How the Appeal of the Iron Bar Holdings Corner Crossing Case Affects Access to Public Lands for Sportsmen and Outdoor Enthusiasts

By: Kevin Brown

Across the American West, a single step between parcels of public land has long plagued sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts with the potential for exorbitant legal and financial consequences to the tune of several million dollars. The legal complexities surrounding “corner crossing” have effectively made 8.3 million acres of public land, land supposedly held in trust for the use and enjoyment of the public, completely inaccessible to those it is meant to benefit, and instead left to the exclusive control of private landowners.

The District of Wyoming decision in Iron Bar Holdings clarified the legality of “corner crossing,” serving as a monumental victory for sportsmen, outdoor enthusiasts, and conservationists who were reasonably trying to access public land without harming private property.[1]  However, this decision has been appealed to the Tenth Circuit, forcing stakeholders to ponder how the precedent’s pending appeal affects public land access via corner crossing while the case is litigated.[2]

What is Corner Crossing?

“Corner crossing” is the concept in outdoor parlance of crossing between two diagonally intersecting property sections without physically touching the adjacent sections.[3] It is a result of the various railroad land grants in the nineteenth century that intended to promote western expansion of US territory.[4]  These diagonally abutting property lines generally have a checkerboard-like layout, with private and public parcels only connecting to their like-parcels at their corner.[5] However, since boundary lines are infinitely small, crossing from one public parcel to another without briefly having part of their body enter the airspace above and controlled by the private landowner is impossible.[6] As a result, citizens are subject to the mercy of litigious landowners who feel this brief passing through their airspace constitutes trespassing and wish to maintain their exclusive control of the public land.[7]

Iron Bar Holdings v. Cape

In Iron Bar Holdings, a group of hunters from Missouri experienced the legal complexities and potential consequences of corner crossing firsthand when they crossed a corner over private land.[8] Despite avoiding physical contact with the land by employing a homemade ladder and consulting with law enforcement, the access attempt resulted in a confrontation with a land representative, ultimately leading to trespassing charges.[9] The hunters were exonerated from criminal trespassing but were later sued by the landowner, Fredric Eshelman, for civil trespassing with asserted damages of nearly 7.75 million dollars supposedly caused by their shoulders touching the air above his property.[10]

Justice Scott Skavdahl, the Chief Judge of the District of Wyoming, rejected this proposition, clearly articulating the historical legality of corner crossing through a thoughtful analysis of federal statutes, case law, and legislative intent.[11] Eshelman filed a motion to stay[12] the decision pending appeal, citing an increased potential for trespass on his property.[13]  The motion was denied on the grounds they were unlikely to prevail on appeal, and the evidence presenting harm to their land and business was merely speculation.[14]

What Does this Mean for Sportsmen?

With the motion to stay denied, the legal status quo remains intact, meaning that, for the time being, sportsmen can continue to access public lands via corner crossing without fear of legal repercussions stemming from the ruling.[15] This is a temporary relief for those advocating for widespread public land access. However, it is important to note that denying the motion to stay does not equate to a resolution of the case. The appeal will continue to be heard by the Tenth Circuit, and the final outcome could still significantly impact public land access rights, making the future uncertain.[16] Nonetheless, Iron Bar Holdings has brought national attention to the broader issue of public land access, highlighting the challenges faced by sportsmen in accessing landlocked public lands, and has spurred a broader discussion about the rights of the public versus the rights of private landowners. Regardless of how the case is ultimately decided, its high-profile nature and implications for public land access may prompt legislative action. Lawmakers may be compelled to clarify the legality of corner crossing or seek other solutions to ensure public lands remain accessible to the public.

Ultimately, Iron Bar Holdings has become a crucial indicator of the direction of public land access rights in America, with significant consequences for the involved parties and anyone who values the freedom to roam America’s wild landscapes. The refusal to stay the opinion delivers a mix of temporary relief and tentative hope to outdoor enthusiasts. As the appeal progresses, it underscores the intricate interplay between individual land ownership rights and communal access to the nation’s public lands. Regardless of how the case turns out, it promises to be a watershed moment in the persistent effort to ensure public lands stay open for public enjoyment.

[1] Iron Bar Holdings LLC v. Cape, No. 22-CV-67-SWS, 2023 WL 3686793 (D. Wyo. May 26, 2023); The Corner Locked Report, onX Maps, (last visited Feb 15, 2024).

[2] Angus M. Thuermer Jr., Eshelman Appeals Corner-Crossing Loss to 10th Circuit, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, (Jul. 6, 2023).

[3] See The Corner Locked Report, supra note 1.

[4] These alternating property sections are typically arranged between private and public land.

[5] See Iron Bar Holdings, 2023 WL 3686793 at *2-4.

[6] Mackay v. Uinta Development Co., 219 F. 116, 118 (8th Cir. 1914).

[7] See generally Iron Bar Holdings, 2023 WL 3686793.

[8] See generally id.

[9] Id. at *6, *10; Sam Lungren, Inside the Wyoming Corner Crossing Case Everyone is Watching, MEATEATER, (Dec. 15, 2021) (discussing that a local game warden and two sheriffs told the corner crossers “there was nothing wrong with what they were doing and left them to their hunt.”).

[10] Rachelle Schrute, ‘Private Air’ Worth $7.75 Million? WY Corner Crossing Lawsuit Continues, GEAR JUNKIE (Sept. 13, 2022),

[11] See generally Iron Bar Holdings, 2023 WL 3686793.

[12] A stay of a legal decision is a court order temporarily suspending the enforcement of the decision pending an appeal and maintaining the prior legal status quo.

[13] Charles Wallace, Judge rejects stay on corner crossing ruling, WESTERN LIVESTOCK JOURNAL (Aug. 4, 2023)

[14] Id.

[15] Compare Iron Bar Holdings, 2023 WL 3686793, with Wallace, supra note 13 (demonstrating Eshelman’s desire to have the status quo remain intact pending appeal since corner crossing is now legal).

[16] See Thuermer Jr., supra note 2.