Pennsylvania is home to an estimated 950,000 hunters, which is third highest among U.S. states. William Bauer was having his morning coffee on his home’s rear deck in Wexford recently when he was shot by a hunter. He has brought an injury suit against Michael Helffrich, the hunter and Richard and Judith Baier, two neighbors who are alleged to have permitted Helffrich to hunt on their nearby property. The Baier’s live just a couple houses away and were in Florida at the time. The neighborhood is not one where hunting is permitted.
Helffrich contends that he had obtained permission from the Baiers to hunt on their property with a firearm and had supposedly done so before. Helffrich is believed to be an experienced hunter, yet he had fired the shot at 5:45 a.m., well before the 6:22 a.m. sunrise that morning, which in itself is illegal. Bauer says the shot came from Helffrich’s direction and caused some serious injuries. Bauer required surgery from the wounds after the accident. He suffered injuries to the arm, hand, chest, and bowel regions. He claims to have experienced bruising and contusions and since has battled tension, depression, and anxiety. The claim says that Helffrich was negligent in hunting illegally and has caused considerable damages including a loss of consortium.
Across the state, approximately 80% of the land is privately owned. The state has long encouraged use of the 1.4 million acres of state land where hunting and many outdoor activities are permitted. In addition, there are approximately 2.1 million acres of state-owned forest land, many of which are in state parks that allow hunting. However, for some hunters, many of the most desirable places to hunt are on private property.
Dan Beard, a long-time hunter from Westmoreland County, says that locating private land to hunt on is becoming harder to find and requires either implied or direct owner consent. The state has a Recreational Use of Land & Water Act which shields landowners from potential liability in incidents resulting from recreational activity, such as hunting. The state’s wildlife is regulated by a Game Commission and restrictions may apply on private land. Property owners may post signs indicating that hunting is not permitted.
A study by Penn State University showed that nearly 70% of those posting signs that restrict hunting do so as a result of previous negative experiences involving hunters. The state’s public hunting land is increasingly getting crowded and many hunters have begun paying for hunting rights on people’s property.
One Washington County hunter explained that he has obtained permission to hunt on roughly 360 acres of private land. He says that they post some borders to restrict hunters from roaming in and he has been planting special grass that is believed to attract deer and enable them to grow larger. In this arrangement, he is required to purchase liability insurance for hunting. He says that many hunters across the state act inappropriately by removing the “no hunting” signs and entering.