbed when I hear, “We don’t have anywhere to hunt.”  Well, I don’t have anywhere to snow ski, but that doesn’t entitle me to free use of someone’s chalet in Aspen.  

Land Is Your Asset
For most farm families, land is their biggest asset.  And it doesn’t come cheap.  40 acres of woods near me just sold for $170,000.  If you owned a lake cottage worth 170 grand, nobody would expect you to loan it out a couple months each year.  

My advice to landowners: Get compensation.  Your tillable land has cash rent value, so does your recreational property.  

If you’re uncomfortable taking money, work out a trade.  Granted, this is easier said than implemented.  The first call I got when I bought my farm was from a neighbor seeking hunting rights.  I granted them with the condition he’d help me with some farm projects.  Several years into the arrangement he hadn’t found a single hour of free time to help me with those projects. Funny though, he always found time for hunting.  He’s not allowed here anymore

Protect It
You’ve heard the USA has 25% of the world’s lawyers?  I don’t know if that’s true, but goodness knows we’ve got plenty of ambulance chasers.  Don’t let them chase you!  A properly executed lease will help.   Also, maintain a healthy farm insurance policy as well as an umbrella policy for additional liability coverage. 

Tips For Non Landowner Outdoorsmen & Women
Again, I’m not anti-outdoorsman.  I AM one.  As a fellow outdoorsy guy, here are recommendations for you who seek to use other people’s land: 

  1. Offer something in return.  Rent, work, barter.  Even if the land owner asks for nothing, do the right thing.  A gift card and volunteer effort goes a long way! 
  2. Put together an agreement absolving the landowner of liability.  Remember, farmers treasure their property.  The thought of losing it in litigation might be what’s preventing them from granting you permission to use it.  
  3. Pick up after yourself.  Even pick up debris left by others. 
  4. Every farm owner I know has been burned by the “friend of a friend whose cousin’s uncle said it was OK to fish/ ride/ hunt here.” Permission for you doesn’t mean permission for 19 other people. 
  5. Don’t damage the crops.  This is how we earn a living.  Speaking of damage, those trees have value too.  The guy who previously used my mom’s land hacked tree stands onto many a beautiful red oak.  Now they’re worthless.  

My mom died last year.  I own the home farm, along with a dozen damaged trees and those signs.  Still debating whether I’ll post them in her memory.  

Damian Mason is an Agriculturist, outdoorsman, speaker, writer, and business person.  Find him at www.damianmason.com

Angie WilliamsRural Living