It's that time of the year.
Hunting season is officially underway. That means many of us are yearning to get access to more land. Where we can go and when we can do it is one of the most confusing, yet vital, aspects of our sport.
Whether you're a hunter, angler, camper or hiker, your success often hinges on land access. Unfortunately, it's one of the most muddled issues we run into in the outdoors. Over the years, I've heard all sorts of wives' tales. Most of them are flat-out wrong.
One of my favorite myths is the idea a "no trespassing" poster is invalid if not signed by the landowner. That's simply not true. And then there's the idea that if land is not posted, anybody can use it. Again, not true.
My front yard doesn't feature any signs telling folks to keep out, but believe me if I woke up to a hunter in my oak tree, we'd have a conversation. And I bet you wouldn't let an uninvited guest pitch a tent for the night in your backyard. So why would it be any different for the farmer down the road?
And then there are the folks, even if they know the land is off limits, that will press their luck and claim ignorance when they get caught trespassing. It doesn't work.
The bottom line when it comes to land access is actually pretty simple. If you don't have written permission to be on private land, you don't belong there. Put a foot across the border and you're trespassing. It's that simple.
Tax maps can help: That brings us to a question. How do you figure out who owns the land? If you're lucky, there's a house nearby with a door to knock on. But if that doesn't work, there's another simple trick that too few folks know about. Tax maps.
It's not all that well known, but York County's website offers us outdoorsy folks one of the best tools on the Internet. With a few clicks of the mouse, we can zoom in on the area we want to explore and see exactly who owns it. (For the nosy folks, we can even see how much they paid.)
To find the maps, simply go to gis.york-county.org, click on the "Mapping and Data" tab on the left and follow the prompts from there.
Even with modern tools such as this, there's no doubt getting access to land is a growing burden for our sports. It seems like every year, permission is harder and harder to get. There are lots of reasons for the trend. Some of them we can do little about. But others are most certainly our fault.
It usually boils down to disrespect. A landowner is generous enough to let a handful of hunters onto his land, just to find a stash of litter or torn-up fields. All it takes is a couple of disrespectful hunters and everybody suffers.
Spend a few minutes doing your research, get written permission and, when you leave the person's land, make sure you leave no trace you were there.
It's no fun to spend so much time worrying about who owns what. But those are the times we live in. Do it right the first time, though, and you'll have access for life.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.