The Deck is Stacked Against the Family Hunter & Recreationalist
In Favor of the Big Land Owner & Paid Guide



It’s no surprise to my husband and I that the worst hunting violation right now is trespass (according to game warden quoted in an article in the Madison County paper the ‘Madisonian' which ran the week of November 19, 2015).  This latest law,MCA 87-6-415, is the one Game Warden Picken in their article last week says he’s been giving out and has a $170 ticket. Yep, my husband and I who haven’t had so much as a speeding ticket in over 20 years, in spite of our best efforts to stay off of private ground, each got one from Mr. Picken and we ARE Madison County residents.  Since we got our ticket, we now know of other MadCo residents who have gotten tickets as well contrary what was suggested by one game warden the ‘Madisonian’ article.  As fair warning to other hunters I will tell our story…


We had our map and we were on public ground.  We got off our horses several times to consult our map in order to avoid the private ground that ran on two sides of the ‘stair-stepping’ several mile long and mile-plus wide public ground that we were on.  We came to a corner with two gates.  The gate going into a separate area on the right was shut and had a ‘no trespassing’ sign with Turner Enterprises on it (seriously, THANK YOU Ted Turner for being a good neighbor and marking your property).  The gate on the left however was wide open with no sign, no orange, no nothing, with a two track road going through it (I have pictures if anyone cares to see them).  We had been watching for a corner that looked just like this one on the map with the left hand area (open, unmarked gate) being a continuation of the public ground we were traveling. We went on through a few hundred yards, saw some sign, tied our horses up and walked up the ridge to see if we could spot anything. 5-10 minutes after going through the open unmarked gate up drives a hired hand of Ruby River Properties shouting at us to come down, that he sees us… 


We showed him the map and where we thought we were.  He shows us a $5-600 Garmin GPS that I can’t make heads or tails of and informs us to wait for the game warden to receive our ticket, no grace, no warning, no courtesy... We asked him why his gate was wide open and not marked while Turner’s gate to the pasture just to the right of his was closed and marked.  He informed us they don’t mark any of their land up there and they don’t have to, it’s not their job…  After obediently waiting around 45 minutes at the gate, Game Warden Picken drives up with the hired hand in the passenger’s seat of his truck, gives us our $340 worth of tickets and tells us the same thing, landowners don’t have to mark their property at all.  Our day was ruined, we ended our hunt and were scared to death that we would accidentally step on some private ground on the way back to the truck and get another ticket from the Ruby River Properties' hired hand and the game warden who were still up on the hill.


Back in town I got online to research the laws and there are THREE ‘trespass’ laws on the books.  What was probably the first one and the most balanced with responsibility shared between the property owner and general public is MCA 45-6-201 and MCA 45-6-203. This is the one we thought was law and it DOES require property owners to reasonably post notice as Turner did.  Sadly the legislature has essentially voided the land owner responsibility portion of this law by passing the other two.  MCA 87-6-415 which Ray Shaw helped pass is being used as a trespass law without ever mentioning trespass, marked or unmarked ground at all.  It simply states if you don’t get property owner permission and you ‘take or attempt to take’ big game ‘while hunting’ you get a fine of $135 for the first offense (I really don’t know where the $170 comes from, read it for yourselves its online…).  Warden Picken says wearing orange and having a hunting permit while on private ground (even accidentally while consulting a map) during hunting season is attempting to take game.  No game needs to be spotted let alone shot at.  The second law that guts landowner responsibility is MCA 77-1-806 which states specifically “(2) Entry to private property from adjacent state lands without permission of the landowner or the landowner's agent is an absolute liability offense…”  “(3) A person may be found guilty of the offense described in subsection (2) regardless of the absence of fencing or failure to post a notice in accordance with 45-6-201.” 


With these multiple ‘trespass’ laws (especially those that relieve the land owner of any responsibility to mark private ground) along with the closure of dozens of roads used for a hundred years to access to public lands (ironically with orange paint and locked gates by the adjacent land owners), how long will it be before people just quit hunting in this area or Montana in general?  Will families who can’t afford a GPS, don’t know how to navigate with one or are scared of getting a first offense $170 ticket let alone a second offense $535 ticket for each person in their group still take their kids hunting?  Perhaps that’s the reasoning from the big land owner’s perspective who leave their gates open and unmarked?  Perhaps if they can scare us off of public ground adjacent to their private ground with expensive trespass tickets for accidentally stepping through an open unmarked gate or over an unfenced unmarked boundary then they have even more ‘private’ hunting grounds at taxpayer expense.  Who can know for sure why they wouldn’t bother to mark their ground if the really don’t want people to trespass.  This is the only logical conclusion I can come up with. Then there is incentive for the state to pass these unbalanced laws and issue these tickets without a first warning being given… they are the ones who get to keep all the expensive fines.  (Conflict of interest?)  Unfortunately this makes criminals out of hard working honest people. 


Again, a big THANK YOU to Turner Enterprises, at least they had the decency to mark their gate.  Shame on Ruby River Properties.  With all that land can’t they afford a few signs or even a couple cans of spray paint.  Interestingly we did notice that they do paint some posts along the Upper Ruby Road marking some slivers of private ground positioned between the road and many square miles of public ground.  Not all of that land along the road is private though it may appear to be. Why did they mark this ground but not the ground that is mixed in with the public ground once you get off the road?             


In closing I feel most saddened for my son and his generation.  He will be old enough to hunt next year but now we are scared of accidentally getting a second offense this time with our son present.  That would amount to well over $1000 in fines! I go hunting to get out of the office and away from technology, not to get a GPS and take it with me.  Additionally the GPS programs have a disclaimer that they are not guaranteed to be accurate.  FWP even has the same disclaimer on their website.  How long before a hunter using a $600 GPS gadget gets a trespass ticket because they misread the GPS or it didn’t update or work properly? Hunters and recreationalists beware…