The Hebron land where Karen Wrentzel was shot and killed in 2017 is now posted, and no access is allowed without written permission. Credit: John Holyoke

For years, Maine has been governed by a custom, if not a specific law, that allows hunters and other recreationists to use land that they don’t own, so long as that land is not posted, or so long as the landowner does not otherwise prohibit the practice.

For some, that open-access policy is taken as a near birthright: Generations of hunters often head into familiar woods for year after year, assuming that they have permission to do so. And on occasion, landowners voice frustration at that practice, saying they don’t feel like they can manage their own land the way that they want or that their desires are ignored.

In extremely rare cases, tragedy strikes, as it did in 2017 when a Hebron woman was shot and killed while digging rocks on her own land. The land was not posted. A hunter has been charged in her death.

A month ago, the BDN asked readers what they thought of the open-access policy and whether it should be changed. Of those who responded, 54 percent said they thought the state should change its laws to favor landowners and for those who would use land they don’t own to gain permission in advance. Another 24 percent of respondents wanted no change at all. And finally, 22 percent did not take a position either way but did express concerns.

Here is a sampling of what readers had to say, edited for space and clarity:

Bill Dallmeyer, registered Maine guide: “How are we a truly free people if we may only travel in place where others give us their permission? We cannot. In some places, notably the Scandinavian countries, Everyman’s Right, or Freedom to Roam, is the custom and law of the land and includes hunting. Of course, a great responsibility exists when using firearms and hunting, and the terrible tragedy last year in Maine is really unforgivable. But it is a rare thing. And our freedom is what makes us Americans … I would not be in favor in any way of requiring permission to hunt on private land. Landowners already may post their land and require permission. Nobody is arguing against this. Except possibly me, who would advocate Everyman’s Right.”

Stephanie McChord: “Yes, I feel strongly that hunters should have permission from the landowner to hunt on that land. The landowner can mention any special concerns about distances, family/animal activities on the land and any other things the hunter may not be aware of. My family would grant permission to anyone who shows the respect to ask first.”

Patty Faley: “I have posted the property many, many times over the years and have had many of my signs ripped down. I have even painted lines on hundreds of trees. I determined that was a waste of time and energy when the hunter safety instructor at the local high school had no idea what that meant when I talked to him about it. If he wasn’t teaching it, what chance was there that hunters would know what it meant? I do not try to impose my beliefs on others, but I would like to live quietly on my own property without fear of a member of my family being shot. This law needs to be changed.”

Dave Martucci: “Irresponsible hunters are causing this rethinking of the law. I for one feel strongly the law should require landowner permission for hunting no matter where. Anyone could post “Hunting Allowed” signs if that is what the landowners want, otherwise there should be no difference between access no matter what kind of land is involved.”

Don Bradbury: “I’m one of those people who consider it an unfair burden to require a landowner to post his/her land in order to keep uninvited people from using it. I think we should have reverse posting, meaning that intruders would legally have to assume that the land is posted unless they have written permission to use it.”

James McDonald: “Would it be possible to have large tracts of land owned by corporations remain open for hunting while at the same time making it illegal to hunt on private property without the permission of the landowner? It’s one thing to walk the woods but quite another to carry a lethal weapon with the intent of killing. I know of friends who post their land but still have hunters encroach upon their property without permission. The current practice, custom and law regarding hunting on private property is no longer justifiable or acceptable.”

Phillip Kennedy: “’I’ve spoke to the same two men three years in a row, and one had his son on youth day so close to the house I could see them clearly. When I approached he got mad at me and said he has been hunting there since he was a kid and knows where the houses are. We only ask that people hunt on the upper portion of the property, but they don’t listen and eventually end up hunting around the house where it’s posted, so I spend most of the season keeping hunters away from my horses than I do out hunting myself.”

Sandie Sabaka: “I’ll probably be in the minority of your readers, but I find it astounding that the onus lies on the property owner. So no, I don’t agree with it, and yes I think it should be changed … I hate the damned month of November. I’m a hiker, I want to be in the woods, I want to feel safe. But the law isn’t on my side. And victims will always be blamed in an accident.”

E.L. Eaton: “The law as written is more than fair as No. 1, How does a hunter know if the land is private or public or available to hunt on by a willing landowner unless it is posted? No. 2, Landowners are allowed to post their land if they do not want anyone trespassing. No. 3, If I owned land and didn’t want trespassers I would post it according to law. My land, my responsibility.”

Timothy I. Applegate: “Does the law need to be changed? I don’t think it does. Putting signs or markers up every 100 feet is burdensome for landowners and maybe that part of law could be adjusted or clarified. But the current system works and allows for contiguous statewide snowmobile trails, which are a big part of the economic engine for some parts of our state. I want my land and my postings respected by all users. If I find litter, illegal logging or hunters who haven’t asked permission I would have to limit access.”

Bill Francis: “I can’t ignore the number of hunting fatalities over the years. I love the fall time, as other do. It is a great time to walk in the woods and enjoy nature. It is a shame that a person can’t walk in the woods, on their own land, during hunting season for fear of being shot. That being said, I think that it is time to look at this law, discuss it, have public hearings and input, and consider some changes.”

Charles and Mary Dorchester: “Posting makes sense where people live, even if their lots are sizable. The traditional free access rule should stand in the North Woods and areas with scarce population. However, hunters need to be careful, and when in doubt, not hunt an area. And hunters need to be respectful of others’ property.”

John Glowa Sr.: “The time for requiring written permission to hunt on private property is long past due. Hunters need to recognize that they are a small minority (about one in 10 Mainers hunt), and that Maine is changing and becoming increasingly developed. … Hunters are their own worst enemy. By opposing reform and by continuing to press for more and more opportunities to kill Maine’s wildlife, they increasingly alienate the nonhunting public. … It is inevitable that Maine will require written permission to hunt on private land. It’s just a question of when it will happen and how much the consumptive use extremists and their political enablers in Augusta will kick and scream.”

Ryan Fairfield: “I am very appreciative of the law as it is written. It allows me the opportunity to hunt woods that are nearby to my home in Rome. Otherwise, it would be very hard for me to find an area to hunt that isn’t posted.”

Jim Karst: “Posting 55,000 acres of woodland owned by a paper company is highly ridiculous. However, shooting a moose in a field with a farm in the distance is wrong. That field belongs to that farm, most likely. As with so many times before, all that is needed is a handshake from the farm/landowner … and that moose is yours.”

Suzanne Joy: “I think the law as it stands places all the burden on the landowner and not the hunter or others who are trespassing. I don’t begrudge them free access to unsettled lands owned by timber companies, but land in settled areas should be off limits without written permission of the landowner. I don’t see why the law cannot be adjusted so that traditional hunting areas remain so, that is, those unsettled areas and timber lands, while also protecting landowner rights in rural areas that are settled and owned by farmers or people who actually live on that land.”

Steve Spencer: “I have hunted deer and partridge on both public and private land without landowner permission in Maine for 54 years. Yes, I was born and raised here. It’s rarely clear in Maine what land is owned by whom and absent posting the landowner wishes are usually not clear. The random subdivision of the land and widespread practice of not marking boundaries (even if they’re known) makes it extraordinarily difficult to identify and get permission from landowners.”

Roger Ardston: “I find that many Mainers consider it their God given right to hunt wherever and whenever they feel like it! I am all for changing the law in favor of the landowner.”

Craig Riley: “I believe the law should remain as is but that landowners should be rewarded for allowing hunting and recreation on their land by allowing the land owners only to hunt on Sundays on their personally owned land only. This would give them an incentive to leave their land open for others to enjoy and also give them a benefit for their tax dollars that others don’t pay.”

Jonathan Eno: “I am in agreement with reversing the law. While the majority of hunters and recreational user in this state are responsible, the numbers of irresponsible ones has grown exponentially. I fear walking on my property during hunting season, even my open field. The lack of courtesy shown by not asking permission to hunt one’s land, to inform the owner that yes, I will be shooting on your land, has gotten out of hand. I see more and more posted properties as I drive through the midcoast. I am loath to have to post my land, but the only individual to have EVER asked permission to hunt it, was my sister-in-law’s boyfriend.”

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...