Case: Some fish and game regulations leave you scratching your head

A bull elk, left, keeps a watchful eye on a herd of cow elk in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colo. Federal land in western states provides hunting ground for big game and trophy game, but the access to such opportunities isn't equal for those coming from out of state.
A bull elk, left, keeps a watchful eye on a herd of cow elk in Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park, Colo. Federal land in western states provides hunting ground for big game and trophy game, but the access to such opportunities isn't equal for those coming from out of state.
photo Elk roam among the homes outside the east entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colo. Big game hunting opportunities in the United States also come with laws and regulations not everyone agrees with, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

Benjamin Franklin said it best: "Honesty is the best policy." I think he meant we should just be honest about things and fess up, and Ol' Ben was pretty wise about most matters, so here goes.

Many of you know I spent more than 35 years as a conservation officer and did a lot of law enforcement in the hunting, fishing and wildlife realm. Sometimes it was a lot of fun, sometimes it could be dangerous and sometimes dealing with the public could make you develop a nervous tic.

Keeping with the honesty theme here, one of the things that used to bug me was when people would complain about how dumb some of the game laws are. This was especially true when they did not understand the particular law (often), or when they gave no thought as to why it might be on the books in the first place (even more often).

Here is the thing, though, that is hard for an old game warden like me to admit: Sometimes they were right.

photo Contributed photo / Larry Case

When you think about it, we shouldn't be surprised if we have some crazy laws dealing with fish and game. In a land that has too many laws to begin with, our nation has some strange regulations on just about everything. So maybe we should look at some of the wildlife and hunting laws that raise eyebrows.

One involves the inequality of nonresidents for hunting tags on federal land.

OK, I get it: Western states with all of the elk, mule deer, sheep and goats want to take care of their resident hunters. The problem is much of this hunting occurs on federal land, most of it handled by the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

Like me, most hunters figure this land belongs to all of us who are citizens of the United States. Many out-of-state hunters believe the tags allotted for various animals on this land go heavily in the favor of that state's residents. If the hunting is to occur on federal land, then why aren't the tags given out equally? Most western states give about 80% of their big-game tags to residents and about 20% to nonresidents.

One argument for this is that while the land itself is federally owned, the animals on that land (as in all of the United States) belong to and are entrusted to the state, so the state should have a say in how the tags are allotted. That is a pretty good argument for how it is done now, but stubborn hardheads (like me) aren't buying it.

You can imagine where most residents of these states land on this: If you want to have the benefits of resident hunters, you need to move here.

A similar law in Wyoming has a lot of tongues wagging. In order for a nonresident to hunt big game (deer, elk, moose, mountain goats and sheep) or trophy game (black bears, cougars and wolves) on the 3 million acres of federal land in the Cowboy State, you must hire a guide or have a resident companion who possesses a noncommercial Wyoming guide license. If you want to hike, fish, bird watch or hunt small game in the same area, no guide is needed.

Does that pass the smell test for you? It doesn't for me and a lot of other people. Can inexperienced nonresident hunters get into trouble in wilderness areas? Absolutely. Could novice resident hunters get in similar trouble? You bet. Are hikers and small game hunters less likely to "get into trouble" than big game hunters? I don't know. You tell me.

Please don't take this to mean I am slamming outfitters in any way, because most of them provide a great service for many sportsmen. (If you are interested in learning more, there is an intriguing discussion about this on outdoorsman Steven Rinella's website,

These are far from the only laws hunters love to hate.

Is having a plug in your semi-automatic or pump shotgun necessary? This has been around for a long time. It is a federal law for waterfowl and may be needed for that, but do you really need to shoot more than three times in most hunting situations? In some of the new laws for hunting nuisance snow geese, this requirement has been nixed. Some states require this for all shotgun hunting; some don't.

I have written about baiting laws before. Should it be illegal to place corn or other bait in the ground to hunt animals when you can hunt adjacent to a standing corn field? How about a cornfield that has just been cut and has kernels spread all over? How about hunting over a water hole or an apple tree? Is that the same as bait?

In some states I can bait for one animal, such as deer, but not others - say, bear or turkeys. Is that OK?

I'm not supplying any answers here. You be the judge.

This list goes on, and I can see a need to address this again in the future. Why is it OK to catch a fish on a rod-and-reel in many places but not with your hands or a dip net? Is it ethics and just being sportsmanlike? If the limit of deer or turkeys is three - or whatever number - per season, why in some places are you allowed to take only one per day? If you had the opportunity to take all three in one day, wouldn't the result be the same?

I have hard-and-fast, biased opinions on all of this, but I ain't saying - I'm asking you.

Once again I hope to have supplied you with something to fight about in the barber shop and around the water cooler.

You're welcome.

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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