It seems that animal rights and anti-hunting bullies come in many shapes and forms. Knowing this is important in managing-down the inevitable, but thankfully infrequent, conflicts that lawful hunters, trappers and even fishermen face in harvesting wildlife. A couple of years ago, while hunting wild turkey, I had two such encounters on the same day. Here is what happened.
The spring turkey season was open and I was hunting on private property in eastern Ontario. The property consisted of a long rectangular field bordered by forest and bush on the north side, a township road and small property with a house and barn on the west side, fields on the east side and an unimproved township right-of-way on the southern edge. Turkeys were frequently feeding on waste corn along the northern edge of the property, and the adult males, or toms, were using a nearby rise in the field as a strutting zone. Only bearded turkeys are legal game during the spring season.
On the day in question, I parked my truck along the edge of the right-of-way, packed up my gun and gear, and walked in a northeastward direction across the field. Following the hunting regulations, proper gun handling and shooting in a safe direction are key to personal safety and that of others. As required by law I was using a shotgun to hunt turkeys. These firearms typically have an effective range of no more than 60 yards, though the spent shot can travel up to 200 yards. With the surrounding private property and the township right-of-way well beyond my field of fire, I set up my decoys on the small rise in the field and settled into the nearby fencerow for the afternoon. I had a clear view of the entire field. The right-of-way was well over 500 yards to the south. Beyond my truck, which was one-half a mile southwest, I could barely make out the roof tops of some of the housing and other buildings along the higher elevation of the township road.
By then it was nearly 2 p.m. I planned on staying until the end of the day’s hunt which, according to the provincial regulations, is 7 p.m. After three uneventful hours, I was surprised to see a provincial police cruiser driving down the right-of-way. At the same time I watched as a large bearded turkey ran as fast as he could across the corn field, headed for the safety of the nearby forest. The police were obviously responding to some sort of complaint. The cruiser parked behind my truck, blocking the right-of-way.
Through my field glasses, I watched as two officers inspected my vehicle, returned to their cruiser, and then sat there waiting. At that point I concluded, reluctantly, that my hunt for the day was probably over. However, as subsequent events were to prove, the day’s excitement was just about to begin.
“How Is Your Day Going?”
Approaching the officers with a shotgun in-hand, even unloaded and with the action open, would complicate our encounter. So I unloaded my gun, set it aside in the fencerow along with my other gear, and walked back down the field. As I approached the vehicles, both officers got out of their cruiser to meet me.
“How is your day going Mr. Thompson?” the senior officer asked. I had presumed, correctly, that they had checked my vehicle registration in order to identify its owner. “Well frankly sir it was going fine until you two showed up. So far today my only opportunity to bag a tom turkey just ran off into the woods at the approach of your vehicle,” I replied.
Both officers remarked that, when they started down the right-of-way, they had seen a large turkey. From my camo clothing they had already surmised that I was hunting. I explained to them that I was licenced, that the spring turkey hunting season was open, and that I was hunting on private property with the permission of the landowner. I added that I was parked on the edge of a public right-of -way. Further, I offered to provide the officers with the landowner’s name and phone number, along with my permits and licences, to which they declined.
I then immediately started asking them, “What are you doing here? Are there any problems?”
The senior officer answered in a serious tone, “Sir we just received an urgent call from a property owner on the nearby township road reporting multiple gunshots and bullets hitting their house!”
After I stopped laughing, my reaction was swift. “This is ridiculous. These allegations are not true. I have not even fired a shot. Not only that, but I am hunting well down the field away from buildings on the township road with a safe field of fire in all directions. And, like I said, I have the permission of the landowner.”
Without any hesitation I continued, “It is really unfortunate that you have to waste your valuable time on a frivolous complaint such as this. Understand that whoever had complained has brought you here under false pretenses in order to harass me. Whether their motivations are animal rights, anti-gun, or anti-hunting, it does not really matter. It is illegal under Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to interfere with anyone who is engaged in lawful hunting, trapping or fishing.”
The officers agreed with my assessment and concluded that the complaint about gunfire was entirely unfounded. We shook hands and after wishing me a good hunt, they departed. I then walked back to the fencerow to retrieve my gear and head home, but not having any inkling as to what was going to happen next.
I was returning across the fields to my truck when I noticed a man driving an ATV down the right-of-way. He stopped at my truck, got off his vehicle, and placed something on my windshield. He then continued along the right-of-way until deep mud forced him to turn back. By that time I had reached my truck. A note was stuffed under my windshield wiper. On it was written, “You are parked on private property! If you do not leave immediately the police will be called and you will be charged with trespassing!”
I met the fellow as he returned and motioned him to stop. Scowling, he killed the engine and stepped off his vehicle.
“Is this note yours?” I asked politely.
He stepped menacingly towards me, shouting, “If you don’t leave right now I will call the police and have you arrested for trespassing and poaching!”
“You are too late. Unfortunately for you the police just left,” I blurted out. “Respectfully sir, you do not know what you are talking about. I am not trespassing nor am I poaching. Spring turkey season is open and I have the permits and licences that allow me to hunt. There is nothing illegal with parking on the edge of this public right-of-way, nor with my hunting on this field. I have the landowner’s permission.”
It took him quite a while to calm down, but not before he complained at length about trespass and littering problems on his nearby property. I told him that I too was a landowner and that I sympathized with him. I then took the initiative to explain that I have been hunting for over 50 years, that I am very safe in the field, and that I never trespass nor litter. I also described for him briefly the role of regulated hunting in managing for abundant game and other wildlife species.
“I will be hunting here again,” I told him. “So when you next see my vehicle parked here you will know who it is. You will also know that I am hunting with permission and you can count on me to hunt safely, not trespass on your property, nor litter. Here is my business card. Call me if you have any questions or concerns.” I concluded our encounter by asking him if he had any other issues. He demurred and said that he did not. We amicably shook hands and I thanked him for stopping.
Later I reflected on the afternoon’s events. In one day I had been falsely accused of trespassing, illegal parking, poaching and careless use of firearms. While my hunt that day did not turn out as expected, my preparations certainly made a big difference in being able to successfully resolve the day’s two encounters. Obtaining landowner permission, confirming vehicle parking, setting up in a safe shooting location, and having your documents at hand, are all part of what it takes to successfully hunt on private lands and, as it turned out, to deal with harassment by others attempting to interfere with your lawful activities.
I returned to that same field later in the spring. Without any further incident, I was fortunate to harvest a nice tom turkey. Having previously run the gauntlet of police and angry neighbors, I can assure you that I savoured every morsel of that delicious and hard-earned bird!