Is Corner Crossing Landlocked Public Property Trespassing?

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

Is Corner Crossing Landlocked Public Property Trespassing?

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.”

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

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

.500 S&W vs. the King of the Beasts

Smith & Wesson's Tony Miele and host Kevin Steele track an African lion across the Kalahari for the ultimate handgun showdown with the King of the Beasts.

Moon Phase Rut Tips

Moon Phase Rut Tips

John Dudley, technical writer and host of Nock On TV discusses why it's imporant to follow moon phases for the rut.

Whitetail Shot Placement

Whitetail Shot Placement

Craig Boddington breaks down where hunters should aim for the best penetration of the vitals on a whitetail deer.

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Kevin Steele and Jason Morton are above the Arctic Circle pursuing grizzly bears in Alaska and put a stalk on what they believe is a good one.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future. Accessories

The Best New Deer Hunting Technology

Jeff Johnston - May 15, 2020

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future.

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the 6.5 PRC. Guns

Mossberg Patriot Predator 6.5 PRC: Rifle Review

Brad Fitzpatrick - June 26, 2020

Mossberg's accurate Patriot Predator is the most affordable way to harness the power of the...

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are created equal. Recipes

How to Properly Grill Venison Steak

Hank Shaw

Perfection takes practice, a little skill and the understanding that not all steaks are...

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks. Recipes

Venison Grilling Tips

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Learn how to grill the perfect medium-rare venison steak with these tips and tricks.

See More Trending Articles

More Conservation

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing strategies. Conservation

Are New Hunter Recruitment Strategies Working?

Andrew McKean - May 05, 2020

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing...

The new law was deemed “onerous” and “constitutionally defective, Conservation

News Alert: California Judge Tosses Background Checks for Ammo

Petersen's Hunting Editors - April 24, 2020

The new law was deemed “onerous” and “constitutionally defective," a big win for gun owners in...

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....

Icons of the Mountain West, wapiti are coming home to ALL the lands they once roamed. Conservation

Eastern Elk Conservation Efforts Mean More Hunting Opportunities

David Hart

Icons of the Mountain West, wapiti are coming home to ALL the lands they once roamed.

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

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

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now