Ten legal tips for the fall hunting season

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Attorney and Director, Agricultural & Resource Law Program Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023
Fall trees in background of field with a wooden hunting stand in forefrant.

The fall hunting season is upon us, and landowners across Ohio are being asked to give permission to allow hunting on their land. That means now is a good time for a refresher on the laws that affect Ohio landowners and hunting.  Here are ten legal tips for landowners considering hunting activities on their land.

  1. Ohio law requires permission in writing--but landowners should review the permission form and know who they’ve permitted.   Ohio law requires a hunter to obtain a hunting license and written permission from a landowner or the landowner’s agent before hunting on private lands or waters.  Landowners should expect to be asked to sign the permission form provided by ODNR, which is available on ODNR’s website.  The permission form allows a landowner to designate a permission period—either the entire hunting season or specific dates.  If a hunter uses a different permission form, it might contain additional provisions beyond the permission to hunt, such as the right to install a tree stand or a blind on the property.  Landowners should have an attorney review a form if unsure of its meaning and should document names and contact information for hunters granted permission to hunt on the property.  Contact information will be helpful if there is a hunting incident or a need to contact the hunter.
  2. Know the laws for family members and tenants.  A landowner who is a resident of Ohio, the landowner’s spouse, all children of any age, and all grandchildren under the age of 18 are exempt from the hunting license requirement when hunting on the landowner’s land.  All other family members must obtain a hunting license and follow the written permission requirement.  When a landowner is not an Ohio resident, only the landowner, spouse, and children living with the landowner may hunt without a license, and only if the landowner’s state of residency grants the same rights to Ohioans who own land in that state.  In a rental situation where a tenant resides on the land, the tenant and the tenant’s children who live on the land may hunt on the property without a hunting license and written permission.
  3. The hunting license exemption also applies to certain entities.  If the owner of land is a limited liability company or a limited liability partnership with three or fewer individual members or partners, a member or partner who is a resident of Ohio may hunt on the land without a hunting license, as can the member or partner's children of any age and grandchildren under the age of 18. If a trust owns the land and has a total of three or fewer trustees and beneficiaries, a trustee or beneficiary who is an Ohio resident and their children of any age and grandchildren under the age of 18 may hunt on the land without a hunting license.
  4. A hunter must also have written permission to pursue or retrieve an injured animal.  Hunters often mistakenly believe they have the right to pursue an injured animal onto another property, but Ohio law says otherwise.  Written permission of a landowner is required for each of these hunting activities:  shooting, shooting at, catching, killing, injuring, or pursuing a wild animal or bird.  Contrary to popular belief, the law does not require a landowner to give a hunter permission to pursue an injured animal—it’s a choice a landowner can make.
  5. Two Ohio laws can protect landowners from liability for hunting injuries.  The first is Ohio’s Recreational User Statute, which states that a landowner has no legal duty to keep the premises safe for a hunter and other recreational users who have permission to be on the land.  This means the law will protect a landowner from liability if a hunter is harmed while on the property, but it won’t protect a landowner who caused the harm through intentional or reckless conduct.   Note that the liability protection does not apply if a landowner charges a hunter a fee for hunting, unless the fee is a payment made under a hunting lease.   Read more about the Recreational User’s Statute in our law bulletin on farmoffice.osu.edu.    A second  Ohio law addresses liability for someone who is hunting on land without permission.  In that case, Ohio law states a landowner is not liable for “injury, death, or loss to person or property” that arises from a violation of the requirement to have a landowner’s permission to hunt on the land.
  6. Be mindful of the number of hunters who could be on the land.   For safety purposes, a landowner should be careful about allowing multiple hunters onto the land at the same timeStrategies for managing multiple hunters include designating a specific parking area so hunters know if another hunter is present and setting specific hunting periods for different hunters.  Taking reasonable steps to manage multiple hunters will help ensure that someone isn’t harmed, and it can also protect a landowner from a potential claim that the Recreational User’s Statute shouldn’t apply because the landowner behaved recklessly by not managing multiple hunters allowed on the land.  While such a claim might not be legally successful, it would require landowners and their insurance providers to prove that the Recreational User’s Statute protects the landowner from liability.
  7. Consider a hunting lease.  Many hunters and hunting groups prefer to secure hunting rights through a hunting lease.  A lease can provide a landowner with additional income and is one situation where the liability protection of Ohio’s Recreational User Statute applies even if a payment is made to the landowner.  A lease can also address other rights and responsibilities, such as number and gender of animals to be taken, placement of tree stands and blinds, use of feeders and bait, where animals may be cleaned, and property maintenance activities by hunters.  See our law bulletin on hunting lease considerations in the property law library on farmoffice.osu.edu at https://farmoffice.osu.edu/our-library/property-law.
  8. Ohio laws address harm to property caused by hunters.  What if a landowner gives permission to a hunter, but then that hunter causes property damage?  Ohio’s hunting law is one law that can help.  It prohibits a hunter from acting in a “negligent, careless or reckless manner so as to injure persons or property.”  A hunter who violates this law can face first degree misdemeanor charges and revocation of the hunting license and must also pay compensation to the harmed landowner.  Ohio’s reckless destruction of vegetation law is a second helpful law.  It allows a landowner to seek compensation for “reckless” destruction of vegetation, trees, and crops and would address a situation where a hunter acted intentionally and without regard for the consequences.  Intentionally cutting down a tree without permission or running an ATV through a planted crop are behaviors that could be deemed reckless.  Under this law, a landowner could receive triple the amount of the harm caused to the property by a hunter’s reckless behavior.
  9. It’s a good time to mark property boundaries.   Many of the old fences that marked a farm’s property boundaries in Ohio are long gone, and it’s not as easy today for hunters to know where one farm begins and another ends.  Especially for landowners who don’t want hunting on their land, be sure boundary lines are clear to hunters.  Use corner posts, fences, and “no trespassing signs.”  In woodlots, marking the trees on the boundary with paint is also helpful. For an overview of woodlot boundary marking, refer to this video from OSU Extension at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSYYn_onE80.
  10. Ohio has a process for dealing with poachers and trespassers.   Ohio’s “Turn in a Poacher” program (TIP) establishes mechanisms for reporting a violation of wildlife laws, such as hunting without permission or a license and taking animals out of season.  A person can report a violation using an online reporting form on ODNR’s website or by calling the TIP hotline at 1-800-POACHER (762-2437).  Incident reporters are encouraged to share details such as what happened, the location, vehicle description and license plate, and descriptions of suspects.  All information submitted to TIP is confidential, and reporters may choose whether or not they are willing to speak with a wildlife officer about the incident.