Can a Felon Get a Hunting License?

It can be difficult to find a job with a conviction on your record and providing for one’s family can be challenging. Hunting for sport or necessity can be very important, as many families depend on the meat from hunting to supplement their diets. It’s also a good way to get out in nature, be active and spend time with friends, especially if you’re still on probation and not allowed to go out and socialize in establishments that serve alcohol. After a felony, you may be wondering if you will be able to hunt again, or if you will be subject to any restrictions. Let’s explore this question.

What is a hunting license for?

A hunting license is issued by the state in which you plan to hunt. It allows you to hunt during a specific season, in designated areas for specific types of game, usually with a limit on the number of animals you can take.

To apply for a hunting license, you must be over the state specific minimum age, have a state issued ID, be legally allowed to hunt and operate a firearm or other restricted weapon such as a crossbow. Most states also require you to pass a hunter’s safety class. Once you’ve passed the class, you will have a card certifying that you have completed the course. You will need this to get a hunting license at retail locations.

Once you have everything in order, you must abide by the rules. This includes staying within the limit of animals you are permitted to take and which you have tags for. You must only use approved weapons and methods, and only hunt in designated areas. You must have permission from private landowners before hunting on their land. Breaking these rules can be considered poaching. A third offense of poaching can be a felony, so be very careful about obeying these rules.

Some states offer the option of applying for a license online or over the counter at local sporting goods stores. If you’re getting your license from a retail location, you will only need to provide your hunter’s safety card, valid ID and social security number. The store employee will enter this information into the Fish and Wildlife Services database. The purpose of this database is to identify if an applicant has previous hunting or fishing violations. The price of your license depends on the type of license, the region you are hunting in, and your age. Oftentimes discounts are offered for teens or senior citizens.

Hunting licenses are not firearm licenses

So, can a felon get a hunting license? The answer is complicated.

There isn’t a federal law prohibiting convicted felons from obtaining a hunting license, though a handful of states do restrict selling a hunting licenses to felon. You may be able to get a hunting license but being able to hunt with a firearm is a different matter.

The federal government prohibits someone with a felony conviction from owning firearms. Some states have their own provisions allowing a convicted felon to have their right to own firearms restored after they’ve served their sentence.

Others offer a pathway of restoring firearm rights either through a Governor’s pardon, or other means. In many states, a felon can get a hunting license, though a hunting license gives you permission and authority to harvest game, but it does not give you the right to carry a weapon. In these circumstances, you can go hunting, but probably not with a gun.

Federal Law

As mentioned, federal law prohibits anyone with a felony conviction from possessing firearms. There are a few exceptions for special circumstances, but this is rare and approved on a case-by-case basis.

States often have different restrictions for felons owning firearms, some are stricter, and some are less so, but the federal law can always be enforced even with more lenient state laws in place.

State differences

Many states follow the same guidelines as the Federal government, though some states will allow you to possess firearms in certain circumstances. Remember though, the Federal law will always take precedence over state law.

Oregon exempts felons from the firearms ban if their conviction meets certain criteria. Arizona has a limited ban, usually for felony crimes involving a weapon. Ohio and West Virginia are similar to Arizona, though they also include drug abuse convictions as a reason to ban firearm possession.

States such as Florida and Idaho will allow a felon to possess firearms if their rights have been restored. Missouri and Alaska only ban felons from carrying concealed firearms, and in Missouri, your rights are fully reinstated five years after your confinement.

Montana does not bar convicts from owning weapons at the state level but allows local jurisdictions to implement their own regulations.

On the other end of the spectrum, New York state has even more restrictive gun laws than the Federal government. You can find specifics on each state’s gun laws at the National Rifle Association’s website here.

Alternatives to guns

Other options include fishing or hunting with spears, knives, compound bows and crossbows. Again, the State and Federal laws do not match up on felons owning crossbows. The Federal government does not ban crossbow ownership for felons, while some states do.

Many states allow felons to hunt using crossbows, even if they aren’t permitted to use firearms. Other states, such as Colorado, consider a crossbow to be in the same weapons category as a gun, and a felon is not permitted to own or use one while hunting or otherwise.

Restrictions on crossbows vary from state to state, though most make exceptions for hunters with a disability. It’s best to check with your state and local jurisdictions before moving forward. You can find state-specific restrictions on crossbow hunting here.

Practice versus Reality

Despite these restrictions, there have been news reports of felons obtaining hunting licenses and hunting with restricted weapons, even when they are legally prohibited from doing so. This article points out several loopholes in state law. Most states do not require applicants to pass a background check in order to get a hunting license. The same situation arises for states that require a Sportsman’s Firearm Permit. No background check is required.

Another article points out that most states do not have a law banning convicted felons from getting a hunting permit. In situations like these, the issuing entity is trusting that the permit holder will use a bow or other legal weapon and not a rifle or firearm to hunt game.

Although most states do not cross-check criminal databases before issuing a license, they often check to see if you have any outstanding child support payments due before they will issue a license.

Consequences of Not Having a License

If you’re caught hunting without a license, you will be cited for a Class A misdemeanor, be required to appear in court and possibly be indicted. Paying the fine within 30 days may eliminate the need for a court appearance. If you don’t pay the fine, the citation can be increased to a Class B misdemeanor and a higher fine plus jail time up to sixty days.

The last thing you need after a felony conviction is legal entanglement. This goes double if you are still on probation. A hunting license will probably cost less than a fine. It’s not worth the risk.

Consequences of Hunting with Restricted Weapons

Hunting with restricted weapons, weather you have a hunting license or not, is a very serious offense. If you are barred from possessing a firearm or other weapon, and are caught, any violation of the law will most certainly result in jail time. If you’re still on probation, this would violate your probation terms and land you back in prison. Again, not worth the risk.

Other Considerations

Even if you go with friends but do not intend to hunt yourself, you can find yourself in trouble. In some states you and your companion can get in trouble if you’re caught using, carrying or even having access to a firearm or restricted weapon. If you go with others, make sure their firearms/weapons are always in their immediate control and not left unattended where law enforcement could construe that you have access or control of them.

Also, do not have another person purchase a firearm for you, or give one to you as a gift. When someone without a conviction purchases a firearm for a convicted person, this is called a straw purchase, and is illegal.

Reinstating rights

There is a pathway to restoring your weapons rights through a Governor’s Pardon. This is a lengthy process, but worth pursuing if you meet the requirements and have a strong need or desire to hunt.

Usually you will have to wait several years after completing your sentence to even apply. The criteria for a pardon include having good character prior to your conviction, good conduct while you were incarcerated, proof of rehabilitation and statements from the prosecuting attorney, district attorney and sentencing judge in your case. A pardon usually results in all of your rights being restored, though they can be narrowed to only restore your rights to possess firearms.


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