Hunting is an extremely popular sport all over the world, and in the United States in particular. Even so, there are a number of laws, rules and regulations that govern this sport.
The most basic of these is the hunting season. There are specific periods in the year that it is deemed legal to hunt a particular species of animal.
Every season has a specific start and end date. Hunting seasons are decided with a host of factors in mind.
Generally, hunting seasons are closed when the prey is especially vulnerable such as the breeding period of a species, or in the case of birds, when they are molting, or even when food is scarce or the population level is low due to some reason.
During closed season of a species, it is illegal to hunt them under any circumstances. This is all done based on careful calculations to ensure the conservation of the species, health of the local eco-systems and wild-life management.
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1. Hunting Dates
While hunting seasons are important for big game, not all hunting requires the use of hunting seasons.
When it comes to hunting small game, especially those that are abundantly found, there is very often an open season all year round, such that hunters can indulge themselves.
But in the case of big game and animals with lesser populations, hunting seasons come into play.
Here the hunting dates are dependent on each state and there are no universal dates. This is because state governments are legally responsible for hunting in each state and the federal government mostly only comes into the picture in case of migratory birds.
The hunting dates vary across states. Some states may have yearlong open seasons, other states have seasons one after the other such that hunters may get to enjoy hunting all year and the population of the species is adequately managed as required.
Season dates vary not just based on the species but also on the type of weapon used. There are separate seasons for bowhunting as opposed to firearms. Seasons may also be restricted by age as a few youth-only hunting seasons exist.
A season may last two weeks or even two months but what is certain is that the season will have a specific start and end date. The official websites of the wild-life management agencies in each state are an excellent way to figure out the seasons that you would like to hunt in.
2. Rules and Regulations
Hunting is not only a sport for outdoor recreation but also a tool for wildlife conservation. By following the seasons and other rules, hunters can help make sure that wildlife is sustained.
- First and foremost, every hunter, across states, must have a hunting license. Notwithstanding national rules, each state also has specific rules the hunter must abide by.
- The hunter must not hunt, kill, or collect animals listed as endangered by the IUCN and protected by various acts or international treaties.
- The hunter must not chase wildlife outside the permitted seasons, as usually the breeding season is declared as the closed season and wildlife population may be affected if hunters do not follow rules.
Depending on each state,
- The hunter must not use any prohibited weapons, snares, poison, nets and pitfall traps.
- The hunter must not indulge in baiting the animal with food, recorded calls, and decoys to increase the chances of success for the hunter.
- The hunter must not shoot from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
- The hunter must not use spotlights at night to trick the natural defenses of a deer. (This is considered animal abuse in a few states such as Florida, California, Virginia, etc.)
- The hunter must not lead the prey towards restricted land or land that is owned by somebody else.
- The hunter must not indulge in canned hunting wherein animals are hunted in a confined area with no chance of escape.
America has a huge number of public lands that allow hunting offering a huge variety of choice for those looking for sport or recreation.
There are 76 areas under the national park service, 336 national wildlife refuges and 36 wetland management districts that allow hunting.
In addition to these, there are over 220 million acres of BLM-managed public lands. On the public lands, there are several animals you can hunt including deer, waterfowl, turkey and feral hogs.
Each location will choose the species that hunters are allowed to hunt as well as the number and when and where you can hunt them. All hunters on public lands are generally required to have state hunting licenses.
There will be local public lands management offices that can make you aware of the rules and regulations.
While on forest service land, there some further regulations to be followed.
- When in a recreational area/public area be sure to keep your equipment unloaded safely within protective covers.
- You must not discharge your bow and arrow within 150 yards of a developed recreation site, residential area or any place with a likely population of people.
- Take care to not shoot across bodies of water or across roads as that may lead to possible mishaps. Also refrain from shooting into a cave, mine or open shaft or at all if you are inside it.
- Take care to not accidentally trespass into private land. Use a map and follow it carefully.
There are also rules regarding the kind of equipment allowed such as portable blinds or stands, and you must check with the local authorities to make sure the rules are being followed.
3. How To Prepare For The Season
3.1 Hunters Safety
Firstly, it is advisable to register for a hunter’s safety course. Hunting is a dangerous sport with a lot of margin for error and if you intend to be a responsible hunter, taking this course from the relevant authorities is one of the fundamentals of hunting preparation.
This course helps by giving you an overview of important rules and regulations, giving you firearm safety advice, and teaching you how to identify wildlife. Quite a few states also make this a mandatory requirement for receiving your license.
3.2 Hunting License
Then, you need to obtain a hunting license. The rules regarding this, including the age at which you can apply, differs from state to state.
Once you have obtained your license you can also then apply for tags which are necessary to hunt certain animals and birds.
3.3 Lay Of The Land
Once you’ve gotten your license and decided in which season you want to hunt, you need to make yourself aware of local rules and regulations.
Having done that, it is prudent to familiarize yourself with the land you will be hunting on, to both find the best spots for hunting as well as to avoid inadvertently trespassing on private land.
Getting the right maps and getting used to the terrain is an important part of this process.
With regard to hunting areas, if you hunt on private land, make sure to be on good terms with the owner. Be straightforward with your intentions regarding hunting on the land, and in case you have leased the land, make sure everything is in place.
When it comes to public land, look up topographic maps and aerial photos to get a better idea of the lay of the land. Also, plan for the possibility of there being other hunters on public land and prepare accordingly.
3.4 Hunting Gear
Next, check your hunting gear to make sure it is in top condition. Inspect your gear and in case servicing is needed, make sure you get it done.
Check the cleanliness and get your bowstrings waxed, as well as making sure the arrows fly straight and land true.
Check the batteries for any battery-powered devices such as headlight, flashlight, rangefinder, etc.
It is not enough merely to check that your gear works, you also need to familiarize yourself with the tools you will be using as they play a huge part in your success.
Practice regularly and get comfortable with your weapon of choice. If possible, make sure you have been practicing year-round as that is the best way to hone your skills and ensure that you have the stamina when it comes to the hunt.
Hunting is not merely seeing a target and shooting at it. It is also a test of endurance. You need to be in good shape to master your terrain and be able to make the best use of it.
For difficult terrains, footwear is an important part of the process. The best way to ensure you are up to the task when on an actual hunt, is to put on your boots and regularly jog or even hike across rough terrain.
Doing so in the actual place you plan to hunt will not only keep you in good form but also help you get a feel for the place and familiarize yourself with whatever challenges you may face.
You may have a certain distance in mind for the hunt, and you may have planned to go a certain number of miles. However, while training go above and beyond that set number. This will prove helpful considering the unpredictable nature of the sport.
Besides, you may even be able to set a faster pace on the actual hunt helping you achieve success. It also increases your mental stamina, an often overlooked part of the hunting process. Do not neglect your body and make sure you are sufficiently hydrated.
3.6 Essentials Checklist
This may seem like a no-brainer but make a checklist of all the essential items you need on the hunt. You may even be an experienced hunter, but it is extremely easy to forget just one small item, and end up having trouble later.
Make sure that all your gear is included in the list, that does not just mean equipment, but also clothing, first aid and medicines, water, snacks, etc.
Make sure also that whatever needs replacing or filling up is done so accordingly. Make sure you have appropriate clothing for the terrain and the weather, as well as the hunting season.
3.7 Social Interaction
Talking to people who can give you valuable information on the hunting areas is a neglected part of the preparation, but it can give you an edge over other hunters. Most obviously, you could talk to experienced hunters.
Having hunted for many years, most of them would be happy to give you information such as where your preferred species of deer eat, what they eat, where to look for them, the differences between looking for them towards the start of hunting season versus the ending days.
The value of such information cannot be stressed enough. In addition to this talking to the local conservation officer may also help as they are usually aware of the wildlife in the place.
You could talk to butchers who will often know from the hunters who bring carcasses in where they bagged the deer and thus pass on the information to you.
Or you could talk to the farming community in the area who will know the lay of the land better than anyone else and who would if asked politely enough and perhaps with the added incentive of shared venison, be more than willing to part with helpful information.
Hunting is a dangerous sport and there are a number of safety precautions to be taken before venturing into the field. Most hunting injuries are those self-inflicted as hunters may trip or fall and accidentally shoot themselves.
This may be due to improper handling of equipment, faulty equipment, falling from tree stands, etc. In the last instance, using a harness can reduce the risk of an accident.
Planning ahead and preparing well is an important part of having a positive and injury-free hunting experience.
3.8 Spots For Hunting
America has a lot of spots across the country famous for hunting. It can even be called a hunter’s paradise owing to the wide variety of game available.
Some spots, however, are especially known as the best hunting destinations in America.
- Salmon, Idaho: Boasts trout salmon and different species of fish. Elk, deer, bears and mountain lions are the big game that many across the country flock to this spot for.
- Rapid City, South Dakota: Game available pretty much all year round. Bear, deer, elk and wild turkey can be found here. An additional selling point is the picturesque surroundings that are a treat to the eyes.
- Alaska: Famous for the Alaskan – Yukon bull moose and subsequently a great location for big game.
- Appleton, Wisconsin: Whitetail deer, massive bucks and grizzly bears and even wild geese, this location offers wild beauty and a hearty challenge to hunters.
- Centerville, Iowa: Whitetails, waterfowls, and turkeys, along with crappies, walleyes and channel cats, it calls to hunters the world over.
- Georgetown, South Carolina: Fish, turkey, quail and other smaller game, along with the possibility of deer, this location will keep you entertained for a good while.
- Charleston, West Virginia: This location boasts of black bears, deer as well as smaller game like squirrels. Wild trout, muskies and walleye fish add to the appeal of the place.
- Dallas County, Alabama: A deer population of 1.75 million makes this a paradise for hunters, add to that the fact that almost all kind of weapons are allowed for hunting, and big game hunters will find themselves very pleased with this location.
- Vassalboro, Maine: Those with an inclination for free poultry will find themselves very pleased by this place as a large amount of wild turkey is available.
- Arizona: Here, you can find all types of game. Flagstaff and Pinetop regions are famous for elk, antelope, deer and turkey, and the Kingman region for mountain lions and black bears.
In addition to the above, America has a prime collection of hunting spots spread across its length and breadth and depending on their preferred game, the hunters can choose the spot they wish to hunt at.
4. Hunter Safety Courses
A number of organizations offer hunter safety courses. In most cases, hunter safety courses are a mandatory requirement for getting yourself a hunting license.
There are a few cases where exceptions can be made, such as in the case of active or veteran military members, but in general, it is prudent to take the course before setting out on hunting trips.
The hunter education course covers topics such as: Firearms safety, hunting ethics, wildlife management and conservation, archery, wildlife identification, survival, first aid, etc.
Most safety courses have two components: one part is instructional that may be followed by exams and quizzes and one field test where you are tested for your ability to handle weapons.
The first part of the course can be taken online which means you would only need to attend the second part of the course in person.
Once you have completed the course, you will be given a hunter safety card which will then help you get your license. The card is valid throughout your lifetime and you do not need to renew it periodically.
4.1 License Requirements and How To Get A License
A hunting license is a mechanism whereby state governments control hunting and ensure that it does not exceed the limit but instead serves to keep the ecosystem in balance. State governments regulate most forms of hunting except for a few migratory birds whose hunting may be regulated by federal laws.
Hunting licenses are basic certification for hunters which are mandatory before pursuing any animal. Hunting licenses are issued according to state guidelines, and hence, are valid only in the specific state they are issued in.
It is possible, however, to have licenses in multiple states simultaneously. But licenses generally are cheaper for state residents as compared to outsiders. There may be provisions that can give you discounts in the case of youth hunters, senior hunters and veterans.
Most often than not, a Hunter Education and Safety course will have to be taken before you are eligible to have a license. This is especially true if you’re new to hunting.
In case of wanting to move to a new state after having completed the course, the hunter education will transfer such that you don’t have to take the course all over again.
The hunter’s licenses issued will be different for different states. In California, a general license is enough to hunt all species. But in Washington, you will have animal-specific licenses, such as a deer license, but this may also take the form of a big game license or a small game license.
Licenses are generally valid for a year, but for larger sums, multi-year licenses or lifetime licenses are available, dependent on the state.
A hunting license is considered a privilege granted to a citizen and not a right they are entitled to. And for most forms of hunting, licenses are a mandatory requirement.
There are a few cases in which they are not required, such as while killing a pest species, one of which is rodents. Those in active military service, youth and certain Native American residents are exempt from requiring a license. However, most of these exceptions do not apply to the average American hunter.
4.2 Basic Requirements To Get A License
- Your age must be over 12 or older for a hunting license in most states. If you’re between 12 and 16, parental permission is required.
- You need a valid ID, that is a driver’s license, passport or any other state-issued ID card. Proof of residency will get you a cheaper license in your home state.
- You need to be legally able to wield weapons. In case of conviction in violent crimes or felonies, you may not be allowed to hunt. This applies to bowhunting as well.
- States may also deny you a hunting license if you are not up to date with child support payments. As they ask for your social security number during the process, any hunting licenses previously issued may also be cancelled in case of non-payment of child support dues.
- Dependent on the state, you may need to take a hunter’s safety course.
Once you’ve taken care of all the requirements, the easiest way to obtain a license is simply to apply for it online on your state’s fish and game department website.
While doing so, make sure to have all your paperwork handy, such as identification, hunters safety card (which you get after having completed the hunter safety course), and your method of payment.
Otherwise, you can also get an over-the-counter license at your local sporting goods store. Any store which sells hunting equipment can generally also sell you a license.
Approach the clerk at the counter with the necessary documentation, and they will enter your details into the Fish and Wildlife Services database and print out a hunter’s license for you right then and there.
Once you’ve gotten your license firmly in place, you next have to think about tags, an integral part of the hunting process.
4.3 Tags and Bag Limits
Hunting licenses may allow you to hunt but tags decide the species that you can hunt as well as the number of animals you can hunt. For small game, tags may not always be necessary but for big game, they are a lot more common.
Tags are procured in addition to a hunting license to give the hunter the right to pursue/harvest an animal, such as deer, bear, elk, antelope, etc.
As soon as you hunt down your prey and kill it, you must fill out and attach the tag to the animal immediately. You need to mark details such as the date and time, location and description of the creature onto the tag.
Tags are a complex system owing to their limited nature. There are limits both on the number of tags of one type that a person can have as well as the total number of tags given out each year.
This means that one person may possibly be given only one bowhunting buck tag per year, and only a few thousand of those tags will be given out. Limiting the number of animals killed helps balance the ecosystem and conserve wildlife as needed.
When more hunters have applied for a tag as compared to the total number of tags that can be given out, there is usually a draw or lottery system set up to ensure a fair division.
In certain places, the hunter can build up preference points where if a hunter isn’t given the tag of their choice one year, they are given a point that will increase their chances in the next year, ensuring that your chances of getting the tag you want increase every year.
The entire process is one that requires careful planning as tag drawings often happen months before the actual hunt. Tags being limited also means that often hunters will be given what is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity increasing the thrill of the sport for them.
Tags are extremely specific and there are often distinctions such as tags for male animals and female animals. Tags for firearms vs. bow and arrows. Most importantly, tags are mostly geographically bound and hence valid only in a specific area. Tags also vary in price along with availability.
While tags are typically used for big game, for smaller game there are similar rules in place to protect the local ecosystem. While licenses allow the hunter to hunt the more abundant species of small game without any limit or further permissions, some species require extra permits to be hunted, these are called stamps and validations.
In addition to stamps and validations, smaller game also has bag limits, which is basically the maximum number of a species that you are allowed to kill in a particular time period, be it a daily bag limit or a seasonal one.
All of the above is carefully calculated such as to manage wildlife conservation and hence is also strictly enforced and hunters must make sure to follow the laws on tags and bag limits.
5. Essentials For Hunting
5.1 Hunting Clothes
Whether your hunting trip is successful or not can depend on something as basic as the clothes you wear. Proper fitting clothes that are comfortable and can be of practical use are of great importance.
Make sure that you dress appropriately for the conditions you will hunt in. Warm temperatures will need lightweight clothing with moisture-wicking fabrics. In colder climes, go for layers such that you have a base layer, insulation layer (thermal layer – men’s, women’s) and an outer layer. Socks, hats and gloves appropriate to the weather are also important.
We have curated the best hunting suits out there in the market currently.
5.2 Hunting Boots
While hunting you are invariably going to spend a lot of time on your feet. As such you need sturdy and comfortable boots that help you hunt and not hinder your progress.
In warm weather, have breathable boots (like these for men, and these for women). In wetlands and marshes, calf-length rubber boots would be best (like these for men and these for women). In cold regions, insulated boots (like these for men and these for women) to keep your feet warm will go a long way in making your trip an enjoyable success.
5.3 Bow, Arrows and Other Gear
The importance of having a bow that is suited (Compound, Recurve, or Traditional) to you cannot be emphasized enough. In addition to the proper bow, your arrows and other equipment such as the rangefinder, your compass, your quiver, must also be firmly in place before you go on your hunt.
Each state may or may not have an individual rule for the draw weight of the bow. But the minimum draw weight for a hunting bow is generally held to be around 40 pounds for ethical hunting. Otherwise, your draw weight is also dependent on the species you wish to hunt.
Your backpack, where you carry all your essentials is an important part of your journey. So make sure you choose a backpack to manage the demands of the area you hunt.
If you are hunting a smaller area, a small backpack might be okay, but if you are going on longer hunts, and in rougher terrain then your backpack must be of a quality that can withstand the rigors of the hunt.
Backpacks, having frames, may also need proper fitting to the person. It is hence advisable to buy it from a store where you can try it on and test it.
If you are planning to buy online, a good strategy can be to buy a couple of them, test it at home, and choose one bag from them that fits all your criteria.
5.5 Field Dressing Kit
A field dressing kit is used once you have taken down your prey. It will include latex gloves and a sharp knife, and sometimes even a knife sharpener and bone saw, depending on the type of game.
Instructions to field-dress an animal can also be kept in the kit, especially for beginners.
5.6 Other Essentials
A map, compass and first-aid kit are essentials that will help you make your hunt both fruitful and safe. Having a headlamp and a good quality flashlight is also recommended.
While all of the above are essential on your bowhunting trip, the list may be added to depending on the region you plan to hunt in. Archery shops in the region are a great resource to know what is essential to your trip.
6. Bowhunting During Rifle/Gun Hunting Season
Most states do allow bowhunting during rifle season, but the bowhunter will be required to follow rules and regulations that apply to the firearms season.
One important rule to be followed is to wear hunters orange (a specific bright orange). Wearing hunters orange helps hunters avoid unfortunate accidents where they may shoot at and injure fellow hunters.
7. Can You Hunt At Night?
Most hunters prefer not to hunt at night owing to the low visibility. But some types of game are easier to hunt at night and some hunters may even enjoy the added challenge.
When it comes to the legality of hunting at night, it is a little muddled. Each state has its own laws and rules when it comes to hunting at night. Certain states have night hunting legal for certain date ranges, but others may ban it entirely.
Night hunting is also regulated by the species being hunted. While night hunting may be banned for game animals such as deer, elk, turkey, moose, etc. it is allowed for other animals such as hogs and coyotes.
Thus you need to take into account individual state laws while considering hunting at night.
8. Game Calls
A number of hunters practice game calls to be better able to trap their prey. Game calls are a great way to lure the game towards you, while you are in a tree stand or ground blind.
Game calls can be either hand-held or electronic. Hand-held game calls are both affordable and easy to carry. Made of wood or plastic, they aid the hunter as required.
Electronic game calls are easy to use and can produce a wide range of sounds as compared to the hand-held kind.
In most states, electronic game calls are declared illegal. In some states, they may be legal for certain species, so in case a hunter wants to use it, they should check local regulations first.
Hunting is a sport with a lot of facets, all of which it may be nearly impossible to cover in a single article, but the basics of hunting have been elaborated on.
Before setting out on a hunt, make sure to familiarise yourself with all the rules and regulations for your area of choice, while making sure you have all the essentials and preparations in place. On doing so, you will be guaranteed a safe and hassle-free hunting experience.
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Hi, I’m Vineet. Creator of DivinioWorld. I am an outdoor enthusiast and absolutely love researching, learning, and applying skills and knowledge in the real world. I started DivinioWorld to share everything I know so that even a beginner can follow the ropes and master the subtle art of outdoors adventure and survival.
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