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July 28, 2009

Staying Legal: Oregon Rules and Regulations for Hunting Rabbits and Hares

First off, let me state in no uncertain terms that this document does not constitute legal advice. Because the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) is constantly changing the hunting rules and regulations (herein collectively referred to as rules), there is no guarantee that this information is valid as of the moment you are reading it. While I will make every effort to keep it up to date, you are personally responsible for knowing what constitutes legal hunting behavior. That being said, I personally feel that this is the most comprehensive (only?) aggregation of Oregon rules that are applicable to rabbit and hare hunting. It covers only the rules that are directly applicable to rabbit and hare hunting and does not address general rules that apply to all hunters such as resisting game enforcement officers, trespassing, tampering with ODFW signs, shooting from or across roadways, etc.

The challenge to knowing what you can do while hunting and where you can do it is the fact that ODFW does not have a pamphlet titled: Oregon Rabbit and Hare Hunting—Everything You Need to Know. The rules are distributed across the Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS), Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR), the Oregon Big Game Regulations, and the Oregon Game Bird Regulations (see the Links page). Furthermore, the rules are sometimes vague or contradictory, and certain terms are undefined. It is up to you to decipher the law.

Huntable Species

ODFW classifies wildlife as one of the following: game mammals, predatory animals, protected mammals and birds, and unprotected mammals and birds. According to page 81 in the 2009 Oregon Big Game Regulations:

“Game Mammals” are pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, black bear, cougar, deer, elk, moose, Rocky Mt goat and western gray squirrel.

So what are rabbits classified as? That depends on the species. Page 82 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations states:

“Protected Mammals and Birds” are any game mammal, game bird, furbearer, Threatened or Endangered species, fisher, ringtail cat, fringed myotis, Townsend’s big-eared bat, pallid bat, silver-haired bat, western small-footed myotis, long-eared myotis, long-legged myotis, yuma myotis, pika (cony), pygmy rabbit, white-tailed jackrabbit, white-tailed antelope squirrel, Washington ground squirrel, northern flying squirrel, chickaree (pine squirrel), golden-mantled ground squirrel, chipmunks, white-footed vole, all marine mammals and all nongame birds except European starling, house sparrow and rock pigeon. Protected species may not be taken without a valid license and tag during authorized seasons or a Scientific Taking Permit. However, rabbits and rodents on private property may be taken with landowner permission.

Of these, only the pygmy rabbit and white-tailed jackrabbit could be referred to as rabbits (pikas are in the same order as rabbits and hares, but they are a different family). The last sentence says that you can take these on private property with permission, but maybe not. The pygmy rabbit is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That means that if you shot it, you would be in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, the only rabbit to which that exception could apply is the white-tailed jackrabbit. However, a jackrabbit is a hare—not a rabbit. So can you take a white-tailed jackrabbit on private property? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you were charged with taking a protected mammal.

All other rabbits and hares, therefore, fall into the Unprotected Mammals and Birds or Predatory Animal classifications. Continuing on page 82:

“Unprotected Mammals and Birds” means European starling, house sparrow, rock dove and any mammal species for which there are no closed seasons or bag limits. However, all general hunting regulations and licensing laws still apply. Common unprotected mammals include coyote, badger, gophers, moles, mountain beaver, marmots, porcupine, skunks, cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbit, rats, mice, opossum, nutria and weasels.

“Predatory Animals” means coyotes, rabbits, rodents and feral swine which are or may be destructive to agricultural crops.

Note that rabbits are listed under both the unprotected (explicitly as cottontails) and predatory classifications. This is significant because rules may apply solely to one of the classifications and not the other. Effectively, this makes any rule for either of these classifications applicable to rabbits but not necessarily to hares.

So what kind of rabbits or hares can be hunted? Generally speaking, on public land you can hunt:
  1. Brush/Western Brush Rabbit (Sylvilagus bachmani)
  2. Mountain/Nuttall’s Cottontail (Sylvilagus nuttallii)
  3. Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus)
  4. Varying/Snowshoe Hare (Lepus americanus)
  5. Desert Hare/Black-Tailed Jackrabbit (Lepus californicus)
On private land that list expands to include any rabbit assuming that permission does not conflict with an endangered status or some other rule that would prohibit it from being hunted.

Licensing Requirements

If you are older than 14 and either hunting rabbits on public land or hunting hares, you need a hunting license as detailed on page 9 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations:

Hunters, 14 years of age and older, who will be hunting predators on public land and western gray squirrels, unprotected mammals and unprotected birds on public or private land must have a valid hunting license. No tags are required.

Resident hunters 14-17 years of age can buy a juvenile hunting license at a reduced fee if they will be hunting western gray squirrel, game birds, predators, or unprotected mammals only.

When you first read this, it seems that if you hunt predators on private land then you don't need a license if you are younger than 14. However, this gets a little murky when you realize that cottontails are considered unprotected mammals and, according to this, even on private land you need a license. My personal rule is if you are older than 14, get a license.

However, there are exceptions for residents and landowners:

A resident does not need a license to hunt on land upon which the person resides and is owned by the person or a member of the person’s immediate family, unless they are hunting a species for which a tag is required.

A landowner or landowner agent does not need a hunting or trapping license to take predatory animals on land they own, lease, lawfully occupy, possess, or have charge of or dominion over. See page 82 for the definition of a predatory animal.

Page 81 defines landowner:

“Landowner” means a person who holds title in trust or in fee simple to 40 or more contiguous acres of land provided that a recorded deed or contract of ownership shall be on file in the county in which the land is located; and/or a corporation holding title in fee simple to 40 or more contiguous acres of land provided that the corporation shall be registered with the State of Oregon; and/or a partnership holding title in fee simple to 40 or more contiguous acres of land. Persons who hold title as part of a time share are not eligible for landowner preference.

I have been unable to find a sanctioned definition of landowner agent, but as I understand it, it means somebody who manages the land on behalf of the owner—maybe even someone who leases the land (e.g., a rancher). Some people interpret this to mean anyone hunting on private property with permission. Ultimately, it’s whatever can be successfully argued before a judge.

This means you don’t need a license to hunt if any of the following are applicable:
  1. You are under the age of 14 (safe rule).
  2. You are hunting rabbits or hares on residential land owned by yourself or an immediate family member.
  3. You are hunting rabbits on at least 40 acres you own or manage.
Otherwise you need a hunting license. The reason you may not be able to take hares without a license as a landowner goes back to the technical definition of a predatory animal.

Seasons and Bag Limits

Page 10 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations states:

Unprotected Mammals No tag required. No closed season or bag limit.

The ODFW small game page on their website states:

Predatory Animals are coyotes, rabbits, rodents, and feral swine which are or may be destructive to agricultural crops. Therefore these animals have no closed season, bag limit or weapons restriction.

It is odd, but I cannot find this statement in any official document. Perhaps this is just one of those understood rules.

Wildlife Areas and Refuges

Page 5, Division 065 Game Mammal General Seasons and Regulations states:

State wildlife areas, refuges and special areas shall be open to hunting during authorized seasons, subject to the following special regulations and exceptions:

Of the listed wildlife areas, refuges, and special areas, only two have restrictions on rabbit and hare hunting:

(9) E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area (Benton County): This area is open to deer hunting during authorized seasons, except closed to bow hunting for deer when juvenile pheasant hunts are in progress. Rabbit hunting is permitted from November 1 through February each year. Hunting is by permit only. Permits are available at area headquarters and shall be filled out and returned each day hunted. Use of rifles, handguns, and crossbows shall be prohibited at all times.

(36) Sauvie Island Wildlife Area (Multnomah-Columbia counties): This area shall be open to bowhunting [sic] for black-tailed deer August 29 through September 27, 2009, except Oak Island (Multnomah-Columbia Cos) is closed to deer hunting and Sturgeon LK Refuge is closed to all hunting. Daily permits are required. Hunters shall check in and out daily. This area shall be closed to deer hunting after September 27, 2009. Closed to hunting for furbearers, predators, unprotected and protected wildlife (except black-tail deer and game birds). Use of rifles, handguns and crossbows shall be prohibited at all times. Parking permits are required.

Page 100 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations adds the following restriction to the E. E. Wilson Wildlife Area:

The possession or use of shot other than federally-approved non-toxic shot is prohibited.

Shooting Hours

On page 27 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations, only game mammals have defined shooting hours.

Other Rules

Page 27 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations states:

Neither landowners nor their agents need a permit from ODFW to spotlight predatory animals (as defined in ORS 610.002) on land they own or lawfully occupy. ODA has authority to define “agent” for purposes of the predatory animal statute. Written documentation is not required.

Continuing on page 28:

No Person Shall:

Hunt any wildlife from a motor-propelled vehicle. Exceptions: 1) A qualified disabled hunter may obtain an “Oregon Disabilities Hunting and Fishing Permit” to hunt from a motor-propelled vehicle except while the vehicle is in motion or on any public Rd or hwy, or within Cooperative Travel Management Areas. 2) Landowners and their agents can shoot predatory animals from motorized vehicles on land they own or lawfully occupy.

Hunt within 8 hours after having been transported by helicopter or fixed-wing air craft to any point other than an established airport adequate for fixed-wing aircraft.

Hunt or harass animals from snowmobile, ATV, or passenger vehicles.

Operate a snowmobile or ATV while carrying a loaded firearm or a bow unless all arrows are in a quiver. Note: A loaded firearm is one having live ammunition in a magazine, clip, or chamber (violation of ORS 821.240 is a Class B traffic violation).

Cast an artificial light from a motor vehicle while in possession of a weapon; or cast an artificial light upon a game mammal, predatory animal, or livestock from within 500 feet of a motor vehicle while in possession of a weapon. Exception: Landowners or their agents hunting predatory animals on land they own or lawfully occupy.

So if you’re a landowner, you can shoot rabbits (again, not hares) from a motorized vehicle using spotlights, but it looks like it better not be an ATV or snowmobile.

Page 28 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations states:

No Person Shall:

Use an artificial light for hunting any wildlife, except raccoon, bobcat and opossum provided the light is not cast from or attached to a motor vehicle. This includes laser sights or any other sights which project a beam to the target. This does not include battery operated sights which only light the reticle.

Hunt any wildlife with infrared or any other night vision sight.

(Note that ODFW seems to have forgotten the landowner/landowner agent exception to spotlighting predatory animals.)

I’m aware of a YouTube commercial for LaserStock showing people night hunting jackrabbits in eastern Oregon using lasers, spotlights, and vehicle headlights—if I was ODFW I might want to go after these pinheads.

Again on page 28:

No Person Shall:
Permit dogs to run at large or train dogs in game bird nesting habitat during Apr., May, June, or July, except as authorized by the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The term game bird nesting habitat is not defined. An Oregon State Police trooper once asserted that if he saw a dog running in a rancher’s fenced-off field, he could ticket him. While this doesn’t mean you can’t shoot a rabbit or a hare during this time frame, it does mean that you can’t use dogs to run them.

Other Unintended Consequences

Page 27 of the Oregon Big Game Regulations states:

No Person Shall:
Disguise the sex or kind of any wildlife while in the field or in transit from the field.

Page 82 defines wildlife:

“Wildlife” means fish, wild birds, amphibians, reptiles, wild mammals and feral swine.

Most rabbit hunters field dress their rabbits as soon as they are taken and many also skin the rabbit. While I’m not aware of anyone who has been ticketed, unless they are leaving sex organs attached (really—who does this?), they are technically in violation of this rule. ODFW should modify this to exclude unprotected mammals and birds and predatory animals.

Conclusion

Oregon’s laws concerning hunting rabbits and hares are fraught with implied meanings, murky innuendoes, undefined terms, and rules that make no sense. So what do you do? I’d recommend walking well within the boundaries of the law, and if you are ticketed, know what the law says and be prepared to state your case clearly in court.

Did we miss something? Let us know.