General Hunting Regulations
The following are general hunting regulations. Specific regulations for various game species are in the Small Game, Big Game, and Trapping sections of this booklet.
Air gun—a firearm that uses spring or compressed air (not gunpowder) to propel a single projectile that is .17 caliber or larger and produces a muzzle velocity of at least 600 feet per second. You may use a smooth or rifled bore.
Bow—includes long (stick), compound, or recurve bow.
Crossbow—consists of a bow, a string, and either compound or recurve limbs with a minimum width of 17 inches (tip of limbs, uncocked), mounted on a stock. The stock shall have a trigger with a working safety that holds the string and limbs under tension until released. It shall have a minimum overall length from the butt of the stock to the front of the limbs of 24 inches and be able to launch a minimum 14-inch arrow/bolt, not including the legal arrowhead. It shall have a draw weight of 100 to 200 pounds. Optical sights are allowed on crossbows.
Firearm—all guns, including handguns, rifles, shotguns, muzzleloaders, BB and pellet guns.
Handgun—is any pistol or revolver intended to be aimed and fired with one hand and having a barrel length not exceeding 16 inches. Possession of handguns in New York State requires a NYS Pistol Permit. New York does not recognize permits issued by other states.
Muzzleloading firearm—is a firearm loaded through the muzzle, shooting a single projectile and having a minimum bore of .44 inch. Scopes or fiber-optic sights may be used at any time. You must possess a New York State Pistol Permit to hunt with a muzzleloading pistol.
Rifle—is a firearm with a barrel length of 16 inches or more with rifling in the barrel that uses metallic cartridges.
Shotgun—is a firearm with a barrel length of 18 inches or more that uses shells that are non-metallic except for the base.
Motor vehicle—means every vehicle or device operated by any power other than muscle power including but not limited to automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, tractors, trailers, motorboats, snowmobiles, and all-terrain vehicles, whether operated on or off public highways.
Public highway—means any road maintained by a state, county, or town. A private road is one maintained by a person or corporation.
To hunt—means to pursue, shoot, kill or capture (other than trap) wildlife and includes all lesser acts that disturb or worry wildlife, whether or not they result in taking. Hunting also includes all acts to assist another person in taking wildlife.
To take—means to pursue, shoot, hunt, kill, capture, trap, snare or net wildlife and game—and all lesser acts that disturb or worry wildlife—or to place or use any net or other device commonly used to take wildlife.
To trap—means to take, kill or capture wildlife with traps, deadfalls and other devices commonly used to take wildlife, including the shooting or killing of lawfully trapped animals. It also includes all related activities such as placing, setting, staking or checking traps, or assisting another person with these activities.
Manner of Taking
It is illegal to take or hunt wildlife:
- While in or on a motor vehicle (except by special permit—see General License Information)
- With the aid of a vehicle’s lights
- On or from any public road
- With any firearm equipped with a silencer
- With any firearm which continues to fire as long as the trigger is held back (an automatic firearm)
- With any semi-automatic firearm with a capacity to hold more than 6 rounds, except:
- Firearms using .22 or .17 caliber rimfire ammunition, or
- Firearms altered to reduce their capacity to no more than 6 shells at one time in the magazine and chamber combined, or
- Autoloading pistols with a barrel length of less than 8 inches
- With a spear
- With a bow equipped with any mechanical device which is attached to the bow (other than the bowstring) for drawing, holding or releasing the bowstring except for a person with a physical disability in possession of a Modified Longbow Authorization (compound bows are legal)
- With a spear gun or modified crossbow except for a person with a physical disability in possession of a Modified Crossbow Permit
- With an arrow with an explosive head or shaft.
- With any device designed or intended to deliver drugs to an animal
Baiting—It is illegal to hunt with the aid of bait or over any baited area when hunting big game, upland game birds, turkey, or waterfowl.
Fish—Crossbows may not be used to take carp or any other fish.
You may use lights to observe wildlife under the following conditions:
- You are not within 500 feet of a home or farm building, unless you have permission from the owner or lessee (when looking for deer or bear)
- While in or on a motor vehicle and operating a light and no person has a firearm, bow, or crossbow, or if:
- the implement is taken down, or
- the implement is securely fastened in a case, or
- the implement is locked in the trunk of the vehicle, or
- the implement is a handgun
For information on hunting furbearers at night, see Furbearer Hunting.
Possession of Firearms and Crossbows
During the open season for deer, it is illegal to:
- Possess shotgun shells loaded with slug or ball, unless holding a valid license (including carcass tags) or permit to take deer or bear, or
- Possess a rifle larger than a .22-caliber rimfire in areas where rifles are banned for taking deer. A rifle larger than .22-caliber rimfire means a rifle chambered for a rimfire cartridge greater than .22-caliber or any centerfire rifle. Centerfire rifles less than .22-caliber and muzzleloading rifles are legal.
In Westchester County and on Long Island, it is illegal to use any rifle for hunting or to carry one afield. In Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties, it is illegal to use a crossbow to hunt wildlife.
In the Northern Zone, it is illegal to carry a rifle larger than .22 rimfire or a shotgun loaded with slug, ball or buckshot afield if accompanied by a dog, except when coyote hunting.
Possession of handguns in New York requires a NYS Pistol Permit. New York does not recognize permits issued by other states.
New York State recently adopted legislation governing the purchase or transfer of ownership of semi-automatic rifles. Go to www.dec.ny.gov or https://safeact.ny.gov/resources-hunters for more information.
Transportation of Firearms
A person may not transport or possess a shotgun, rifle or crossbow in or on a motor vehicle unless the firearm is unloaded in both chamber and magazine or the crossbow is unloaded or taken down. While legally hunting migratory game birds, a loaded firearm may be possessed in a motorboat not under power OR in a motorboat under power only while retrieving dead/crippled birds.
A muzzleloader is considered unloaded when the cap is off the nipple, the primer is removed, the primer powder is removed from the flintlock pan, or the battery is removed from an electric-fired muzzleloader.
A crossbow is considered unloaded when the arrow/bolt is removed and the crossbow is uncocked.
Discharge of Firearms, Crossbows and Bows
It is illegal to discharge a firearm, crossbow or bow:
- So that the load or arrow/bolt passes over any part of a public highway
- Within 500 feet for a firearm, 250 feet for a crossbow or 150 feet for a bow of any school, playground, or an occupied factory or church
- Within 500 feet for a firearm, 250 feet for a crossbow or 150 feet for a bow of a dwelling, farm building or structure in occupation or use unless you own it, lease it, are an immediate member of the family, an employee, or have the owner’s consent
You may hunt waterfowl over water within 500 feet of a dwelling or public structure as long as neither are within 500 feet in the direction you are shooting.
In New York State, nearly all species of wildlife are protected. Most species, including endangered species, songbirds, hawks, and owls are fully protected and may not be taken. The few unprotected species include porcupine, red squirrel, woodchuck, chipmunk, English sparrow, starling, rock pigeon and monk parakeet. Unprotected species may be taken at any time without limit. However, a hunting license is required to hunt unprotected wildlife with a bow, crossbow, or firearm.
Game species may be taken only during their open seasons and as summarized in this guide. Persons taking wildlife on licensed shooting preserves must comply with regulations governing those shooting preserves.
Hunter Education Program Requirements
All first-time hunters, bowhunters, and trappers must pass one or more courses before they can purchase a license. Traditionally, hunter, bowhunter, and trapper education have been in-person courses taught by trained volunteer instructors certified by DEC. In 2020, DEC began offering an online hunter education course and an online bowhunter education course. Be sure to check the DEC website about the availability of both in-person and online courses.
In-Person Hunter Education Program Courses
In-person courses have a field day where new hunters and trappers can get hands-on experience. All in-person are free of charge, but space may be limited. As hunting and trapping seasons approach, classes fill quickly. SIGN UP EARLY! All in-person hunter, bowhunter, and trapper education courses require the completion of homework prior to attending the course. Proof of completed homework must be brought to the course. Homework may take several hours to complete, so start it well in advance.
Visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/92267.html for more information on materials, including a list of courses and course registration.
Online Hunter Education Program Courses
All the requirements to earn a New York State hunter education certificate or a New York State bowhunter education certificate can be met by completing DEC’s online courses and passing the exams. Upon passing, you will receive your hunter education certificate so you can purchase a hunting license or a bowhunter education certificate that enables you to purchase a bowhunting privilege. An online trapper education course may be available in 2022.
There is a fee and you must be a New York State resident to take the online courses. They can be accessed at https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/92267.html.