Posting private property with “No Trespassing” signs is equally important to deter trespassers and successfully press charges against those that ignore the warning.
“I have a trespasser!” That might be the most common call I receive as a game warden, and the trend will likely continue as more properties are divided and developed. Trespassing comes up frequently, especially in conversations about wearing hunter orange on private property. The hunter or landowner says, “I’m the only one that hunts this property; why should I have to wear hunter orange?” The answer is for your safety. If I’ve learned anything from this job, it’s that if you think you are the only one hunting your property you are mistaken.
So, what can you do as a landowner to put a stop to this? Luckily, Oklahoma has some effective trespass laws. I typically work with two: Title 29 5-202 (hunting without landowner consent) and Title 29 6-304 (fishing without landowner consent).
To press these charges, evidence showing that the individual was, in fact, trespassing is required. The landowner must also sign a paper saying they want to press charges. It’s often assumed game wardens can press the charges but, in most cases, it must be the landowner. And the final qualification is “the land must primarily be devoted to farming, ranching or forestry purposes.” If the property isn’t in those categories, it must be resided on or posted with “No Trespassing” signs to press criminal trespass charges. I recommend posting every property you own, at least at the major entrances. Having a photo of the signs to send to your local game warden after making a trespassing report is of great value as this covers you and looks good when you show the judge, especially if the signs are stolen or shot up.
For the two laws mentioned, the first time a trespasser is caught in violation it is a simple citation. They get a court date, and, if found guilty, they must take care of the fine (hunting $739; fishing $289). If the trespasser ever gets caught again, the fine increases (hunting $1739; fishing $739) and they lose their license(s) for a length of time set by the judge. This can be a big deal, especially if they have a lifetime license. If they are caught on a third offense, the code outlines that game wardens “shall” (not might or maybe) take them to jail. To this date, I have never had the same person break a trespass law twice.
My biggest piece of advice for landowners is to read and understand Oklahoma’s trespass laws. In addition, cameras are priceless for making trespass cases. Cellular trail cameras will send a photo to your phone in almost real-time, and these cameras are surprisingly affordable. I also recommend that you visit and use your property frequently. If you don’t have the ability to do this, find someone who can. It is very hard to find hunting and fishing access these days – allowing someone to use your property regularly can be a huge benefit to you and a life-changing experience for them!