As more people purchase rural land to escape crowded cities or establish a recreational property to enjoy with their friends and family, they are faced with a new set of challenges that comes with rural land ownership. After a good land professional has helped you find and purchase the perfect recreational property, your focus quickly turns to all the possibilities you now have to create the perfect outdoor getaway. This may include establishing new food plots, building new roads, and maybe building a small cabin for your family to stay overnight or a place to stay during hunting season. However, any land purchase is a big financial investment, and many landowners overlook some basic needs such as securing their property from becoming the next victim of a growing list of rural property crimes. Rural property crimes are unique and often difficult to prevent, but the risk can be managed to reduce the chances that your prized acreage is next. You have put your blood, sweat, and savings into the soil of your land. It is a great investment to make. Let’s take a look at the most common threats rural landowners face so that you can take steps to protect your investment.
One of the most common issues faced by landowners is trespassing. Trespassing often occurs with the intention to commit another crime on your property. This could be to break into your camp house to steal any valuables or illegally deer hunt the southeast corner of your hardwood bottom to kill a monster buck. There are many reasons people trespass, and it often leads to additional problems if allowed to continue unchecked. For example, a couple of guys have entered your 50 acres to fish your pond just out of sight of the road without your permission and have noticed your Kubota tractor and bush hog you keep parked on the property. They have also noticed the lack of your presence on the land and soon they devise a plan to steal the tractor.
This leads to another common problem which is property theft. Theft can include virtually anything. Typically, stolen items will be high value and easy to carry, but can also include bigger targets such as tractors, fuel in tanks, deer stands, side by sides, or anything else a thief thinks is worth their time. I have seen many times the results of a small, organized group of thieves when they find an easily accessible rural property. They will spend hours in the middle of the night loading up your shooting houses and ATVs onto flatbed trailers and drive away into the night. This type of theft can result in tens of thousands of dollars in property loss. This crime also goes unnoticed to the landowner until the next time they show up to use or work on their land and then realize what has happened.
Trespassing can lead to other crimes including one of the most expensive problems landowners face – vandalism. This can be classified as many things such as driving through and destroying food plots or agriculture fields. It also includes property destruction such as off-road vehicles tearing up your road system, gate destruction, and even camp house or cabin destruction. Two other occurrences that are worth a mention include drug activity and Native American artifact digging. Both of those activities can usually be identified by the trash left behind and finding disturbed Native American sites. Once Native American sites are discovered by the wrong crowd, they can be relentless with their search efforts to find and sell valuable artifacts.
Last but not least is poaching. Illegal hunting can and will occur within the boundaries of your land as well as along the public roads that border it. Illegal hunting activity results from targeted hunts and other times opportunistic groups. Unethical hunters can’t resist the chance to take a deer, turkey, or one of the many other sought-after species that may inhabit your property. Poaching is often an overlooked crime that can have a major impact on your land investment. These illegal hunters will trespass on your land to hunt while you are away and sometimes while you are there. They will shoot wildlife from the public roadway that is visible on your land. They will see that you don’t have a gate and not hesitate to drive all over your hard work at 3:00 a.m. shining and shooting at their leisure. The cover of darkness is their friend. The result is typically cut fences, deep ruts throughout your food plots and roads, the remains of any wildlife they kill, and sometimes theft of anything of value they find while using your land as you sleep. Landowners quickly realize property security must be increased and improved to protect their investment from some of the many potential issues listed already.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking some of these crimes will not occur on your land. They will and do. From multi-million-dollar properties to a small 20-acre tract. It can happen to anyone but there are many simple and easy solutions that property owners should check off their rural property to-do list to prevent many of these problems.
- A great starting point is to spend some time analyzing a good aerial map of your property. Pay special attention to any public roads that border your land. Any road frontage sections are typically the most visible and easily accessible points to enter your land. Identify other vulnerable areas which may include powerlines that cross your land or any private road that borders it that show signs of others entering your land. Signs can be tire tracks or encroaching shooting lanes from your neighbor for example. This step will help you create a plan for where improvements are needed.
- You will likely have at least one private road to enter your land. This access road as well as any other access road should have a gate to restrict access. A strong functioning gate that can be locked, closed, and is wide enough to prevent unwanted visitors from simply driving around it. Any gate is better than having nothing, but a strong welded gate will keep most opportunists moving along to look for another easy and ungated property. It can’t be stressed enough how effective this one step can be to limit access. Many rural properties have nothing but an open access road and that is an invitation for trouble. If you are creating a new access road, don’t overlook the use of the physical features of the property to help provide a barrier. A new and gated access road situated between large trees, or a deep ditch bank can do wonders to restrict access. Stand in the road and look back at your gate. Look to see if anything ATV width or wider can squeeze through. If you see gaps, close them by driving posts into the ground or even extend the frame of the gate. Don’t skip over utilizing quality locks, chains, and hinges for your gate. A strong gate is pointless without hardened locks and chains. Don’t go cheap here. Remember, your gate is the first and main security measure to limit access.
- The next steps to take are additional measures to secure your land. Put up signage completely around your land on your property line. Place the signs up and out of reach of the average person by using a small step ladder, not too far apart, and especially close together along the public road frontage. Posting signs helps mark the property line and notifies any potential trespasser that the landowner is present and diligent enough to put signs up. While installing your signs along any public road frontage, look for areas where passing vehicles can stop and see into your property. This can be a bush-hogged lane or food plot where an opportunistic road hunter will stop and look for wildlife to shoot. Block these areas if possible and allow the brush to grow back to prevent poachers from having an opportunity.
- Moving on to an incredibly popular rural land security measure is the use of game cameras. Both the traditional style and the cellular game camera options are favorites. Landowners everywhere have realized the benefit of using small portable game cameras to document any activity on their land. There are many benefits to using game cameras. They are small, hard to detect, portable, and most take very clear pictures after motion triggers them. Cellular game cameras are very effective if the camera can get service on your rural land and will immediately notify you on your cell phone with photos of the activity if it is triggered. These cameras are commonly positioned at gates, roads, and anywhere the landowner wants to record activity. Positioning the cameras may take some readjusting but point them toward the areas that are most likely to catch a trespasser.
Owning rural land can be a rewarding and memorable experience. Many people spend a great deal of time and money on their recreational property. Take the time to properly secure it so you don’t have a bad experience. Hopefully, these simple and easy suggestions will help you and your family get many years of trouble-free enjoyment out of your land investment.