KAMIAH, Idaho — For three decades, Michael Hileman hunted on the same area of Bureau of Land Management land in central Idaho near Kamiah.
Every year he and his friends harvest deer, supplying Hileman, a Kuna resident, with food for five children and his wife.
But this year was unlike the rest — something Hileman blames on Idaho’s new trespassing law that took effect July 1.
When he and his 16-year-old stepdaughter, Julie, joined other hunters in their usual camping spot, they were met by landowners with binoculars and questions about where exactly they were hunting.
The BLM land is near private property. In previous years, Hileman has gotten permission to enter landowners’ private property while hunting. Never was he “harassed,” as he put it, by landowners while camping on BLM land.
Hileman and Julie arrived at camp Oct. 8, two days before hunting season, to set up camp and scout. In the early morning hours of Oct. 10, they began Julie’s third year of deer hunting.
Along the way they saw a new fence, brightly covered in orange paint with a no-trespassing sign.
“We completely avoided it,” Julie said. “We knew better. We just went the opposite direction.”
By 9:20 a.m. Julie, who is hearing impaired, got her first buck. They dragged the deer down the mountain the same way they had come up. Quickly they became exhausted, Hileman said. They quartered the deer and left the carcass behind.
The following day, Hileman was met by a Fish and Game warden asking where the two had been hunting. The warden had received a complaint from a landowner that he heard shooting to the south of his property, which the landowner said was someone else’s private land.
Hileman explained where they had gone, which he had also explained to the landowners who questioned him earlier.
The landowner also took the warden to the carcass Hileman had left.
Turns out, they left the carcass on private property. But Hileman and Julie say it was unmarked and unclear that it was private property.
But Idaho’s trespassing laws were updated during the last legislative session. The changes brought mixed opinions from rural landowners, sportsmen and law enforcement.
The new law changes how landowners mark private property. Previously, they had to post no-trespassing signs or orange paint every 660 feet, according to an August press release from Idaho Fish and Game.
Under the new law, a person should know land is private if: the property is associated with a residence or business; cultivated; fenced or enclosed in a way that delineates the private property; unfenced and uncultivated but is posted with conspicuous no-trespassing signs or bright orange fluorescent paint at all property corners and boundaries where the property intersects navigable streams, roads, gates and rights-of-way entering the land and posted in a way that people can see the postings.
Before the law was changed this year, trespassers could only be charged with a criminal trespassing offense if they committed another offense, such as killing livestock or game illegally or damaging property.
Wardens have discretion on when to cite someone with trespassing or when to give them a written or verbal warning, said Roger Phillips, spokesman with the Idaho Fish and Game. Hileman said being the responsible party, he was given a citation.
If convicted, Hileman faces up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine, but no less than $500, according to the law. In addition, he will have his hunting license suspended for a year, but that is not due to the new legislation.
The law says there must be enough signage for a reasonable person to understand it’s private land. This “reasonable person” standard allows for leeway in the bill’s enforcement, Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who sponsored the bill, previously told the Idaho Press.
Though Boyle didn’t know the specifics of Hileman’s situation, she said the “reasonable person” standard should protect a person from a criminal charge if the property isn’t properly marked. She said the new law actually increases the standards for landowners posting private property.
“I would hope that people on both sides would be reasonable,” Boyle said Wednesday.
If a hunter has questions about private property while scouting, they should go and ask. There are apps hunters can use that show private land and who the landowners are, she said.
Hileman said the warden asked him why he wasn’t using a GPS. It is a hunter’s responsibility to know when they are on private property.
Hileman said that if the land was private, it should have been clearly marked. As far as they knew and understood, they had no reason to believe they were trespassing.
Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation, opposed the trespassing bill as it went through the Idaho Legislature earlier this year.
“Michael’s experience is exactly what we warned would happen as an unintended consequence of the law,” he told the Idaho Press.
Hileman said they won’t be back.
“An area we have been successful and hunted for 30 years and we won’t go back ever,” Hileman said. “Never.”
Hileman created a GoFundMe “Help fight trespassing ticket” to help pay for traveling to and from court dates and, if necessary, attorney fees.
The address is https://www.gofundme.com/help-fight-trespassing-ticket.