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Bernie Kuntz: Stay ready to defend hunting freedom

One of the joys for me while growing up in North Dakota was the luxury of being able to hop into a vehicle, drive 10, 15 or 20 miles, park the vehicle and go hunting on foot. As long as I was not on posted land, I was perfectly legal. It gave me a wonderful sense of freedom.

That all changed when I moved to Wyoming in 1975 and learned that all private land is automatically posted, and the hunter must have permission to hunt before venturing onto private property.

By the mid-1980s I was living in Montana. It was there I was able to enjoy some of the old freedoms I had in North Dakota. In those days you had to obtain written permission to hunt big game on private land, but if the land wasn't posted you could hunt any other game without having to try to chase down a landowner.

Alas, that situation did not last because in the late 1990s a legislator from Cascade sponsored a bill that effectively made all private land off limits to hunting without permission of the landowner. The bill sailed through the Legislature, gaining strong support from both parties and it has been the law for more than two decades. So today in Montana you can't so much as shoot a gopher or a coyote without first obtaining permission.

It took away lots of the freedom in hunting private lands. I wish I could tell you how many times out in the middle of nowhere I'd suddenly spot a covey of sharptails, partridges or some pheasants sitting on the edge of cover on private land. I know it was private land because of the obnoxious orange spray paint on the gate posts, the universal marking in Montana that shouts, "Stay out!"

Twenty, thirty, forty miles from the nearest town, no ranch headquarters in sight, no name or phone number on the gate...so you have no idea who owns the land, where he lives or if he is wintering in Arizona. Unless you want to break the law, you drive on.

Like I said, it takes a lot of the fun out of hunting. Also, you can be legally hunting a piece of property and innocently wander onto unmarked, adjacent private land and suddenly find yourself facing a fine for trespassing. Trespass laws make for absolutely no provision for a landowner to mark his property boundaries. The onus is totally on the hunter. Young, savvy hunters these days carry a GPS with them and know how to use it. That way they know where they are at all times...sort of a sad reflection of the times.

In any case, every now and then a bill comes before the North Dakota Legislature, seeking to automatically post all private land in the state. So far all have died in committee or otherwise been defeated. Fight that sort of legislation with everything you have or you'll end up like Wyoming and Montana, and you'll lose a lot of your freedoms you are likely never to get back.

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