In 1998, the Vermont Legislature updated the state statute protecting landowners who let the public use their land and water free of charge for recreational purposes. The law was rewritten to encourage landowners to open their lands to recreational users and give landowners greater legal protection from personal injury or property damage claims by these users.
Here is what Vermont’s landowner liability law establishes:
- The landowner shall not be liable for property damage or personal injury sustained by a person who does not pay a fee to the owner and enters upon the owner's land for a recreational use, unless the damage or injury is a result of intentional or extremely reckless misconduct by the owner.
- The landowner is not required to inspect the land to discover dangerous conditions, but if the owner knows of an unobvious, extremely dangerous hazard such as an unmarked well on the property, then the owner should take some action to warn recreational users.
- The landowner does not have to ensure that the land is completely safe for recreational use, but the landowner may not intentionally create a risk to recreational users.
- The recreational user is not relieved from exercising due care for his or her own safety while using the land.
- The landowner is not liable for property damage or personal injury sustained by a recreational user who proceeds to use equipment, machinery, personal property, or structures and fixtures, unless the damage or injury is the result of intentional or extremely reckless misconduct of the owner.
Here is what Vermont’s landowner liability law covers:
- “Open and undeveloped” land (including paths and trails, posted land, fenced land, agricultural land or land with forestry related structures);
- Water (including springs, streams, rivers, ponds, lakes and other water courses);
- Structures and fixtures used to enter the land (including bridges and walkways).
The law can be found in Vermont Statutes at 12 V.S.A. §5791, et seq.
Managing Access to Private Lands
Landowner permission is not required for hunting on private land in Vermont, except on land properly posted with signs prohibiting hunting, and also on all private land during the Youth Hunting Weekends for deer and turkey. However, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department encourages hunters to seek permission. The privilege of using private land is extended by generous landowners, and most landowners allow hunting when asked.
Options to Protect Your Property
A hunter or angler shall show their license if requested by a landowner, and must leave the land immediately on demand, whether the land is posted or not. In order to hunt, fish or trap on properly posted land, a person must have the written consent of the owner or the person having exclusive right to take fish or wild animals from that land.
Option 1. Safety Zone Signs:
A property owner may establish a 500-foot Safety Zone around an occupied dwelling, residence, barn, stable or other building with signs provided free by the Fish & Wildlife Department. These signs shall be placed at each corner of the property and no more than 200 feet apart. All shooting is prohibited in the Safety Zone and no wild animal may be taken within it unless advance permission is obtained from the owner or rightful occupant.
The advantage of allowing responsible hunters access to the property outside of the safety zone is it can reduce the probability of property and game law abuses by providing the permitted hunters an incentive to look out for the landowner’s best interest.
Option 2. “Hunting by Permission Only” Signs:
These signs are an alternative to posting “NO HUNTING” signs if you wish to regulate hunters. Although not enforceable by law, they indicate that you’re willing to grant permission to a limited number of hunters, but require them to seek permission and intend to expel them from your land if encountered hunting without your prior permission.
Similar to the Safety Zone option, Hunting by Permission Only can reduce probability of property and game law abuses and provide better control of hunting pressure. If permission cards are issued, it can also help with wildlife management objectives by regulating the number of permits and their use. For example, landowners who suffer deer damage should grant enough permits to ensure a substantial harvest of deer each year.
Courtesy Permission Cards:
These cards can be used by you to grant written permission to hunters who seek it, regardless of whether or not your land is “posted” against hunting. The “land owner copy” creates a record of those hunters for your file. These cards give the landowner different options regarding seasons, timing, and/or locations. For example; “Permission granted only on north side of the brook, Keep gate closed at all times.” Printable Courtesy Permission Card (214 K)
Landowners can require all hunters to check-in before and after they hunt by holding their permission cards when they are not in use. This check-in system provides:
- An estimate of the game harvested, which can be used to adjust the permit numbers issued the next season.
- A way to distribute hunters for greater safety, enhanced hunting experience quality, and increased likelihood that trespassers will be caught or discouraged.
- A way to promote fairness among permit holders by making the permits valid for only two days per week to balance the access of hunters who could come every day with those who can hunt only on weekends and holidays.
Option 3. Posting Property:
Hunting, fishing or trapping on properly posted land is illegal. Properly posted land will have records filed with the town clerk and the Fish & Wildlife Department. See Title 10, V.S.A., Sections 5201 to 5206.
To be properly posted land:
- The owner or the person who has exclusive rights to fish, hunt and trap on the land will post the signs.
- The owner or person posting the land shall annually record the posting at the town clerk’s office for a fee of $5.00
- Signs must be not less than 11½ inches wide by 8 inches high in size
- Lettering and background on the signs must be of contrasting colors
- The signs must contain the wording that hunting, fishing or trapping or any combination of the three are prohibited or forbidden
- Signs are valid even if additional information is on the sign, as long as a reasonable person would understand that hunting, fishing or trapping are prohibited or forbidden
- Legible signs must be maintained at all times and dated each year
- Posting signs must be erected on or near all the boundaries, at each corner and not over 400 feet apart.
Posting property can be very labor intensive. Signs must be maintained around the perimeter of the property. If a sign is missing, the land is no longer properly posted, and there is no violation when a person accesses the land. In addition, the signs must be dated and the posting registered annually with your town clerk’s office.
Protection from Poachers
Poaching is the illegal taking of fish and wildlife and is an insult to the vast majority of law abiding hunters and anglers. Poachers threaten our wildlife resources by breaking laws designed to assure sound wildlife management and species survival. Because poachers do not obey the laws, they often disregard posting signs. Working cooperatively with Vermont State Game Wardens is a good way to protect your property from poachers. You can contact a State Game Warden by calling the local State Police barracks. Or you can report a violation anonymously through Operation Game Thief online or by calling 1-800-75ALERT.
Vermont State Game Wardens work hard to identify and arrest poachers. But there are less than forty wardens spread throughout the state. Vermont’s game wardens need the help of all Vermonters to successfully fight poaching.