Extremely Controversial Montana Hunting Law Could Spell Trouble
Fall is here, and people in Montana are getting excited about more than just pumpkin spice and football. Hunting season is upon us in Montana, and many Montanans are heading to the hill to harvest our greatest natural resource in the state. With a little luck and some hard work, we should soon start seeing photos of successful hunts pop up all over social media.
People like to say " The hardest part about hunting is finding a place to hunt."
With more and more people buying property in Montana. Finding places to hunt is getting harder. More and more land is being bought and sold every day. Making just looking at the map and navigating correctly a full-time job. Most places in Montana have land ownership maps that look like a checkerboard or chessboard. Squares of land are divided up amongst private landowners and public land. Think of it as public land being the red squares and private being the white squares. But, just like a chess piece, hunters are only allowed to go in certain directions.
When 4 pieces of property intersect, they typically have a corner post. In those 4 separate pieces of property, there could be a piece of state land (public land) next to 2 pieces of private land, which is also near a piece of National Forest Service (public) land.
There is currently a law in Montana that makes it illegal to cross from one piece of public land to the other at a corner post.
According to the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers website, an FWP statement reads
Corner crossing, such as at section corners, in checkerboard land patterns (mix of public and private land) is illegal without permission from the adjacent landowner(s).
This law still stands in Montana even after a highly publicized court ruling on our neighboring state of Wyoming.
According to the BHA website
In the fall of 2021, four non-resident hunters were issued citations in Carbon County. Wyoming, for criminal trespass (later charged with civil trespass too). The four hunters never touched private lands: They used a ladder to cross between adjoining corners of public lands managed by the BLM. Federal District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Wyoming held: “Corner crossing on foot in the checkerboard pattern of land ownership without physically contacting private land and without causing damage to private property does not constitute an unlawful trespass.”
The four hunters were acquitted and the corner crossing law in Wyoming now allows legal access to more public land. Hopefully, this case will resonate among other states too. With Montana being one of the first to hopefully follow.
As a hunter and "public land owner" I do not want to break the law. I do not want a trespassing ticket. I just want fair access to public land.