How to Understand Hunting Laws (Without a Law Degree)
Whether you’re new to bowhunting or a veteran, understanding hunting laws can seem like a daunting task. Just about the time you start to get comfortable, regulations change, and you have to learn and understand the new rules. And you definitely need to read up if you head out of state to hunt. For new hunters, knowing where to get the information is half the battle. And fortunately, resources to help you understand hunting laws are more readily available now than ever before. Here are a few things to consider before you hit the woods.
Understand the Basics
Learning the definitions of basic legal terminology is a great starting point. Generally speaking, these terms carry over from state to state, and understanding their meanings will help you feel confident you’re abiding by the law. Brush up on terms like:
- Daily limit: Daily bag limit is the total number of a particular game species that a person may harvest in one day, regardless of how long or how often that person hunted that day.
- Possession limit: This is the maximum number that a person may possess of any particular game species — including all animals of that specific species stored, such as in a freezer. The total possession limit is often two or three times the daily limit, but not always.
- Shooting hours: Shooting hours identify the legal time frame during which hunters can shoot at game. Generally speaking, shooting hours are 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. However, shooting hours can vary by state and species, so be sure to reference the rules and regulations to understand your area’s shooting hours.
- Zones and units: States differentiate management areas by identifying specific zones and units within the state. By separating a state into different regions, usually according to habitat and game populations, biologists can adjust bag limits so harvest metrics meet the area’s management goals. Even within the same state, hunting regulations can vary from one zone to the next.
- Land type: If you’re hunting public ground, understand that there are many types including wildlife management areas (WMAs), state and county parks, voluntary public access (VPA) programs, national wildlife refuges, national forests, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) grounds, and more. Before you identify the spot you’ll be hunting, check with your state fish and wildlife agency to confirm there aren’t any restrictions or special regulations that affect when and how you can access and hunt the property.
- Tagging and reporting: Methods for tagging and reporting your harvest vary by state. Some states require you to place a physical tag on the carcass and check in at an in-person game-check station, while others allow you to report your harvest online. Some don’t require a check-in at all. Before you go hunting, be sure you understand the game tagging and reporting requirements in the area you’re hunting.
There’s an App for That!
The days of carrying a hard copy of your state’s hunting regulations are in the rearview. Nearly all fish and wildlife agencies offer an app that provides a digitized copy of the latest rules and regulations, highlights new laws that have recently changed, and links to additional resources like online game registration, mapping applications and customer-service contact information. Download the app before you head to the field to carry the latest hunting information for your area in the palm of your hand.
Call a Warden
Whether you’re hunting a new state or familiar territory, getting in touch with a game warden before your hunt is always a good idea. Do some research before calling, and come prepared with specific questions about rules and regulations in the area you’re interested in hunting. Wardens are a great educational resource to help you adhere to hunting laws, and they provide a wealth of information so you get the most out of your hunting experience. Once you’re confident in the hunting laws, don’t hesitate to ask specific questions about hunting pressure or land access. Nobody spends as much time in the field as a game warden, and building a relationship with them can help you get more out of your time in the field.
Find a Hunting Mentor
A hunting mentor is another great resource for getting a practical understanding of game laws. For many bowhunters, a mentor might be a family member or friend who shares your interest in bowhunting, but don’t worry if your network isn’t full of hunters. Nearly all state fish and wildlife agencies offer learn-to-hunt programs that pair new hunters with mentors who volunteer their time to share knowledge and take new folks hunting. The National Deer Association’s Field to Fork program is another excellent resource that pairs new hunters with mentors for a one-on-one mentorship experience in specific areas across the country.
While hunting laws can be intimidating to understand, there are plenty of resources to help hunters feel confident before stepping into the woods. Most importantly, fish and wildlife staff thoroughly enjoy helping hunters feel prepared for their hunt. Whether you prefer a mobile app that packs the rules and regulations into your phone or a direct call with a game warden, you have multiple options available to help you stay legal and feel at ease on opening day.