October 2007
Featured Articles

Mark Your Land So They Understand

Post signs with clearly understood expectations around the perimeters of your property to reduce trespassing.  
By John Howle

Plots have been planted, forage has been fertilized and you are bow hunting from a perch with a bird’s eye view of a hot scrape and rub line in a remote section of your property. Tension builds as you wait for the appearance of a mature buck meandering down the trail with his nose to the ground.

The moment is lost when you hear ATV engines buzzing like a swarm of angry bees heading through the woods. As the riders blaze down the trail

laughing and shouting at each other passing within 100 yards of your stand, your blood begins to boil. Once you get your blood pressure under control, you realize you forgot to mark the boundaries of your property with posted signs stating that this land is privately owned or leased.

Marking your property borders with visible signs will help you avoid headaches during hunting season. Having clear property borders and signs makes prosecution of criminal trespassing easier, prevents people in your party from wandering onto other people’s property and lets outside individuals know the land is currently owned or leased by a hunting club.

Above, this sign is attached with a metal nail that can cause damage to saws and workers at a sawmill when timber is harvested. In addition, the quick growth of the pine is swallowing the sign and nail used for attaching. Below, a collection of posted signs with various wordings. Avoid confrontational language in the wording of the sign.
Find the Lines

If the land belongs to you and the corners are not clearly marked, accuracy is critical. Check the deed to the property, which can be found at your local courthouse in the circuit clerk, revenue or commissioner’s office. In many cases, the deed will also include a written description of the property boundaries and a map of those boundaries. A licensed surveyor should have the knowledge and technical equipment necessary for running lines that aren’t marked.

The corners of private property are often marked by metal stakes or capped pins driven into the ground. Old surveys might even designate corners by a pile of rocks, trees or creek banks. Unfortunately, trees become cut down and stream beds move drastically. In this case, a professional land surveyor will be needed to establish accurate lines before marking.
Here’s Your Sign

The advantages of marking boundaries with signs as opposed to painting corners and trees running along the lines is wording. Wording informs the potential trespasser that he is in the wrong place, and the sign can give details such as the name of the landowner and a phone number in case an outside individual needs to make contact to track a wounded deer.

Most signs are made of either paper, plastic or metal, and come in a variety of bright colors. Choose the sign wording carefully. Signs saying, "Posted. Keep Out!" can cause hard feelings with neighbors and instigate some people to deliberately harm your property. Instead, signs should express specifically your intentions without making a challenge. For instance, consider posting signs saying, "Posted. Private property. Hunting, fishing, trapping or trespassing is forbidden. Violators will be prosecuted."

Some states are adopting the color purple as a universal boundary marking color. Texas, for instance, adopted this practice in 1997 to help overcome the language barrier regarding the reading of posted signs.

Posted signs alert hunters that the land is leased or owned by another individual. In addition, the signs eliminate the argument, “I didn’t see any signs on the property.”  
Attaching Signs

The biggest caution in attaching signs to trees is to avoid standard, metal nails. If timber harvesters cut the sign tree or run it through a saw mill, not only will the steel nail damage sawing equipment, it creates hazards for the workers. Instead, attach signs to trees with aluminum nails two to three inches long with a broad head.

The aluminum nails should be nailed through the sign into the tree at a height that is plainly visible. Even though it’s more labor intensive, carrying a small step ladder to place the signs out of arm’s reach will reduce the amount of stolen signs.

Since trees such as pines are fast growing, leave the nail ½-inch from being driven all the way into the tree. A nail at the top and bottom of the sign driven up to within ½-inch should be sufficient to hold the posted sign in place.

If there are hardwood trees along the property boundary, their slower growth makes them ideal for attaching signs. Check to make sure the hardwood is alive if you are posting signs during the winter when the leaves are off the trees. Also, attach the signs at an interval so that from any entry point on the land, a sign can be seen. In addition, if you are posting signs during hunting season, wear a blaze orange cap or vest if you are in remote, wooded areas of your property.

Why post?

In most states, trespassing is illegal even on unposted property. Posting of signs or painted boundaries simply gives the landowner more clear evidence if a criminal trespassing case is involved. A common reply when poachers are caught trespassing is, "Well, I didn’t see any posted signs." Posting signs in clear view erases any doubts as to the ownership or use of the land.

Today, landowners have to contend not only with illegal poaching and trespassing, and in some cases, illegal marijuana growth, but there is a growing trend of criminal trespassing on farmland involving overnight crystal meth operations. Alabama law enforcement officials I’ve spoken with suggest patrolling your property regularly on foot or with an ATV and calling officials if you suspect criminal trespassing has occurred in addition to the posting of signs.

We’ve all heard stories like, "As soon as I put up signs, somebody shot holes in them," or "They cut my fences when I put a lock on the gate entrance." Just remember, the law is on your side with cases of criminal trespassing, and Alabama law enforcement and game officials are more than willing to help you protect your property. Just like neighborhood crime watch groups, rural neighbors can be your biggest asset in patrolling farms and hunting lands against trespassing.

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.