Hunter Harassment Laws are being used to harass
non-consumptive enjoyers of wildlife and property owners.
Compiled by Anne Muller
The numbers of calls that we’ve gotten from people who
have been harassed by hunter harassment laws has significantly increased.
What is abundantly clear is that the Hunter Harassment Laws were designed
not to prevent harassment of hunters, but rather to harass people who were
protecting themselves from hunters, protecting their lives, protecting their
property, or protecting their right to be in a public place to enjoy
The Case of Bill Knapp:
Bill Knapp wrote that he kayaks daily near Speedwell Forge
Lake in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania for about five months out of the
year. Every September waterfowl hunters show up. Last year a hunter on the
opposite shore fired at a passing goose. He missed, but the shot splashed
down next to Bill
Bill explains that the lake is narrow and shot can easily
cross the entire lake. Bill points out that while the Pennsylvania Game
Commission considers it an anomaly for a hunter to shoot at someone, it
still only takes one shot to cause death or serious injury.
Bill wears a bright red life vest and his kayak is bright
yellow; everybody agrees that’s a hard to miss combination. Even if a hunter
is cockeyed and crocked, it’s clear that Bill is not a goose. Because Bill
has been shot at, he began to use an air horn to announce his presence.
Although the game agency says that the sound disturbs the morning silence,
Bill counters that it doesn’t do so any more than blasting shotguns.
In Bill’s letter to the Pennsylvania Game Commission he
asks what he can do to prevent getting shot, and he cautions them to not
suggest that he stop kayaking. He points out that: it is a Fish and Boat
Commission lake, not a game commission lake, and that his kayak is legally
registered. He asked what he could do to ensure that the guilty hunter is
both prosecuted successfully and loses his hunting privileges. He asked that
the Pennsylvania Game Commission respond to his concerns before the opening
of this year’s waterfowl season.
A month later, Steven Martin of the Pennsylvania Game
Commission answered with violins playing in the background:
He said that as the human population increases and open
space decreases, there are user conflicts. He points out that the lake,
although owned by the Fish and Boat Commission, is under the Game
Commission’s Public Access Program and that fact allows it to be open to
public hunting. He claims that while Bill should be able to pursue his
activity of choice, the same is true for a hunter! He suggests that Bill
avoid where he had been kayaking and change his hours of kayaking to
minimize his risk and avoid future conflict!
He points out that shooting at someone is not ethical but
is, nevertheless, not illegal unless it is proven that the hunter was aiming
to shoot at the person. He says that while “recklessly endangering of
another person” may be applicable, the burden of proof is required. Bill
would have to show that the hunter knew he was there before firing and then
willfully fired in his direction, and knew his shot would strike or injure
Steve Martin admits “These can be difficult things to
prove….It comes down to one person’s word against another’s.”
Steve Martin then goes on to caution Bill over his use of
sound so that he avoids being charged with “Interference with lawful taking
of wildlife or other activities prohibited by this law” including
“interjecting himself in the line of fire.”
Bill then responded that the letter raised more questions
than it answered.
He said the most surprising statement was that a hunter
couldn’t be prosecuted for shooting at him unless he could prove that the
hunter knew he was there and willfully fired, and knew his shot would cause
injury. Bill pointed out that because the hunter fired and had to know that
the entire width of the lake is within shotgun range, the hunter should not
have fired at the goose flying above his kayak.
Bill writes: “You dismissed this hunter’s actions as
‘certainly not ethical.’ Ethics? Carelessly endangering a human life can
hardly be minimized as mere unethical behavior. How is this any different
than prosecuting a drunk driver? Both demonstrate reckless behavior while
using a deadly weapon.
Bill continues to question Martin, “Why is it illegal to
use a horn to announce to hunters who may be busy watching the sky that I’m
about to pass?” He says “All boats in Pennsylvania are required to carry a
horn or whistle for safety reasons.” Boats everywhere give a couple of
blasts of a horn when approaching potentially unsafe situations and this
example would seem an appropriate use.
He points out that he kayaks to do bird and wildlife
watching, so his favorite time is early in the morning. “I try to get out
almost every day. I’m not doing circles or hanging out in front of hunters.”
“In the interest of taking responsibility for my own
safety, what is the penalty if I blow my horn in the presence of hunters and
disturb their day? Keep in mind that it only takes getting shot once to ruin
“I do not intend to limit my kayaking to Sundays. Making
hunters legally accountable for the results of their actions would seem an
essential ingredient of hunting safety.”
Bill points out that since open space is decreasing, maybe
it’s time to limit hunters to Game Commission property only. “I wrote to you
because I wanted a serious suggestion as to how I can further insure my
safety while kayaking. You gave me none. Instead you told me that while a
hunter can’t be prosecuted for shooting me, I can be prosecuted for blowing
Steve Martin actually showed up at Bill Knapp’s home. He
said that Bill had misunderstood his letter but said nothing to make Bill
And how high does this go?
Vernon Ross, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game
Commission, wrote to Bill also. He said that there are laws to prosecute
hunters who injure people or damage property and the penalty would include
the hunter’s privileges being suspended. But he also cautions against
disturbing the hunt by blowing a horn.
He suggests that one way to know if hunters are in an area
is to look for decoys. But Bill points out that hunters often leave their
decoys out permanently, making it difficult to know if hunting is going on
but making the entire area a questionable safety area.
Bill gets to the core of the matter when he says that if
they are serious about reducing the goose overpopulation, they should stop
encouraging goose reproduction through habitat modification, food plots, and
nesting platforms. Bill reports that the official in charge of the Game
Commission’s Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area (WLMA) said that Middle
Creek’s primary purpose is goose propagation. Bill suggests that they
legalize and encourage egg-addling.”
The Case of Jan Haagensen
Jan called Wildlife Watch asking for help. She is an
attorney in Pennsylvania who was taken to court for telling hunters to get
off of her property:
On the morning of December 3, 2001, my mother and I pulled
out of our driveway and immediately saw a car parked in the road. There was
a hunter standing behind a large round hay bale, 20 feet off the road. We
drove up and down to be sure there were not other hunters who had gone onto
I yelled to the woman that she could not road-hunt from
that position with a high-powered rifle, and told her I would call the
police. The woman came up and unloaded the shells from her gun and picked
them up. As she was picking up the shells, a second hunter came out of the
field and began to walk toward us. He was carrying a high-powered rifle. He
came up to the passenger side of my truck and began to scream wildly at me
and my 85 year old mother that he would kill both of us because we had
stopped him from hunting; he told us that he would get into our house that
night, and repeated that he would kill us.
I told the hunter that I would have him arrested for
making terroristic threats, and left to call the state police on my cell
phone. My mother and I waited in the car in our driveway for the officer to
appear. When no officer responded within 30 minutes, we drove out to look
for the hunters. We saw them parked on another neighbor’s property where
they were apparently trespassing.
When the officer arrived, I told him where the hunters had
gone. He then began to converse with them in a friendly manner. When I
walked up to him to give him my statement, he began to shout that hunters
could do whatever they wanted, and had a right to hunt in the road with
high-powered weapons. He refused to listen to me when I told him that my
life and my mother’s life had been explicitly threatened. On the contrary,
he did not stop the hunters from shouting at me and interrupting when I
tried to speak.
The officer refused to give me an incident report form
with an incident number and the name of a contact person. The offer refused
to talk to my mother. And never took a full statement from me. He
interrupted and harassed me when I attempted to tell him what had happened.
The officer also refused to take a complaint from me
stating that I had discovered damage done to the fences in my horse pasture
by trespassers; my fences had been cut that morning.
The officer then told the two hunters that they didn’t
have to stop what they were doing, and gave them permission to keep on
road-hunting. He also told them that they could hunt on a piece of privately
owned property fronting the road.
I was harassed by the officer who tried to intimidate me
and prevent me from filing my complaints. No hunter has the right to park
his car in the road and engage in hunting with a fully loaded weapon from a
few feet of a public highway. This kind of conduct obviously presents a risk
to any person in a vehicle or on foot, No hunter has the right to threaten
anyone who tells them to stop road hunting activity before someone gets
Jan Haagensen says “The conduct of the officer was
unacceptable, as he encouraged the hunters to continue in a criminal assault
on the rights of other citizens. We cannot accept abusive conduct from a
state police officer. We will not accept being stalked by persons who think
the police can give them the right to break the law. It is the duty of the
state police to protect all citizens of the Commonwealth, including those
attempting to file a complaint.”
In a letter from the Pennsylvania State regional office
they said. “The Bureau of Professional Responsibility has investigated your
allegations that the trooper had not investigated into your complaint and
was rude. A review of the investigation failed to provide...any evidence or
information to substantiate your complaint….Rest assured that the men and
women under my command enforce all laws of the Commonwealth with complete
objectivity and without any bias.”
Jan is STILL in court!
In a newspaper article from that year it was reported that
Pennsylvania hunters had the safest year in 2001. There were only(?) 62
hunting related shootings including two fatalities. One fatality occurred
when a hunter’s stray bullet went through a window, a wall, and a door and
struck 66 year old Meriel Bowser in the neck. The other fatality was when
one hunter shot another.
The article goes on to say that in the case of Meriel
Bowser, case tests did not conclusively link the bullet to the gun of the
hunter. With a hunting accident you have to be able to prove carelessness
and negligence in order to have a case.
Clearly it is time to overturn the laws that exist. We
hope that these cases will be used by Pennsylvania attorneys to challenge
the abusive nature of hunters and wildlife managers who are wielding this
law like a club against decent citizens. To contact Bill Knapp or Jan
Haagensen, please contact Wildlife Watch, Inc.