Is Corner Crossing Landlocked Public Property Trespassing?

Is Corner Crossing Landlocked Public Property Trespassing?

Sportsmen are locked out of thousands of acres of public land because of a quirk of geometry.

My friend—let’s call him “Justin Schaaf”—isn’t a radical, but every hunting season he contemplates committing civil disobedience. He longs to get ticketed for trespassing in order to test what he considers one of the central injustices of the West.

Legion of sportsmen cannot access hundreds of thousands of acres of public land due to both history and geometry. By platting private and public land in a checkerboard pattern, states hoped to attract industry and settlement. The private land could be homesteaded, founders reasoned, but the other would be used for public purposes, such as railroad rights-of-way or funding schools through leases or logging. These public sections reverted back to the Bureau of Land Management or state school administrators but ever since statehood have been only accessed through adjacent private land.

Because of the checkerboard pattern, the long sides of public sections are bordered by inaccessible private land, but the corners of these public tracts often touch accessible public land. “Schaaf” thinks if he simply climbs the corner posts, and never sets his hunting boots on the adjacent private land, he can access the landlocked sections.

Great in theory, but in reality “corner crossing” is outlawed either implicitly or explicitly in nearly every state in the West.


A number of states have tried to define corner-crossing as trespassing. Montana House Bill 566 would have made corner-crossing punishable by a fine of between $50 and $500 and no more than six months in jail. An estimated 750,000 acres of Montana public land are inaccessible behind cornerposts. Landowners and property-rights advocates argue that fences often don’t follow ownership lines. They say the legislation, which was drafted but never introduced because of opposition, was simply a way to protect sportsmen from inadvertently trespassing. In many areas, where there’s no fence separating the private from the public lands, they’re right. Sportsmen advocates argue that GPS mapping programs let users know exactly where they are and that public land should be considered accessible unless there’s a compelling reason to keep the public off.


Meanwhile, “Schaaf” contemplates getting himself ticketed in order to legally establish whether corner-crossing is trespassing or not.


“I can’t imagine a court in the country would prosecute a hunter for stepping into this gray area,” he said. “I think the law is on our side, and sportsmen have nothing to lose and literally hundreds of thousands of acres to gain by resolving this issue once and for all.”

Recommended for You

Craig Boddington picks his top five over-the-counter hunts to add to your bucket list. Adventure

5 Bucket List DIY Hunts

Craig Boddington

Craig Boddington picks his top five over-the-counter hunts to add to your bucket list.

These four hunts will test your endurance. North America Big Game

North America's Toughest Black Bear Hunts

Brad Fitzpatrick

These four hunts will test your endurance.

Every hunter needs a rimfire workhorse for varmints and predators. Guns

Best Rimfire Rifles for 2019

Keith Wood - April 23, 2019

Every hunter needs a rimfire workhorse for varmints and predators.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 14: Swamp Bulls

With his Mozambique forest bull in the salt, Craig Boddington sets his sights on the Marromeu grasslands in pursuit of a swamp buffalo.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 12: High Plains Elk

David Draper teams up with Fred Eichler to hunt elk on the high plains of southern Colorado.

2018 Petersen

2018 Petersen's Hunting Episode 8: Midnight Sun Grizzlies

Kevin Steele and CZ-USA's Jason Morton return to Alaska's arctic tundra for Kevin's second and Jason's third attempt on the legendary species. Things are looking up on day one but time will tell if the boys will get a shot a the king of the tundra.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use case. Ammo

Is the .308 the Perfect North American Big Game Cartridge?

Richard Mann

From trajectory to penetration to recoil, we evaluate this cartridge for the big-game use...

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in North America

Best Units for Hunting Western Mule Deer

Josh Dahlke

My deer-hunting seeds were planted and nurtured as a youngster on my family's small farm in

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great black North America

Best States To Hunt For Black Bears

Joseph von Benedikt

Which are the best states to hunt for black bears? I have compiled a list of several great...

See More Stories

More Conservation

A conservation project to restore the African lion population recently scored a major victory. Find out how hunters were the driving force! Conservation

An African Lion Conservation Win, Thanks to Hunters

Brad Fitzpatrick - February 06, 2019

A conservation project to restore the African lion population recently scored a major victory....

Recently, a debate was held by Intelligence Squared U.S. on the topic: Do hunters conserve Conservation

Hunters Are Conservationists

Mike Schoby - August 10, 2016

Recently, a debate was held by Intelligence Squared U.S. on the topic: Do hunters conserve

The new requirement is now being enforced statewide. Conservation

California's Lead-Free Ammo Regulations

Andrew McKean - December 11, 2019

The new requirement is now being enforced statewide.

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Temporary Price Reduction.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.