Unlawful Recreational Hunting | A Defense Lawyer’s Viewpoint | Criminal Problems in Washington State
As criminal defense attorneys, in Washington we see a lot of tickets, charges and civil seizure actions based on technical errors by clients that are pursued by enforcement personnel who are zealous in there investigation, citations and civil seizure actions on these kinds of offenses. We know people make mistakes, so we fight fire with fire and zealously represent our clients to minimize the criminal and licensing consequences of these kinds of actions.
Just like with fishing, hunting is a highly regulated activity in the state of Washington and it is extremely important to keep up to date on the Washington state regulations. If you prefer to hunt big game, it is vital you first consult the Big Game Hunting Seasons and Rules pamphlet. Corrections are posted at the beginning prior to the original pamphlet so make sure to double check the corrections there, or also here.
As criminal defense lawyers we emphasize awareness that any interaction with government agents on State, Federal or Private Land should be treated as a criminal investigation by the hunter and any others in the party should abide by our opinion on giving statements to any officer when approached. As an old wise hunter once said, “the less said the better.” Anything you say will end up in the officer’s report and will be used against you later in your criminal case or seizure case.
Common Criminal Charges We See as Criminal Defense Attorneys in Washington State
Common criminal charges and cases arising out of interactions between government agents and hunters are:
- Unlawful Hunting of Big Game
- Unlawful Hunting of Wild Animal
- Unlawful Taking of Endangered Fish or Wildlife
- Unlawful Hunting of Wild Birds
- Loaded rifle or shotgun in vehicle — Unlawful use or possession — Unlawful use of a loaded firearm
- Civil Seizure Actions
General Information on Hunting
Big game hunting consists of Bobcat, Black Bear, Bighorn Sheep, Cougar, Coyote, Deer, Elk, Fox, Grouse, Moose, Mountain Goat, Raccoon, Rabbit & Hare, and Wild Turkey in early and late fall. If you are intending to hunt for Merriam’s Turkey, Rio Grande Turkey, and Eastern Turkey in April-May, you should consult the Spring Wild Turkey Season and Regulations pamphlet.
If your hunting preference is migratory waterfowl, such as duck, goose, swan, grouse, pheasant, quail, crow, and partridge, or upland game such as cottontail & snowshoe hare, you should consult and keep up to date with the Migratory Waterfowl and Upland Game Regulations pamphlet.
It is important to remember, before your hunt, you must have taken a hunter education class if you were born after January 1, 1972. If you are a first time hunter, it would be a good idea to take the class early in the year because very few classes are available after August.
The next step before hunting is to purchase the appropriate license. If you are intending to hunt for big game, you will want to purchase a big game hunting license with the specific animal you intend to hunt as a species option. You will then want to choose the appropriate tag for your hunting method, such as modern firearm, muzzle loader, or archery. It would also be a very good idea to carefully review your licenses at the time of purchase to make sure there are no errors. While rare, errors such as being given the wrong license or having the wrong name listed do occur. One minute of double-checking can save you from a criminal charge in the future.
After purchasing the appropriate license, tags, etc., it is important to then confirm the season dates, locations, and times for your specific animal and method of hunting. It is vital to carefully review maps both before and during a hunt. Not only must you make sure you are within the appropriate Game Management Unit/Area (GMU) but you also need to make sure you are on public land. If you intent to hunt on private land, you should review whether the property is listed as a “Feel Free to Hunt,” a “Register to Hunt,” “Hunt by Written Permission,” or a “Hunt by Reservation.” If the property is not listed under any of these, you can look up the owner through the assessor’s office in the county where the property is located and then personally make a request for permission to the owner. If you do not obtain permission through any of the listed methods, do not hunt on that private property otherwise you could open yourself up to criminal trespassing charge. Once hunting, you must have your valid hunting license, tags, permits, or stamps with you. Fish & Wildlife officers may stop you to check to see if you have them in your possession. After a successful kill, it is extremely important to then immediately and completely remove the tag notches that indicate the month and day which the animal was killed and then the tag must be immediately attached to the animal. Failure to immediately tag the animal can result in criminal charges.
Another common criminal charge stems from driving to or from a hunt with a loaded shotgun or rifle in the vehicle. When a Fish & Wildlife officer stops you while driving and they see your weapon in the cabin of the vehicle, they will almost always ask if the gun is loaded. Similarly, you cannot hunt from a vehicle or an off-road vehicle unless you have a disabled hunter permit.
After your hunting season, do not forget to submit your reports on your hunting activities. These are typically due around then end of January. Each special permit and tag for deer, elk, bear, moose, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and turkey require a report – even if you did not hunt or were not successful. With a transport tag, you will have to file a general season hunting activity report and you will also owe one hunting activity report for each special permit awarded. If you do not do all of the reports, you will have to pay a penalty before getting next season’s licenses. Reports can be submitted online for big game and migratory birds. Another reason why you should get your reports in early is because it will enter you into a drawing for a special incentive permit.
It is important to remember that failure to comply with a Fish & Wildlife regulation is often a crime not an infraction. Fish & Wildlife enforcement take these types of violations extremely seriously and will not accept “an honest mistake” as an excuse. If you admit to anything during your conversation with an officer, that admission will be used against you in your prosecution. Violation will result in a criminal charge, which can lead to fines, jail, loss of hunting rights, and loss of personal property. Fish & Wildlife also have the authority in many situations to seize property, which was used as a part of the violation. For example, if you transported an illegally killed animal, they could seize the truck it was carried in. Get seasoned defense counsel involved as soon as possible as these kinds of actions are no joking matter and must be taken seriously.