The status of landowner-sportsman relations in piedmont Virginia

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Most of the hunting opportunities in Virginia are on private land, and their continued existence is threatened by shrinking wildlife habitat and increasingly restricted public access to remaining wildlife habitat. The availability of land for hunting and reasons landowners restrict access to their land were investigated in four counties in piedmont Virginia. Landowners were surveyed with a mailed questionnaire. The typical respondent was a 55 year old male with a high school education, who was raised in the country, and did some farming and hunting.

While about half the respondents posted their land, 90 percent allowed some hunting. Bad experiences with hunters were common, and usually involved trespassing or property damage. Attitudes toward hunters and hunting were generally favorable, but road hunting and non-local hunters met with disapproval. Respondents rated existence and aesthetic values of wildlife much higher than hunting and food values.

A regression model of the determinants of access control had low predictive power. The study did find that attitudes towards hunter and road hunting were the best predictors of access control for most respondents, while attitude toward hunting was the best predictor for those who completely prohibited hunting.

Landowners’ distrust of non-local hunters and widespread limitation of access to local residents emphasize the need to increase public hunting opportunities near urban areas through incentives to landowners. Altering landowners’ attitudes toward hunters, not toward hunting, seems to be the best way to increase access in general. A more favorable image of hunters can be achieved by improving hunter behavior through effective control of road hunting and promoting hunting ethics. Instilling an ethic of sportsmanship in all hunters is a difficult challenge, but it is the only major solution to landowner-hunter conflicts.