By Larry Keane
Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic that no one saw coming: hunting. While consumer demand for firearms is at a record level, and while non-essential activities have been shut down in most states, it is no surprise that Americans would be looking forward to hunting seasons. Hunting is a perfect opportunity to be outside, alone or in small groups, enjoying nature and perhaps being able to bring home local game meat for yourself or to donate to others.
Unfortunately, several states have taken measures to limit this naturally-social-distanced activity. NSSF has learned that Alaska is closing spring bear hunting to non-residents. Nebraska is not issuing any more non-resident spring turkey permits. Illinois has canceled all hunting and fishing on state land. In Washington state, all wildlife areas and water access areas are closed for at least two weeks starting March 25. The spring youth turkey hunt has been canceled, and bear season will remain closed for now.
Here are what several other states are doing:
Alabama: The Executive Order does not include hunting to be specifically closed as it does with other businesses, industries, activities. From Alabama DNR website: WFF unmanned shooting and archery ranges remain open. The manned shooting ranges at the Cahaba River WMA and Swan Creek WMA will be closed until further notice.
Florida: Executive Order includes the following as “Essential Activities”: Participating in recreational activities (consistent with social distancing guidelines) such as walking, biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, running, or swimming… Open/Closed Status of FWC Offices, Facilities and Managed Areas
Maryland: Can I go hunting? Limited hunting is allowed if you are seeking food for you or your family, but the social distancing guidelines and the prohibition on social gatherings must be strictly followed.
Mississippi: As part of the “Essential Activities” list in the Executive Order, it includes, “To engage in individual outdoor activity and recreation.” MDWFP Wildlife Management Areas will remain open.
North Carolina: Order mentions allowing outdoor activities, but not hunting specifically. Per the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (4/2/20): There have been no changes to North Carolina hunting or fishing license requirements, seasons, or bag/creel limits. Link for closure of game lands and shooting ranges.
South Carolina: Hunting remains open, but DNR has closed certain areas.
Texas: Executive Order deems hunting and fishing as “essential activities.”
Tennessee: “Essential Activities” includes “Engaging in outdoor activity, provided that persons the Health Guidelines to the greatest extent practicable, including, but not limited to, driving or riding in a vehicle, walking, hiking, running, biking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, golf, tennis, or other sports or recreational activities that can be performed while maintaining the aforementioned precautions or utilizing public parks and outdoor recreation areas…” From TWRA: Tennessee’s 2020 Turkey Season Will Be Open for Business.
Utah: The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ two public shooting ranges will be closed beginning Friday, April 3, until further notice.
Virginia: Hunting is not prohibited.
- Per Virginia DGIF: The upcoming turkey season, including youth and apprentice weekend, are still on schedule. For more information on turkey season and other open seasons, visit our website.
- Q: Are the woods and waters still open? Yes, Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) and DGIF lakes and rivers are still open. However, please check with your local county and city for any additional closures of parks, lakes, or piers.
- Since the WMAs are open, the ranges are open. However, the ranges are normally only open from September 1 through March 31, so they will close at the end of the regular season on March 31.
West Virginia: The Executive Order allows “Engaging in outdoor activity…”From WV DNR website: Spring Turkey Hunting Season – The spring gobbler season is still scheduled to start on April 20. The youth season will begin on April 18-19. All hunting license requirements and regulations remain in effect. Shooting ranges are open, but with some restrictions.
The top priority for all right now is to stop the spread of COVID-19, and these well-intentioned measures are aimed, although inaccurately, at that common goal. We hope that as lawmakers seek out information about hunting and how to ensure that it may be done safely during this time.
NSSF urges all to abide by CDC guidelines, practice social distancing and take preventative measures to prevent infection. Most hunting activities can be conducted that not only allow for such practices but is actually dependent upon them. In fact, NSSF has urged hunters to become part of the solution to the effects of the pandemic by digging into game freezers to and share clean and truly free range meat with those who cannot get to grocery stores or are suffering through unexpected financial difficulties due to emergency orders.
Didn’t see your state listed? Feel free to add/update information in the comments section.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.