It’s not an ideal situation, but sometimes it happens: You shot a deer, and it ran across the property line onto land you don’t have permission to hunt. There’s a clear blood trail you’re ready to follow, but what do you do next?
First, a short warning that it’s best not to let this happen to you in the first place. Be mindful of property lines when you’re setting up. Many private land owners or hunters who lease adjacent lands do not appreciate you hunting within 50 yards of the property line, and although it’s not illegal to do so, it does set up some potential problems and can create bad blood.
Second, the answer to this is easy: You need the landowner’s permission to enter their property and track your deer. The exact rules vary by state, but just about everywhere that I’m aware of, trespassing is still trespassing even when it’s for a good reason.
Apps like OnX will help you identify who owns the land if you’re not already familiar with the property. From there, you can probably find contact information for the owner via the county recorder or assessor’s office (during office hours, of course) or, if you’re lucky, maybe an internet search.
If possible, go knock on the landowner’s door and explain the situation. Most reasonable people will allow you access to their property long enough to retrieve your deer. This is the best case scenario.
If the landowner says no, call a game warden and explain the situation. They don’t want to see a deer wasted, and they’ll advise you as to what your options are, if any. They might pay the landowner a visit themselves, depending.
The same goes if you can’t get in touch with the landowner, which is common if the property is owned by a corporation or an individual or family who only uses it part-time. Look up the laws in your state—a few states allow you to enter private property for the purposes of retrieving downed game if you have already made every good faith effort to contact the landowner. In general, call the game warden and ask his or her advice if you’re trying to track a deer onto private property and can’t get in touch with the property owner.
I know time is of the essence here, but the one thing you can’t do is go marching onto private property without permission. Though the chances of you getting caught might be small, this is trespassing, and we can’t recommend you do anything illegal, even for the worthy cause of retrieving an animal.