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Analysis of Hunting Regulation Complexity 2023

Executive Summary

More than three decades of literature suggests that the complexity of hunting regulations influences hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3). There is no comprehensive review summarizing which specific regulations, and combinations of regulations, serve as real and perceived barriers to hunting. We reviewed and summarized hunting regulations from all 50 U.S. states for firearms deer, upland bird, and waterfowl and reviewed literature examining the impacts of regulation complexity on hunter satisfaction and participation.

We conducted a literature review (Appendix A) of hunting regulation complexity using 15 search terms and phrases in databases including JSTOR, Web of Science, Google Scholar, and EBSCOHost.  We also reviewed citations referenced in articles collected during our database literature review to find additional sources. To capture research not published in peer-reviewed journals, we conducted internet searches using Google with the same search terms. We also reviewed social media to find popular articles that address hunting regulation complexity.

We located 23 articles or reports that addressed hunting regulation complexity or R3 topics related to regulation complexity impacts on hunter behavior (Appendix A). Much of this literature was not specifically focused on regulation complexity, but instead identified the types of barriers and constraints impacting R3 goals. Further, we did not find a large quantity of literature about the types of regulations that drive complexity, both real and perceived. There was not sufficient data to perform a meta-analysis of survey results. Results from our literature review indicate that regulation complexity is a barrier to hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation; however, complexity is not likely to be a primary driver of the decline in hunting participation. Our annotated bibliography (Appendix A) includes all articles and reports and a summary of the findings or discussion relevant to hunting regulation complexity in addition to other pertinent results that might inform our understanding of how state hunting regulations and policies can impact R3 metrics.

To catalog hunting regulations of all 50 states, we used information from each state’s most recent hunting regulations (2021-22 or 2022-23) published on state wildlife agency websites. We limited our review to regulations pertinent to hunting deer with modern firearms, upland birds, and waterfowl. Modern firearm deer hunting regulations included rifles and shotguns.

We reviewed regulations for 61 general licensing categories, 113 firearms deer regulation categories, 22 upland bird categories, 29 waterfowl categories (non-federal). In this report, we provide a selection of state regulations related to general licensing, firearms deer, upland bird, and waterfowl to identify differences that exist.

Below, we present a selection of regulations for firearms deer, upland bird, and waterfowl hunting that might contribute to regulatory complexity and pose barriers to R3 efforts on a broad scale.

Firearms Deer and General Licensing

  • Thirteen states do not offer apprentice hunting licenses.
  • Twenty states require hunter education with an in-person component.
  • Twenty states have antler point restrictions.
  • Thirty-one states have antler length restrictions.
  • Forty states require hunters to report their deer harvest.
  • Eleven states require some form of in-person harvest reporting.
  • Nineteen states require hunters to report their harvest within 24 hours of the kill.
  • Thirty-one states have firearm deer hunting season dates that depend on the hunting zone/district.
  • Ten states have different season lengths for private and public land.
  • Eleven states have regulations about how a harvested deer is transported and handled before reporting.
  • Thirty-five states do not have a phone app or e-tag system.
  • Thirty-five states do not define the parts of a deer that hunters must keep.
  • Ten states require separate tags for mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in some or all areas of the state.
  • Eighteen states have different bag limits based on hunting zone or district.
  • Six states prohibit hunters from using centerfire rifles.
  • Nine states require hunters to pay a fee to hunt on some or all state lands.
  • Twenty-three states have split deer hunting season dates.
  • Seven states do not have a youth deer season.
  • Two states have restrictions on when and where hunters can use ATVs during the big game season.
  • Twenty states restrict the movement of cervid carcasses within the state.
  • Nine states have cervid disposal restrictions.
  • Thirteen states require CWD testing in some or all areas.
  • Fifteen states require hunters to carry proof of hunter safety certification.
  • Eight states require hunters to carry a photo ID while hunting.

Upland Bird

  • Twenty-four states require hunters to keep parts of some or all harvested upland bird species as proof of sex and/or species.
  • Thirty states have sex-specific harvest restrictions for ring-necked pheasant (Phasianus cholchicas) in some or all regions of the state.
  • Eight states have shooting times that only apply to specific upland bird species.
  • Sixteen states have season dates based on region.
  • Six states have shooting times that vary by region or land ownership.
  • Ten states have bag limits that differ by region.
  • Thirteen states have bag limits based on land ownership (private vs. public land).
  • Twenty states have shot size restrictions.


  • Nineteen states have different zones for duck and geese hunting.
  • Eighteen states have zone-specific bag limits for duck or geese hunting.
  • Thirteen states prohibit the harvest of one or more waterfowl species.
  • Fourteen states require a lottery or a permit for hunters to use blinds on public lands in some or all of the state.

When specific regulations were only shared among five or fewer states, we considered the regulation an outlier and identified the state(s). Not all these regulations are likely to create substantial barriers to hunting, therefore, we compiled a list of outliers that might be worthy of further examination to determine the extent to which they might be a barrier to hunting.


  • One state does not allow hunters to drive a motor-vehicle with the intent of pursing game they observe while driving.
  • Four states not have any form of online harvest reporting available.
  • One state requires that all edible portions of harvested game (e.g., including rib meat) are removed from the field before removing the head and antlers.
  • One state requires that hunters use firearms weighing less than 16 pounds.
  • Two states do not allow deer hunters to use artificial scents.
  • Hunters must wear back tags in all or part of two states.
  • One state requires non-toxic shot throughout the entire state for all hunting.
  • One state requires a $20 permit to use a deer stand on wildlife management areas.
  • Four states do not allow hunting from horseback.
  • Five states have an earn-a-buck program.
  • One state requires that hunters using slugs use a shotgun with an adjustable, open iron sight, peep sight, or scope.
  • One state requires hunters who are legally mandated to wear corrective lenses while driving, also use those lenses while hunting with a firearm.
  • Four states prohibit Sunday hunting statewide. Seven additional states have restrictions on Sunday hunting.
  • In three states, federal lands have unique antlerless deer bag limits.
  • Two states do not allow hunters to take albino deer.
  • Four states do not allow hunters to harvest spotted fawns.
  • One state requires hunters using a suppressor carry proof of having a federal suppressor license.
  • Four states have different seasons for mule deer and white-tailed deer in some or all portions of the state.
  • One state requires that non-resident hunters must hire an outfitter when hunting in federally designated wilderness areas.
  • Five states do not have a public access program for private lands.
  • One state only offers over-the-counter deer hunting opportunities on private land.
  • Four states do not have over-the-counter deer hunting opportunities. Two states only offer over-the-counter tags for youth.
  • One state requires hunters to retain the head of their harvested deer until 15 days after the close of the season.
  • Two states do not offer tags for antlerless deer.
  • Three states have limits on the number of deer a hunter can harvest before reporting.

Upland Bird

  • One state has different season dates for public and private land.
  • Four states require non-toxic shot in some or all areas of the state.


  • Four states require a permit to hunt specific waterfowl species.
  • Three states have regulations that are specific to non-resident hunters.
  • In much of one state, waterfowl hunting is prohibited after noon.
  • One state has different season dates for odd and even years.

The intent of this report was to identify everything that is currently known about regulation complexity, summarize the regulation patterns among all 50 states and identify outliers, and set the stage for further research into complexity and its role in hunting participation. We hope that using this document will lead to future analyses to determine the degree to which regulation complexity is a barrier to existing and potential hunters. With this knowledge, our community can begin to break down barriers and advance hunting opportunities for the American public.