General Hunting Regulations
North Carolina Hunting & Fishing
Manner of Taking
Definition of Take
To take is defined as all operations during, immediately preparatory and immediately subsequent to an attempt, whether successful or not, to capture, kill, pursue, hunt or otherwise harm or reduce to possession any fisheries resource or wildlife resource.
For most species, hunting seasons are set to open on the same day of the week every year and at the same general time. For example, rabbit season opens every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and ends on the last day of February. Changes in season dates that are a result of newly adopted regulations will appear in red ink. However, most seasonal dates that are different from last year are the result of the annual shift of days in each year’s calendar.
- Lawful seasons and bag limits for each species apply beginning with the first day of the listed season and continuing through the last day of the listed season, including Sundays for private lands, with Sunday hunting restrictions listed in the next paragraph.
- It’s unlawful to hunt on Sundays on public lands, except that military installations under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government may allow hunting on Sundays.On Sundays, on private lands, the following apply:
- Hunting with firearms between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. is prohibited except on controlled hunting preserves;
- Hunting migratory birds is prohibited;
- The use of firearms to take deer that are run or chased by dogs is prohibited;
- Hunting with a firearm within 500 yards of a place of worship or any accessory structure thereof is prohibited.
- Archery equipment may be used to hunt on private lands on Sunday without the restrictions applied to hunting with firearms.
- Shooting hours. Game birds and animals may be taken only between 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset with rifle, pistol, shotgun, bow and arrow, dogs or by means of falconry with the following exceptions: raccoons, feral swine and opossums may be taken at night. Coyotes may be taken at night in all counties except Beaufort, Dare, Hyde, Tyrrell and Washington. Migratory game birds may be taken only during the hours and in the manner permitted by federal regulations.
- If a hunter kills or wounds a big game animal during legal shooting hours the hunter may use a portable light source and a single dog on a leash to assist the hunter in retrieving the dead or wounded big game animal and may dispatch a wounded big game animal using a .22-caliber rimfire pistol, archery equipment, or a handgun otherwise legal for that hunting season. If necessary, the hunter may also retrieve wounded big game in this manner from 30 minutes after sunset to 11:00 p.m. The hunter may not use a motorized vehicle when searching for the wounded animal.
- Archery hunting is limited to longbows and recurved bows having a minimum pull of 40 pounds, compound bows with a minimum pull of 35 pounds and crossbows with a minimum draw weight of 100 pounds. Only arrows with a fixed minimum broadhead width of 7/8 inch or a mechanically opening broadhead with a minimum width of 7/8 inch in the open position may be used for taking bear, deer or wild turkey. Blunt-type arrowheads may be used in taking small animals and birds, including but not limited to, rabbits, squirrels, quail, grouse, pheasants. Poisonous, drugged, barbed or explosive arrowheads may not be used for taking any game. Bolts must use broadheads as described for arrows.
- Shotguns must be no larger than 10-gauge.
- When hunting migratory game birds, shotguns must be plugged so as to limit their maximum capacity to three shells.
- During the open hunting season for rabbits, squirrels, opossums, raccoons, furbearing animals and legal nongame animals and birds, these species may be taken with a pistol. There are no restrictions on caliber and barrel length.
- Deer and bear may be taken with a handgun during the established gun hunting season. There are no restrictions on barrel length or caliber.
- A hunter or trapper lawfully taking wildlife by another method may use a pistol to dispatch the animal or bird taken, except as noted below.
- It is unlawful to hunt or take wild turkeys with pistols.
- During established archery season only a .22-caliber rimfire pistol may be used to dispatch deer (see “Retrieval”).
- Fully automatic rifles are unlawful. All other rifles are legal except:
- Rifles are prohibited by federal law in hunting migratory game birds.
- Local laws prohibit or restrict rifles in some counties. See the “Local Laws” section.
- It is unlawful to hunt or take wild turkeys with rifles.
- During the blackpowder deer season, the only lawful firearms are blackpowder shotguns, rifles and handguns. The Commission defines a blackpowder firearm as any firearm – including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system – manufactured in or before 1898, that cannot use fixed ammunition; any replica of this type of firearm if such replica is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition; and any muzzle-loading rifle, muzzle-loading shotgun, or muzzle-loading or cylinder-loading handgun that is designed to use blackpowder, blackpowder substitute, or any other propellant loaded through the muzzle or cylinder and that cannot use fixed ammunition.
- No wild bird may be taken with the use of aid of salt, grain, fruit, or other bait.
- No wild turkey may be taken from an area in which bait has been placed until the expiration of 10 days after the bait has been consumed or otherwise removed
- Black bear may not be taken with the use or aid of:
- Any animal, animal part or product, salt, salt lick, honey, sugar, sugar-based material, syrups, candy, pastry, gum, candy block, oils, spices, peanut butter, grease; or extract of such substances; or any substance modified by any of the above substances or extract of above substance; or any bear bait attractant, including scented sprays, aerosols, scent balls, and scent powders; or processed food products as defined on Bear Seasons.
- For the purposes of bear hunting, bait means any natural, unprocessed food product that is a grain, fruit, nut, vegetable, or other material harvested from a plant crop that is not modified from its raw components.
- Bears may not be taken while consuming bait.
- Regulations for taking bear with unprocessed foods are on Bear Seasons.
Hunting with Dogs
- It is unlawful to hunt, run or chase deer at any time in these counties and all counties west of the line they form: Rockingham, Guilford, Randolph, Montgomery, Stanly and Union counties. This does not apply to the use of a single dog on a leash to assist the hunter in retrieving a dead or wounded deer.
- It is unlawful to hunt, run or chase deer at any time in these counties and parts of counties:
- Anson west of N.C. 742
- Chowan south of U.S. Highway 17 and U.S. Highway 17 Business and east of a line drawn from the intersection of the western city limits of the Town of Edenton and U.S. Highway 17 Business and extending due south to the Albemarle Sound
- Orange south of I-85
- Richmond west of Little River and that portion east of Little River and bounded by N.C. 73 to the north, by Hough Road to the east, and by Grassy Island Road to the south.
- Wake south of N.C. 98
NOTE: This does not apply to the use of a single dog on a leash to assist the hunter in retrieving a wounded deer.
- In all other counties hunting deer with dogs is allowed, but local law may impose further restrictions. See “Local Laws” section.
- In counties where hunting deer with dogs is allowed, game land rules may prohibit this activity. See “Game Lands” section.
- It is unlawful to hunt bears with dogs in the following counties:Alamance south of I-85, Anson west of N.C. Hwy 742, Cabarrus, Chatham, Davie, Davidson, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Lee, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Montgomery, Orange south of I-85, Pamlico (per local law), Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Stanly, Union, and Wake south of N.C. Hwy 98. See map on Bear Seasons.
- Except for deer and bear as described above, hunting game animals and game birds (except for wild turkey) with dogs is allowed in all counties of the state, subject to the restrictions applied by local laws and game land rules. See “Local Laws” and “Game Lands” sections.
- It is unlawful to intentionally remove or destroy an electronic collar or other electronic device placed on a dog by its owner to maintain control of the dog.
- It is unlawful to run or chase deer during closed season, except when under the control of the owner. This applies only to counties where hunting deer with dogs is allowed. In counties or parts thereof and game lands where hunting deer with dogs is prohibited, running or chasing deer is prohibited at all times.
- This does not apply to the use of a single dog on a leash to assist the hunter in retrieving a wounded deer.
- Except as allowed in authorized field trials and training using domestically raised waterfowl or game birds, it is unlawful to possess axes, saws or tree-climbing equipment while training or running dogs during closed season.
- Individuals engaged in training dogs and individuals who are active participants in field trials must have an appropriate hunting license.
- When training dogs during the closed season, hunters may use domestically raised waterfowl or game birds provided that they use shot shells with shot of number 4 size or smaller and the shot is nontoxic when training with waterfowl. All birds must be banded on one leg with the propagator’s license number.
- Further restrictions apply to training dogs on game lands during the closed season. See “Game Lands” section.
- Commission-sanctioned field trials may allow hunters to conduct field trials with dogs in areas and at times authorized with the use of approved weapons and ammunition and may authorize the use of certain domestically raised birds.
- Active participants in field trials are people who handle dogs or firearms.
- For Commission-sanctioned field trials, active participants may use a hunting license from their state of residence. For all other types of field trials, active participants must have a N.C. hunting license.
- For Commission-sanctioned field trials, judges do not need to have a hunting license. For all other types of field trials, judges must have a N.C. hunting license.
- Applications for authorization of a Commission-sanctioned field trial must be submitted in writing to a wildlife enforcement officer at least 30 days prior to the scheduled event.
- Applications for authorization of a Commission-sanctioned field trial may be obtained online at ncwildlife.org/licensing.
Motor Vehicles, Boats and Vessels
- It is unlawful to use any of the following in taking wild birds or animals:
- a motor vehicle while the passenger area is occupied or while the vehicle engine is running.
- vessels: under sail, under power, or with the engine running, or while still in the motion from such propulsion, except crippled waterfowl; or
- Deer may not be hunted from boats or other floating devices in some counties (see “Local Laws” section).
Hunter or Blaze Orange
Any person hunting bear, feral swine, rabbit, squirrel, grouse, pheasant and quail with the use of firearms must wear a cap or hat made of hunter orange material or an outer garment of hunter orange visible from all sides. Anyone hunting deer during a deer firearms season, regardless of weapon, must wear hunter orange visible from all sides. This includes archery hunters that hunt on Sunday during the deer firearms season and anyone hunting on Youth Deer Hunting Day. This requirement does not apply to a landholder, his or her spouse and children if they are hunting on the landholder’s property.
Artificial Lights and Electronic Calls
- It is unlawful to use any of the following in taking wild birds or animals:
- artificial lights (including laser sights), except for big game retrieval and taking feral swine and coyotes at night.
- electronic or recorded calls (except electronic calls are permitted for crow, coyote and feral swine hunting). Other exceptions for migratory game birds may be found under individual season descriptions
- In addition to the prohibition of taking wildlife with the use of artificial light, except for big game retrieval, many counties have local regulations that prohibit shining lights on deer or searching for deer with lights 30 minutes after sunset or after 11 p.m. A color-coded map showing county shining laws is on Deer Zone Maps.
- The flashing or display of any artificial light between 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise in any area that is frequented or inhabited by wild deer by any person who has accessible to him or her a firearm, crossbow or other bow and arrow constitutes prima facie evidence of taking deer with the aid of an artificial light.
- Raccoon and opossum may be taken at night, with dogs during open seasons, with the use of artificial lights commonly used to aid in taking raccoon and opossum. Where feral swine and coyotes may be hunted at night, artificial light may be used.
Local laws prohibit or restrict hunting or shooting from public roads or possession of a loaded firearm on road right-of-ways in some counties (see “Local Laws” section).
Other Restricted Methods
- It is unlawful to use fire in taking wild birds or animals
- It is unlawful to take deer that are swimming or in water above the knees of the deer
- It is unlawful to shoot at or into a squirrel’s nest
There are many local laws affecting hunting and trapping in North Carolina. An abstract of local laws that are more restrictive than general regulations is included in this Digest. See the “Local Laws” section.
It is unlawful to place exotic species of wild animals or wild birds not indigenous to that area or feral swine in an area for the purpose of stocking the area for hunting or trapping. (There are certain limited exceptions for licensed-controlled hunting preserves.)
Transfer of Wildlife
An individual may accept the gift of wildlife lawfully taken within North Carolina if taking possession does not cause the individual to exceed the applicable possession limit and the individual possesses and preserves in writing the name and address of the donor and under what license requirements the wildlife was taken. It is unlawful to accept the gift of wildlife lawfully taken unless you possess in writing the donor’s name, address and what license or license exemptions under which the wildlife was taken.
The establishment of open seasons does not obligate the private landowner to allow hunting on his property, nor does it eliminate the ethical requirement for obtaining permission from the landowner before hunting. In some counties, hunters are required to obtain permission to hunt on private property.
State Fish Hatcheries
It is unlawful to possess a loaded firearm within a posted restricted zone on any state-owned fish hatchery or to discharge a firearm into or across such a restricted zone.
Sale of Wildlife
- In general, whole animals or their parts may not be bought or sold in North Carolina. There are some exceptions. More information may be found at ncwildlife.org/SaleofWildlife.
Disposal of Wildlife Carcasses
- It is unlawful to dump animal remains anywhere without permission
Cervid Carcass Parts
While Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has not been found in North Carolina, at the time of publication, the Commission was considering adoption of a temporary rule restricting the importation of cervid carcasses and carcass parts from out-of-state to prevent the spread of CWD. The proposed rule prohibits importation, transportation, or possession of cervid carcasses and carcass parts originating from outside North Carolina, except as follows:
- meat that has been boned out such that no pieces or fragments of bone remain;
- caped hides with no part of the skull or spinal column attached;
- antlers, antlers attached to cleaned skull plates, or cleaned skulls with no meat or brain tissue attached;
- cleaned lower jawbone(s) with teeth or cleaned teeth; or
- finished taxidermy products and tanned hides.
These parts or their containers must be labeled with the individual’s name and address; state, Canadian province, or foreign country of origin; date the cervid was killed; the individual’s hunting license number, permit number, or equivalent identification from the state, Canadian province, or foreign country of origin; and the destination of the cervid carcass, carcass part(s), or container of cervid meat or carcass parts.