Whenever I’m hunting out of state, I make sure to have a copy of the regulations on hand. These booklets make for good reading when the hunting is slow, but more importantly they’ll keep you on the right side of the law. Although most of the hunting laws around the country are crafted to ensure a safe hunting experience and sustainable wildlife resources, some simply defy reason.
We covered three of the worst hunting laws in America in Part One of this series. Here are a few more head scratchers.
Road Hunting in Nebraska
Love it or hate it, there’s more than one way to define road hunting. For many hunters, it’s a more mobile version of spot-and-stalk hunting. Drive around, glass up some animals on land you’re allowed to hunt, get out of the truck, and stalk into shooting range. Regardless of your opinion on the ethics of the practice, road hunting done this way is perfectly legal in most places.
Another less scrupulous version of road hunting skips leaving the rig to stalk an animal and gets straight to the shooting part. This is a favorite tactic of backroad poachers. In just about every state it’s illegal for hunters to shoot at game animals from an automobile, with the understandable exception and special permits for those who are disabled.
However, in Nebraska, any hunter may shoot a deer from inside a vehicle as long as the car is turned off and isn’t parked in the right-of-way of a “public highway.” What constitutes a public highway isn’t clearly defined, although interstates, paved state highways, and dirt county roads seem to fit the definition. There’s also a gray area concerning dirt roads and two-tracks running through state wildlife areas or National Forests. Roads running through private ranches are clearly not public highways.
In any case, shooting game animals from inside a vehicle seems to, at the very least, violate the spirit of fair chase hunting. In my opinion, it also passively encourages “slob hunting.”
Several years back, I watched a Nebraska hunter wound a young mule deer buck with an extremely long Hail Mary shot taken from inside a vehicle on a Forest Service road. When the deer didn’t drop immediately, the vehicle moved on as the buck limped away. I tracked that buck for hours until I managed to finish him off. I think if the laws didn’t promote road hunting, that encounter wouldn’t have happened.
Archery Equipment Bans in Idaho
The Pope and Young Club is an organization devoted to upholding the fair chase ethics of archery hunting. The group has long taken the position that use of any electronic devices attached to a bow or arrow, such as illuminated sights or lighted nocks, provide hunters with an unfair advantage. However, in 2014 P&Y amended their position to accept the use of lighted arrow nocks, and since then, Oregon, Colorado, Montana, and Washington have made using them legal.
Today, the lone holdout is Idaho. Ironically, the state allows the use of lighted scope reticles on rifles, but lighted nocks remain illegal for archery hunters. Rather than providing any kind of unfair advantage to hunters, lighted nocks allow hunters to better gauge shot placement on animals. After a shot, lighted nocks also make it easier to find arrows in low light conditions.
In turn, hunters are able to quickly locate and inspect the arrow for blood, assess the lethality of the shot, locate blood trails, and retrieve animals that might have never been found. On a side note, Idaho doesn’t allow the use of mechanical broadheads either, even though archery hunters elsewhere kill thousands of deer and elk with them every year.
As hunter-friendly as Idaho may be, the Gem State needs to rethink some of their archery hunting regulations.
No Dogs Allowed
Long before modern humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America, hunters were using dogs to find, track, kill, and recover game animals. Not much has changed in that respect. In fact, we’ve been breeding dogs to accomplish specific hunting purposes for thousands of years. Today, many hunters use dogs to do everything from chase rabbits to retrieve waterfowl. In many states, hunters use “blood trailing” dogs to locate and recover big game animals. When a blood trail is sparse or non-existent, these dogs are an invaluable aid to hunters who might never find an animal on their own. Trained blood trackers also dramatically increase successful recovery rates at night or in foul weather.
In Idaho this past spring, a fellow hunter shot a bear in thick cover at last light during a steady rainfall. She was confident of a lethal hit, but she wasn’t certain which direction the bear went after the shot. We arrived a half hour later with a small tracking dog and found the bear in a few minutes, even though it was dark, raining, and there was no noticeable blood trail to follow. I almost stepped on the bear without seeing it in the dense brush. Without the dog, we might have searched for that bear all night and never found it.
Wounding loss is a significant problem for big game hunters. I asked Bill Andree, a retired district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, about the prevalence of wounding loss. He told me that CPW’s modeling system estimates 10% of deer and antelope shot and killed by hunters are never recovered. Loss rates are significantly higher for elk, approaching 25%. How many of those animals might be recovered if the aid of a blood trailing dog was legal?
There are over a dozen other states around the country that don’t allow the use of blood trailing dogs. The arguments against their use suggests the practice could be abused and that the dogs could be used to hunt rather than recover big game animals. Possibly, but any perceived negatives are far outweighed by actual positives. In Pennsylvania, the legislature agreed last year when they approved the use of blood tracking hounds. The rest of the states that don’t allow hunters to use dogs to recover deer or other big game animals should follow suit.
The List Goes On…
Sadly that’s not the end of the list of questionable hunting regulations. From nonresident public access restrictions in South Dakota to bans on afternoon turkey hunting in several states, we’ll look at some more of America’s worst hunting laws in the next installment of this series.