Whether you bought your property to manage your own hunting paradise or you plan to enjoy your land with family, friends and co-workers year-round, the most important thing you can provide for them is a safe experience. Hosting guests on your own property may be one of the most rewarding feelings a landowner will ever have, but it also comes with great responsibility. Following the simple steps laid out below should alleviate your concerns and allow you to share your property with family and friends worry free.
As you move through the steps below it is very important that you take detailed notes and document your actions. Good information is one of the keys to preventing injuries and subsequent lawsuits before they occur. However, if you do find yourself on the wrong end of a legal action, a good set of notes with dates and detailed descriptions of your actions will tilt the scales of justice in your favor and help protect yourself from paying out to persons that visit your property. Include in your notes, the dates and times you took corrective actions. Anytime you speak with a guest before they visit, make them aware of potential hazards or simply escort them around the property to point out boundary lines. After you meet, make sure it is well documented. Another good idea is to have your guest sign a simple liability waiver. Although asking can be a little awkward, guests that recognize your risks as a landowner will be happy to oblige.
2. Create a map of the property
If you own any size property, you should create and print a custom map of the land. Maps are extremely easy to create online for free and will serve as a valuable tool in many ways. Programs or apps like Google Earth (free) or HuntStand already have boundary lines marked in most cases and offer other unique tools as well. Additionally, nearly every county in the country has a Geographical Information System (GIS) site available to the public for no charge. These free sites make it simple to highlight your property and simply print a copy. Once you have a map in hand, you can give your guests a copy complete with important hazards, boundaries and even good hunting spots highlighted. Since this map will likely be kept by your guest for reference, always include important contact and emergency information on it as well. Providing a complete map to your guests, will convey to them that you are committed to providing a safe experience and will likely make them act in a safe and responsible manner and protect yourself from future conflicts.
3. Physically inspect your property for potential hazards.
There is absolutely no substitute for taking a purposeful walk around your property and making notes of any potential hazards. Many problems, including injuries or property damage can be prevented by making guests aware of them ahead of time. The only way to really know where these hidden dangers lie, is to inspect the property in person. If your farm or vacant land is too large to cover in a day, you might consider multiple trips or even asking someone to inspect with you. Of course, its possible you won’t notice every hazard, but by noting the obvious hazards and including them on your map is a great start to protect yourself.
The possibilities of what may or may present a danger are simply too numerous to make a complete list. If you aren’t sure if something poses a risk, the smart thing is to make a note of it and include it on your map.
Here is a list of common hazards found on vacant land:
Old, dilapidated barns or sheds
Steep drop-offs, cliffs
Abandoned wells or cisterns.
Old tree stands
Barbed wire fences
Ponds, lakes or streams
Mines or caves
Power lines, cell towers
4. Meet your guests and review map
Now that you have compiled a complete list of hazards and have marked them on a current, updated map of your property, it is time to share that information with your guests. Afterall, what good is your information if you don’t use it to make your friends and family aware of potential hazards? Before anyone is permitted to access your ground, make it a standing rule to meet with them and review your map. Point out areas you would like to keep off limits or make special instructions about when they can access your ground. Explain to them (and show them on the map) where to enter your property if there are multiple access areas. Make sure they are particularly aware of dangers that may be difficult to see. If your guests are hunters, there is a good chance they will be entering or leaving your property in the dark. A nice daytime stroll with them ahead of time will prevent any problems down the road.
This meeting is also a good time to address your expectations. Items you should focus on are:
Use of ATVS
Remember this is your property and invited guests should be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy your property and all the experiences access provides. Setting ground rules and expectations at the beginning will eliminate any miscommunication in the future and result in a much more pleasurable experience for everyone.
5. Post “NO TRESPASSING” signs on property boundaries.
States across the country have somewhat different laws regarding posting property boundaries, but they all agree on one principle: the more visible and obvious it is to everyone that they are crossing a boundary line, the less likely they are to enter (or exit). Without fail, the first thing a trespasser will claim when confronted is that they didn’t know they were trespassing.
Most states agree that posting No Trespassing signs within every 75 feet of travel is the best choice for maximum visibility. Subsequently, you should do your best to post a sign every 150 linear feet on your property lines and at every point of entry. If you want to maximize visibility and make it difficult for trespassers to tear down your signs, hang your signs as high as you can reach (carefully use a ladder) or in difficult areas to access. Remember trespassers are lazy by nature and likely won’t work too hard to remove signs. If they are easy to reach and they can claim they didn’t see any sign? . . . well, you get the picture.
6. Be an active landowner
20 years of consulting with and building relationships with landowners has taught us one thing. Landowners that stay in contact with their guests and build a rapport are far more satisfied and find landownership much more enjoyable. Not surprisingly, hunters, bird watchers, fisherman and nearly every other type of guest reports the same thing. Developing a relationship with your hunters (if you allow hunting) or your other guests will keep you informed of what is occurring on your farm or land. It’s also a good way to simply make new friends. Many landowners take great pride in allowing others to enjoy their land and hearing the stories of sightings and adventures.
If you only own a small lot and don’t intend to allow or have guests, pay your vacant land an occasional visit and keep it free from debris and/or new hazards. Storms that blow through are notorious for leaving large limbs hanging from tree tops. It is also a good practice to protect yourself and discourage trespassers or potential squatters. When they see you inspecting your land or notice your vehicle frequently parked along the property, they are much less likely to trespass.
Whether you have a one-acre lot and plan to build your dream home or you have several hundred acres for family and friends to enjoy, chances are you worked hard to make the dream of owning land a reality. By following the steps in this guide, you have taken the first steps necessary to protect yourself and your family. The last step is to simply enjoy land ownership and take pride in owning a little piece of your own ground. Congratulations.