Warrington Township is home to a herd of about 70 seemingly boundary-savvy deer that run from private land to private land, never stopping on the public land on which they could be shot.
They play the cervid version of na-na na-na boo-boo, vexing rifle-ready hunters.
That herd is one example avid sportsman and state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, cited in explaining his support for a bill that encourages more hunting on private land.
The bill, which recently passed both the state House and Senate with bipartisan support, absolves property owners of criminal liability for acts committed by someone they allowed to hunt on their land.
If Gov. Tom Corbett signs it into law, that rule change could inspire more landowners to open their land to hunters and help control the deer population, said Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township.
Some landowners have refused to allow hunters on their land for fear they'll be prosecuted if a hunter either willfully or unknowingly breaks the law, Gillespie said.
"If two folks are hunting and one shoots another, theoretically an attorney could say the landowner was responsible for allowing the activity to take place," Gillespie said. "If they allowed someone (to hunt), then they in turn do something stupid or an action that results in serious bodily harm or even death, I think the common sense position on that is the responsibility should not fall on the backs of the property owners who were gracious enough to let them hunt on their land."
Alloway bill: Senate Bill 648 was proposed by Sen.
Lawmakers said they wanted the change because current law says anyone "who causes" another to commit a crime is also culpable for the crime committed.
Attorneys have used this section of law to attempt to hold landowners responsible for crimes committed by the hunters they permitted to hunt on their land, Alloway wrote in the bill's memo.
Majority Whip Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said landowners could have no knowledge of wrongdoing if a hunter was to shoot a neighbor's livestock or was negligent and sent a bullet through a neighbor's home.
"You could be perfectly innocent, but someone could be bankrupted by a lawsuit over something like this, fighting to defend himself or herself," he said. "If I had knowledge they were going to do something like that, that's a difference."
Grove said the fear of lawsuits prevents some farmers from opening their land to hunters. The farmers want to thin the herds because robust herds can cause severe crop damage, but they're afraid to allow hunting because they don't want to be held liable for someone else's actions, he said.
Hunter's view: Hunter Jim Goodyear, 56, of Dallastown, said he has been hunting since he was 12.
"Back in the '60s when I first started hunting, you could hunt on anybody's property, but then the lawsuit-crazy stuff happened," he said. "Out of all the thousands of hunters, all it takes is one knucklehead to screw things up for everybody."
Goodyear said he hunts mostly on farms owned by a friend, but he signs a contract absolving his friend of any liability, including if he were to break a leg or be otherwise hurt on the property.
More landowners would be likely to open their land to hunting if the bill becomes law, he said, and that could help to thin herds that have become too large in certain areas where they've been protected.
"It doesn't take long at all for the deer to find out where there's no hunting at all and pile in there," he said. Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, said he supported the bill in part because it pertains to criminal action, not civil.
"On the civil side, the issue becomes more case-by-case," especially if a landowner is charging a fee to hunters, he said.
State Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said it's the commission's position that landowners already have civil immunity under a separate section of the law, the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act.
The commission declined to comment on Senate Bill 648, he said.
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