Hey, Who Let This Guy In Here?

In Fairbanks, it's illegal for moose to enter a saloon (via the sidewalk, at least)...and other weird game laws.
Outdoor Life Online Editor

Since ancient times, mankind has enacted laws to govern human behavior in relation to hunting and fishing. The Laws of Manu, written in India around 1500 B.C., dictate, “As many hairs as the slain beast has, so often indeed will he who killed it without a lawful reason suffer a violent death in future reincarnations.” Whew, now that’s getting tough on crime. These days, it seems there are more state and federal game laws than there are fish and game.

Most are obvious and make sense, but some are esoteric, confusing, outdated or just downright funny.

For instance, did you know that it is illegal to hunt camels in Arizona? According to the 1901 Revised Statutes of Arizona, Section 578, any person who “hunts, pursues, takes, kills or destroys” a camel is in trouble. The law was enacted to protect feral camels left over from an 1850 U.S. Army experiment that used one-humpers as pack animals. But somebody somewhere must have enjoyed a pile of camel steaks, because I certainly have not run into a camel anywhere I’ve roamed in Arizona.

Back around World War I, city officials in Fairbanks, Alaska, tried to make it illegal to give alcoholic beverages to moose. They did so to try to stop a local tavern keeper from getting his pet moose drunk and to prevent the ungulate’s frequent drunken rampages. (Talk about your mean drunks.) Unable to create a law that would keep all moose sober, the officials passed an ordinance forbidding moose on public sidewalks, thus preventing the moose in question from actually entering the bar. Under threat of a sidewalk violation, the moose had to do his drinking at home.

Clearly, getting a moose drunk was not very sporting, as the majority of game laws are concerned with the level of pursuit and interaction with game. For instance, “noodling” is illegal in almost all state jurisdictions because catching fish with your bare hands is illegal. But I’ve never heard of anyone getting arrested or fined for doing so, probably because it would be tough to prove:

“Hey, what’re you doing with that catfish?” says the warden.

“Uh, I’m just helping him across the river, sir. See, he swam away fine.”

It is likewise outside the law in many places to kill deer or other wild game with your bare hands, with a knife or by throwing rocks or a spear. Tarzan would starve in America, and Jane would probably dump him. Actually, though, these primitive activities aren’t specifically prohibitedÐthey are just not on the “legal means and methods” list because it is much easier to define what is legal than what is not.

On the other hand, if you have the desireÐand the cajonesÐto stab, spear or wrestle a non-game or non-protected animal such as a feral hog or coyote, you may do so in some states with the game department’s blessing. Florida is one place where getting down and dirty with feral hogs has become popular with the Bowie-knife crowd.

Sometimes fine shades of legality figure into what we are allowed and not allowed to do. For instance, consider the federal nontoxic shot rule. In some states, the early teal season overlaps the mourning dove season. If you are hunting doves near a farm pond using lead shot (legal in some states such as Texas) and a flight of teal wheels in, you’d better not even aim, because the simple act of swinging the muzzle from a lead-legal species to one that isn’t violates the language of the nontoxic rule.

What you wear while hunting is also covered by law, and game wardens are the fashion police. Normally a certain amount of fluorescent orange is mandatory, but not when waterfowling. Imagine you are sitting in a duck blind in full camo, waiting for the first flight, when a nice 10-point whitetail buck appears in the nearby trees. Deer season is open and you have a tag. You know you have a couple of pocket-worn rifled slugs in your vest and think about slipping them into your shotgun.

Stop right there, buddy. You will be in trouble if a warden comes along because when you swing the muzzle from ducks to deer without first changing clothes and donning your orange, you are in violation. And, no, tucking an orange rag in your front pocket won’t do it. (Incidentally, no one I queried at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was willing to go on record about whether rifled slugs qualify as “shot” under the nontoxic shot rule, so the legality of having slugs on you while waterfowling is anybody’s call.)

Now here’s an interesting one: You’ve been invited to accompany a Texas rancher in his private plane on a preseason aerial census of the deer herd. As you swoop low over a pasture, a trio of coyotes flushes from a ravine and starts running. The rancher gives chase. He hands you a shotgun and yells, “Bust those dogs!”

Blast away. It is safe to assume the rancher has an aerial survey/photography permit from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). The same permit allows for aerial predator control. This was not always so. “A few years go, you could not do aerial game survey or photography and hunt predators at the same time,” says David Sinclair, chief of wildlife enforcement for TPWD. “If you spotted a predator while surveying, you had to land, figuratively change into hunting mode, and then go back up. We thought that was sort of silly and changed it.” Saves gas, too.

While you’re waiting to get a bead on the coyote, you might wonder about the plugged-for-three rule for pump and semi-auto shotguns. This rule is not entirely to discourage sky-busting or to prevent overharvesting of game. It was a compromise to placate the double-barrel aficionados of yore who considered the newfangled magazine guns unethical. Sounds like shotgun envy if you ask me.

And here’s one for the big-game hunters. If you’re ever out in California’s A Zone, 7mm Winchester in hand, do not forget that killing or molesting a butterfly is a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail within the city limits of Pacific Grove, near Monterey. There is, however, no bag limit on moths.