When newly purchased land gets posted it means disappearing access for Maine hunters

By Chris Sargent

“No, we don’t really want anyone else in there. We’re going to manage it for whitetails.” 

I wasn’t all that surprised with the answer to the question I’d just asked the new landowner: 

“My father and I have hunted that piece for years; would you mind if we continued to?”

Respectful and polite as he was, I still found it hard to stave off the frustration and disappointment. It wasn’t so much the fact he was from “away,” or that he had called me, his local Game Warden, to pay special attention to his coveted new property. It also wasn’t because he happened to be a brother of a former coworker and friend. The piece of woods was special.

On it, at 18 years old and a dozen or so yards from an apple tree, my father took his first deer with a slug fired from a Remington 870 Wingmaster 20-gauge shotgun. It was one of our favorite grouse spots where for years, friends and family enjoyed cool October walks along a small trail known locally as the “Bulldozed Road.”

Photo courtesy of Chris Sargent

It was where I’d seen my first beaver trap set, where I’d ridden countless miles on ATVs and hunted woodcock along the edge of a beech ridge. But just like that, with a check and signature, our already modest hunting area shrank by 160 acres. 

In the years since, several other pieces in the area have sold and what was once a couple thousand acres of accessible hunting land is now peppered with no trespassing signs. We’re fortunate that a couple of the larger landowners have allowed us to continue hunting but with restrictions on when, where, how and what for. 

It’s just not the same. 

Being of meager means and existence, none of us could afford to buy any of the land. You can bet however that if I were able to, I would have purchased every single square inch. It’s a beautiful thought and one I often daydream about.

How wonderful to have a few thousand or even several hundred acres to enjoy in exclusivity? Plenty of room for family and a few good friends to hunt in comfort, confidence and without worry of another hunter walking anywhere near their stand. No competition, where the deer, bear, turkeys and other game felt like ours. 

A little piece of heaven all to ourselves.

Although, I wonder if I had some land what I’d say to all the folks who called my number on the “Access by Permission Only” signs along the borders. After all, in order to enjoy special landowner privileges, like participating in the landowner antlerless deer permit drawing, the property would need to be kept open to hunting, including hunting by permission.

What would the vetting process be? Which hunters would be more deserving or special than others? Maybe youths on youth days. Maybe veterans on well-deserved special hunts. Maybe disabled or otherwise physically limited persons. Maybe I’d host an annual hunt for women who’ve shown an interest in hunting a little later in life.

They all sound like fantastic candidates to me and there are several large,  privately owned parcels in the state that cater solely to just those types,  which is wonderful. While that’s all well and good, what about those who don’t fall into such a specific category though? 

I couldn’t exclude the old fellow with two acres that butts up against the property and who’s hunted it nearly all of his 80 years. How could I say no to the guy with two young sons who just moved in down the road and wants a place to teach his boys to hunt, just as his father had with him? What about the rest of the people in town who have lost their hunting areas over the years to the same sort of situation?  

It’s happening more and more these days. Large pieces of property are being bought up, posted and erased from the list of once accessible hunting grounds, forcing more and more hunters onto less and less land. Some are hunters themselves, just trying to escape a fate so many others face.

Some are nonhunters who want to own a piece of our beautiful state to enjoy in peace and quiet with no interest in allowing any type of access. And when you think about it, who can blame them? It’s their land and their right, but is it right? 

There’s no way around it. Finding good places to hunt and trap in our state is getting harder and harder. Luckily, us Mainers are a generous lot for the most part and if you knock on enough doors, you’re likely to find a place to put up a stand or two.

It wasn’t long after my conversion with the new landowner that I set out to find how he’d ended up all the way down in our neck of the woods from the northern part of the state. Oh, the irony. It turns out he and another one of his brothers had lost much of their traditional hunting area due to land changing hands around them. Boy, am I happy they were finally able find a place all to their own. I just wish I knew where the rest of us will go.

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