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Court Rules Wyoming “Corner Crossing” Hunters Not Guilty

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Question: Are these hunters brilliant innovators, or scofflaws?

In November 2021, four hunters faced a problem that frequently stymies those of us who hunt public land: There were two huntable parcels, joined at the corner, with private land on either side. Crossing that corner is generally considered trespassing. So these Wyoming hunters came up with an idea: Building an elaborate stepladder that would allow them to travel from one piece of public land to another without setting foot on the (posted) private land on either side. You and I may find this amusing, but the private landowner did not, and he took action.

When the private landowner initially contacted law enforcement, LEOs declined to cite the four hunters. (Probably with a snicker.) However, the legal principle of private landownership doesn’t stop at the top of the grass. The airspace over it counts, too, which is why it’s not okay for your neighbors to build a walkway over your pool. So after a bit of a nudge, law enforcement cited those hunters, who then approached the Wyoming Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) association for help.

The chapter decided to support them. Chapter members reached out to hunters and anglers across the country and were overwhelmed by the response. BHA Wyoming sponsored a fundraiser to support the four hunters. Together more than $70,000 was raised to cover the hunters’ legal expenses. Should there be a remaining balance after all legal matters are resolved, the chapter will donate the remainder of the funds to Wyoming’s Access Yes Program, which is widely recognized as a successful program to help hunters, trappers and anglers access privately held lands.

In a major win for public lands access, four Missouri hunters were declared “not guilty” by the Wyoming court in a “corner crossing’ case that garnered national attention. Now, of course, the story of these four hunters has become national news. It has increased awareness around concerns held by private and public land owners alike, and it has shed light on how complex the landscape has become, which underscores the need to develop access solutions that work for everyone.

“Today the court made its decision, and Wyoming BHA believes justice has been served. We are happy for these hunters, and we hope we can avoid future scenarios of criminal prosecution of the public for attempting to access their public lands and waters.

“This isn’t a precedent setting decision, but it is a step forward. We are committed to advancing this conversation and we hope we can find solutions that result in increased public access while respecting the property rights and concerns of all.”

It’s important to note that the verdict of this case doesn’t mean that “corner crossing” is now legal. Hunters need to continue following the law to the very best of their knowledge and ability. Private land rights are extremely important in America, and balancing that against public land use is always tricky … but we’ll keep an eye on this developing situation!

 

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Jim

    May 4, 2022 at 5:59 pm

    Since the airspace is mine, does that make any drones fair game?

  2. Derrill

    May 4, 2022 at 2:36 pm

    Question is why the landowner ,knowing the situation , could not simply provide a lane of access from one public area to another for hunters. Anither point here is that the hunters, especially since they were out of state should have simply asked permission to cross private property and if denied, could simply have just moved on . Private property is just that ,PRIVATE. That means it’s not yours and you cannot be there without owner’s permission just as you wouldn’t want someone trepassing on your property. Ask for permission to cross, and if denied simply go somewhere else. Too many hunters think it’s ok to trespass private property and ruin it for all of us.

    • James Foster

      May 4, 2022 at 6:12 pm

      While there are indeed some “hunters” who do wantonly trespass, public land use is a huge issue in Wyoming. Throughout the US, people are “locked out” of public land surrounded by private land. What’s worse, is the ranchers that love to fence in/off public land connected to their property. This is an issue not only for public land use, but of real estate.

  3. Nuya

    May 4, 2022 at 9:28 am

    So are these hunters from WY or MO – you switch back and forth in the article. Why would you celebrate a case that allows people to break the law??

    • James Foster

      May 4, 2022 at 6:15 pm

      The hunters were from MO, hunting in Wyoming. Pretty sure that’s not the only point you missed

  4. Roland

    May 3, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Mr. Snead,
    I must submit a correction to your post. You are incorrect about someone passing out at 10K+ feet elevation. There are populated cities/towns located even higher than 10K feet.
    Check your facts.

  5. StLPro2A

    May 3, 2022 at 11:46 am

    Is that specific corner the only possible access between the two huntable parcels? Why did they have to cross at that corner? Was there access from another path? In Missouri, one cannot be landlocked out of their property. Access must be available….ie an easement. How high do you think air space belongs to the land?? Are planes trespassing in fly over at 30,000 feet? at 1000 feet? At bridge height?? What about mineral rights law below the surface??? How far down? How shallow??? Appears the hunters had intent to not trespass by buildingnthe bridge. Don’t think we have Paul Harvey’s “the rest of the story.”

    • James

      May 3, 2022 at 5:34 pm

      This is a great nteresting article.
      Does that mean if I’m walking down on a public sidewalk and I happen to look at a bird and I step on someone’s lawn, does that mean I’m trespassing?
      What if I bent down and touched someone property with my finger? Is that trespassing too?
      These hunters were avoiding any touching of property.
      The owner of this 75,000 acre property is a billionaire.
      That’s why we need BLM land and National Forests, so the average Joe can go out hunting, hiking and sight seeing. Otherwise, all the property in America is being bought up by billionares, China and Saudi Arabia.

      • Pat

        May 4, 2022 at 9:50 am

        The owner being a billionaire is completely irrelevant to the situation. The accused passed from one public parcel to another without trespassing on the private LAND.
        It’s a bit grey as to right of way OVER the private land. I could go either way on a ruling such as this and be able to justify either one.
        It appears the landowner is anti-gun or anti-hunting and is attempting to use the law to his advantage.

    • Eric Stevenson

      May 4, 2022 at 12:26 pm

      Every state, County, and City are different, some places you can fly a drone over someone’s property without breaking the law and in others it is illegal. Usually, it is an invasion of privacy issue but in some cases, it is trespassing. Again, you should always check with the JHA or jurisdiction having authority as to what rights a property owner has. A person mentioned a radio tower of 100′ tall to ask what height is it no longer trespassing, the light on the tower is an FAA requirement to keep aircraft from inadvertently hitting the tower, again local laws dictate if and when airspace over property is protected by landowner rights. I think the courts made the right decision in this case based on the very small amount of info provided in the story but it really is a case by case issue. I remember a case here in Oregon where a property owner tried to sue his neighbor for cutting off tree branches that were hanging over onto his property and he lost his case because even though the tree was his and on his property the branches that occupied the neighbors property were now his. In the end the tree ended up dying because of the damage caused by the cut branches, the saving grace was he refused to have the tree trimmed by an expert and splitting the cost when approached by the other party. In some places you own the property but not the mineral rights, I know someone that couldn’t put a well on their land because of a mineral rights debate.

  6. Tony Gougeon

    May 3, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Why is it considered trespassing? If they are touching at a corner or another point then why can’t you step from one to the other.

  7. C

    May 3, 2022 at 10:15 am

    AND YOU BEST OBEY THE LAW OR ELSE YOU ASSESS

    • William Snead

      May 3, 2022 at 2:25 pm

      Currently our government is trying to take ownership of land away from people who paid for it. So tread lightly with your court cases least they backfire upon us.I have a situation where I have poachers to the east and west of me. The 1 to the east I have recorded him TREASPASSING on a neighbors property to field dress the deer that he shot over the property line. We have called the Sheriff’s Deputy in charge of dealing with hunters in our area. As for the corners issue if you don’t have 90 degree angles anywhere and you are dealing with acute or obtuse angles this may cause a trespassing issue. If you have to put a Red light on top of a 100 ft antenna tower I would say that 100 ft is your airspace limit. I do know that at 10,000 ft you will pass out from the lack of O2. Now I would love for someone to come hunt the back of my property if you don’t mind sharing what you hunt. Or for the trade of 2 deer build a hunting stand that is boxed in with a roof. Every person who has installed a tree stand to a tree has had it stolen. Even after I had a locking mechanism welded onto the stand. I would also consider having deer moved onto my dad’s and my land to replenish what poachers took. But that will have to wait until the Deputy does his job and arrests said poachers and not show up a week after the incident. Even with video of the individuals the Deputy assigned to be the game warden is useless.

      • j

        May 3, 2022 at 7:31 pm

        You are incorrect about the 10,000 feet. Some will some will not and it also depends on how long you stay at that altitude. many people fly through the Beaumont, Banning pass in California at 10,000 ft. all the time with out oxygen. They just do not stay up there that long but have to get there to make it through the pass. As far as the hole how low can you fly well that is 1,500 ft. unless your are actually landing. Maybe the county should just put in a 10ft. easement there to settle this.

      • JOHN PENCE

        May 4, 2022 at 9:48 am

        People do not pass out at 10K feet and I camp for about 5 weeks total several times every year at a lake at that elevation. These private property owners could avoid all this BS and construct the fence corner to allow foot traffic access. Not wide enough for anything with a motor, just foot traffic width.

        • Curley Bull

          May 6, 2022 at 9:09 am

          I agree with Mr. Pence!

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