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One Hunter to Another: An Officer’s View of Trespassing

One Hunter to Another: An Officer’s View of Trespassing

Trespassing—the act of being where you are not supposed to be, going where you are not allowed to go. As someone who dedicated his career to serving as a wildlife conservation officer, I can tell you firsthand that the description of the word is simple, but its effect has wide-ranging and often harmful implications.

The intentional act of trespassing creates problems far outside the act itself. People would not even lock their doors at night if not for trespassing. Children could play in their own yards without parents fearing kidnapping if there was no one trespassing. Landowners who hunt, fish or just enjoy the outdoors would not face the problem of trespassers ruining their land or committing thefts. Suffice it to say that many issues and crimes occur or are spawned just from trespassing.

Landowners collectively spend millions each year just trying to prevent trespassing. Patrolling and putting up “no trespassing” signs are just some of the costs of pursuing privacy and security. While motion-activated trail cameras have helped to deter some trespassing, the crime remains rampant.

An example of the harm trespassing can cause on the hunting front alone can be seen in the horrible murder case involving one Wisconsin deer hunting family a few years back. A trespasser was confronted by the landowners—members of the family—while he trespassed on their land. The trespasser then murdered seven of the family members. He systematically searched out the landowners while they legally hunted, and then he shot and killed them—a sad and senseless act. But again, if for not the act of trespassing in the first place, the murders would not have occurred.

Whether speaking as a hunter or otherwise, so much is lost due to trespassing. There is the loss of peacefulness and security, and, of course, often the loss of property that results.

The sad thing is that because trespassing is usually a solo activity, usually with no witnesses or anyone to interfere, a trespasser’s conscience is often the only thing stopping him—and some people have no conscience. Knowing that landowners cannot protect their land 24 hours a day and due in part, to the enormous trespassing problem in this country, I began a movement to help address the issue. One year I asked the chief of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) law enforcement division where I worked if I could spearhead a committee to look at trespassing in general. After meeting with Sgt. Dave Shaw and fellow conservation officers Dan Prince and Zack Doss, I came up with several recommendations. We all agreed that trespassing was out of control and that we needed new laws. We even recommended the use of the “purple paint law” (placing purple paint on fence posts and on trees is all that is needed to denote private property in some states).

Unfortunately, not much changed over the years until recently with the enactment of new trespass laws along with my trophy poaching law which targets those who poach trophy bucks. The enhanced fines and penalties are proportional to the size of the deer poached. The bigger the buck that is poached, the higher the fines. Some poachers have been fined $15,000 to $20,000 for killing one buck. But the new trespass laws were still not strict enough.

I, too, have experienced the negative effects of trespassing, including the loss of privacy, ruined hunting opportunity and loss of property. While we hunters generally obey laws and respect others’ property, we occasionally encounter a “bad apple.” As you no doubt will relate, my story was that much more painful considering the amount of planning, preparation and anticipation that went into this particular hunt—all ruined by someone who broke the law by being where he was not supposed to be.

Like most hunters, I spend considerable time and energy strategically placing my hunting stands. Once, while out preparing to set up one of my stands, I found where three heavily used deer trails converged in a small meadow. Several sets of tracks on the trails were left by bucks, one set by a large, older buck. Droppings were visible as were several buck rubs, one of which was on a 12-inch-diameter cedar tree. Big buck alert, I thought, smiling to myself. I also found several large scrapes. I had found a ream spot.

"Whether speaking as a hunter or otherwise, so much is lost due to trespassing. There is the loss of peacefulness and security, and, of course, often the loss of property that results."Before setting up my tree stand, I checked repeatedly for the predominant wind. Using small pieces of grass, leaves, strings and powder, I verified that on most days, the wind was from the southwest. I picked a hemlock tree that would provide concealment, cover scent and some insulation from the cold. It was the perfect tree for my ladder stand. I covered any branches that I trimmed with mud and earth scent in hopes that the deer would not know that I had intruded into their area.

As I walked away, my head was filled with visions of huge bucks walking by my stand's location. For weeks, I had both day and night dreams about my upcoming hunt at my special spot.

The rut was in full swing now so I was set to venture to the stand for my first hunt, but a northeast wind had kicked up off of Lake Huron. Oh, no. If I hunted in a northeast wind, my scent would blow right to where the deer would be coming from so I painfully decided not to hunt that spot for three more days. It takes a lot of discipline not to hunt a prime stand on the wrong day.

Finally, the wind shifted from the southwest. I prepared all of my clothing, boots and gear. I even wore other clothing and boots to the gas station on the way to avoid picking up any scents from gas or oil.

I drove to my hunting area, quietly closed my truck door and snuck through the fields and woods toward my ladder stand. In my excitement, I had to force myself to slow down during the last 100 yards to my stand. I could smell deer in the area and was in for a great hunt. When I was only 30 yards from my new favorite hunting spot, I stopped to savor the sights and smells of the November woods. Everything was perfect—the wind direction, the timing of the rut and the fact I had not breached this area for weeks all added to my excitement.

I slowly walked to my hemlock tree then I looked up to my stand and saw that it was gone. I quickly scanned the other hemlock trees in case I was mistaken about my stand’s location. But when I looked back at my tree, I confirmed it: My stand was gone. A disheartened feeling came over me similar to the feeling any one of us would have upon walking out of our home or a store and realizing that our car had been stolen. Only this was worse. Someone had stolen my ladder stand. I had looked forward to this hunt for weeks, and now my experience was ruined. I wanted to catch the thief who had cost me my stand, hunt and solitude.

I was so outraged at the fact that someone had trespassed and was where they were not supposed to be. As you might guess, an accomplished man-tracker in the law enforcement arena, I began hunting for the trespasser. Slowly, I searched and followed a scant track through the forest. The fresh-fallen leaves impeded my tracking efforts, but I still was able to track my prey all the way to a gravel road. Then I found boot tracks and four-wheeler tracks. After following the quad tracks for miles, I reached a paved road where the tracks disappeared. I eventually found four-wheeler tracks heading up a driveway. When I walked up to the ranch-style home, I glanced into the backyard and saw my ladder stand. The rest is history. I was so mad that I did not know if I should arrest the trespasser or punch him.

Of course, I did the right thing and arrested him and got my tree stand back. Again, the deliberate act of trespassing led to having my tree stand stolen. Remember the old adage “out of sight, out of mind?” It sure applies to trespassing. My feelings actually had nothing to do with the money I’d lost when the stand was stolen. I’d been robbed of an anticipated hunt by a person who was where he was not supposed to be.

So again, imagine the far-reaching implications that result from when people are not where they are supposed to be. We would have better hunting. We would have fewer larcenies. We would have safer homes. We may even have more world peace.

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About the Author
Author John Borkovich’s love of nature is what led him to become a wildlife conservation officer. A firearm instructor and member of the state Department of Natural Resources’ Firearms Transition Team, throughout his career he also served as a field training officer at the Conservation Officer Police Academy at Michigan State Police (MSP) headquarters and as an adjunct professor in the St. Clair County Community College’s criminal justice department. Borkovich recently released his book, “Wildlife 911: On Patrol.” To order a copy, please visit Borkovich’s website, wildlife911officer.com. The book is available for $19.95 and can be purchased through PayPal or by calling 810-523-2103.

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