Hunter Access Program
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Hunter Access Program
In addition to the millions of public land acres available to hunters statewide, the Pennsylvania Game Commission partners with private landowners to provide public hunting opportunities through its Hunter Access Program. For more than 80 years, the program continues to provide hunting and trapping opportunities to the Commonwealth's sportsmen on millions of acres of private lands.
Created in 1936, the Game Commission’s Hunter Access Program began as an experimental program cooperative designed to increase hunting territory, improve game conditions, and improve wildlife habitat on farms The program became an overnight sensation for the Game Commission; hunters saw it as a plan to augment lands where public hunting was allowed, and landowners saw it as a means to better manage their property's game populations through hunting, trapping and habitat enhancements. As the program gained more favorable reviews and endorsements, eventually it spread throughout the entire state and began to enroll properties with various habitat types.
The Hunter Access Program, which is governed by a term-lease agreement, creates a partnership between the Game Commission and landowner whereby they work in concert to improve public hunting and trapping opportunities and wildlife habitat on the property enrolled. Hunters and trappers help to manage game and furbearer populations through lawful hunting and trapping. In exchange for this access, the Game Commission provides a variety of benefits and incentives to the cooperating landowner.
More than 13,000 separate by parcels of private lands are currently enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program. These properties, located in most of the state's 67 counties, cover more than 2.18 million acres. In exchange for the incentives and benefits provided by the Game Commission, landowners have the following responsibilities:
- Provide reasonable access for hunting and trapping. Reasonable access is defined as allowing access for at least two of the following categories: Deer and Bear, Turkey, Small Game, and/or Trapping. Limitations may be implemented on these categories, however, the Game Commission will determine if limitations allow for reasonable access.
- If restrictions or limitations are implemented, it is the responsibility of the landowner to enforce these on their property. Cooperating landowners must allow the enrolled property to be identified on the Game Commission’s Mapping Center. Identification is done by a dot on the map, no landowner names, addresses, or phone numbers are provided on the website or Mapping Center.
- Allow for free Hunter Access signage to be placed on the enrolled property at logical access points so hunters can identify the property.
A common misperception of the Game Commission’s Hunter Access Program is that cooperating landowners forgo their rights as landowners. Enrolling in the Hunter Access Program only means that the landowner is willing to provide reasonable access to their property for hunting and trapping. The landowner retains the right to require hunters and trappers to obtain permission to access their property. The Game Commission makes a variety of signs available to cooperating landowners to facilitate access issues.
The Game Commission works closely with cooperating landowners to ensure their participation in the program is beneficial to the landowner, hunters and trappers, and wildlife. Cooperating landowners have found that there are many advantages to enrolling property in the Hunter Access Program. In addition to allowing the continuation of hunting traditions and heritage, tangible benefits include:
- Discounted Landowner Hunting License: Cooperating landowners with 80 or more contiguous acres qualify for a discounted hunting license.
- Landowner Antlerless Deer Licenses: Cooperating landowners, with 50 or more contiguous acres of land within the county of application, may obtain one antlerless deer license. These licenses are issued by the County Treasurer in the county in which the property resides. If qualifying acreage is located within a county with two or more wildlife management units, the applicant selects the management unit he or she desires.
- Free Tree and Shrub Seedlings: The Game Commission may furnish beneficial tree and shrub seedlings to cooperating landowners that demonstrate suitable planting sites. Tree and shrub seedlings are offered through the Game Commission’s Howard Nursery.
- Free and Reduced-cost Wood Products: Cooperating landowners may receive free and reduced- cost wood products from the Game Commission’s Howard Nursery. Wood products include sign backer boards and artificial nest boxes, which include species information and nest box placement information.
- Free Game News Subscription: Cooperating landowners receive a complimentary subscription to the Pennsylvania Game News, the Commission’s monthly magazine about hunting and wildlife in Pennsylvania.
- Free Habitat Technical Assistance and Management: Cooperating landowners may receive free technical assistance and habitat management plans written by agency biologists. As funding allows, the agency offers free habitat improvement and management implementation including, but not limited to, invasive species management, young forest management, native grassland establishment, and healthy forest management.
- Law Enforcement: Cooperating landowners receive patrolling and enforcement of game law by Pennsylvania Game Wardens. These patrols reduce illegal ATV use, littering and dumping, and various other game law violations.
- Liability Protection: Cooperating landowners receive liability protection through the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act.
- Free Program Signage: Cooperating landowners are required to post signage identifying the property as a cooperator in the Hunter Access Program. A few of the free program signs are displayed below.
One of the main concerns expressed by landowners is what happens if someone gets hurt. Landowners enrolled in the Hunter Access Program will have liability protections as stated in the Pennsylvania’s Recreational Use of Land and Water Act:
The Recreational Use of Land and Water Act (referred to as “RULWA”
or the “Act”), found in Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes, title 68, sections
477-1 et seq., provides that:
[A]n owner of land owes no duty of care to keep the premises safe for
entry or use by others for recreational purposes, or to give any warning
of a dangerous condition, use, structure, or activity on such premises to
persons entering for such purposes.
As landowners to have enrolled in this program are not charging a fee to enter their property, the Act provides that landowners do not have to keep their land safe for recreational users and have no duty to warn of dangerous conditions. It should also be noted that liability immunity is available even if landowners haven’t expressly invited or permitted the public to enter the property for these recreational purposes.
Who is covered?
“Owners of land protected by the Act include public and private landowners as well as tenants, lessees (hunt clubs, etc.), and other persons or organizations “in control of the premises.”
What type of land is covered?
Pennsylvania courts have limited RULWA immunity to land that remains largely in its natural state. The state supreme court has explained that “the need for immunity arises because of the impracticability of keeping large tracts of mostly undeveloped land safe for public use.”
Can you still be sued?
RULWA does not prevent landowners from being sued; it provides an immunity defense to claims that their negligence caused the plaintiff’s injury. RULWA essentially reduces the duty of care landowners would otherwise owe to recreational users to the lower duty owed to trespassers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need permission to hunt on Hunter Access properties?
The Game Commission always recommends hunters and trappers seek permission from landowners prior to accessing private property. The exception to this would be Forest Game Cooperators shown on the Game Commission's Mapping Center that shows the polygons of the enrolled property.
Can the Game Commission provide me with the contact information for a Hunter Access Cooperator?
The Hunter Access Program is a voluntary agreement between the landowner and the Game Commission. As such, the agency must respect the wishes of the cooperating landowners that their contact information is not provided by the agency. The Game Commission can only provide a location of the cooperating landowner using a dot on the Mapping Center. Landowner information can often be found for free using county tax parcel data, or other third-party applications, compared to the Mapping Center.
The Game Commission Mapping Center is showing a cooperator in the middle of a town/city where there is no place to hunt.
Sometimes the address of an absentee landowner residence is shown rather than the enrolled property. If you notice this, or believe this is the case, please use the “Report a Bad Location” button on the Mapping Center. Please be sure to state what the issue is in the notification. This information will be reviewed and corrected in the system.
A landowner did not allow me to hunt on his/her property. Since the Game Commission is paying them to be in this program, how can they deny my access?
The Game Commission does not rent or lease the property from the landowner. The Hunter Access Program is a voluntary agreement between the landowner and the Game Commission. The landowner is required to provide reasonable access for hunting and trapping. The landowner retains the rights to regulate who may or may not hunt on their property. The landowner may receive modest benefits such as a Game News subscription, nest boxes, seedlings, and other items as funding allows.
A landowner told me their property is not in the Hunter Access Program, but the Mapping Center shows that the property is in the program.
The Game Commission does its best to ensure records are current. However, there are over 13,000 parcels enrolled in the program, with many properties changing hands each year. The agency strives for an in-person visit to at least 20 percent of the cooperating landowners each year, there is often changes between visits. Therefore, the agency relies on hunters and trappers to help maintain these records. This can be done by hunters and trappers using the “Report a Bad Location” button on the Mapping Center whenever they encounter properties that are no longer enrolled. Please be sure to state the issue when completing the “Report a Bad Location” email.
Further information on the program may be obtained from your local State Game Warden, Game Commission region offices, by email: PGC-HunterAccess@pa.gov, or by writing: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110.
Tips for Gaining Permission to Hunt Private Property
- Plan ahead. Ask for permission to hunt well in advance of the hunting season. Don’t show up with your bow and tree stand expecting access to the back forty.
- Be presentable by being clean and not wearing soiled clothes. While it may be more convenient to stop by a property quickly after work/hunting/fishing/errands/etc., a presentable appearance will provide a more positive first impression.
- Be respectful and polite. Make sure you are friendly and cordial regardless of whether the landowner gives access or not. Certainly, do not argue with the landowner or feel entitled to access. This will guarantee a “no” long into the future.
- Provide your information. Write down your name, address, and what you would like to hunt on a card that you can present to the landowner. This way the landowner can contact you if anything changes before the season starts.
- Start small. The majority of hunters in Pennsylvania hunt deer. There is a good probability that many people have asked to hunt deer on a particular property. Request permission for small game, migratory birds, or predators instead of deer. This can allow you to form a relationship with the landowner which could lead to increased access to the property.
- Get the details straight and don’t assume anything. Make sure you know where you can hunt, what you can hunt, where you can park, who can hunt (are you mentoring someone/ bringing spouse/hunting buddy), and what seasons you can hunt. The last thing you want to do is ruin a relationship with a landowner because you did not know or follow the landowners wishes.
- Follow up with the landowner. If you are successful in gaining access, make sure you continue to talk to the landowner as the season progresses and after the season. If you are successful hunting, perhaps offer to share some of the harvest with the landowner as appreciation. A holiday card or other notes of thanks are often appreciated and will allow landowners to remember you positively in the future.