Maryland Hunters Face Tougher Penalties for Violating Hunting Laws

Greg Careby Greg Care

With the first split of duck season just a few days away, the muzzleloader and firearms seasons for deer around the corner, Maryland hunters should be aware of new, tougher penalties for violating hunting laws that might not have been on their radar when they became effective months ago.  These changes in the law significantly raise the stakes for those accused of common hunting violations such as baiting, shooting over a limit, and accidentally shooting a protected animal.

Paying the minimum fine on a DNR ticket or pleading “no contest” now has serious consequences.  These new penalties apply equally to: (1) those who simply pay the ticket to avoid having to go to court, (2) those who plead “no contest,” and (3) those who are found guilty by a court.  So, it may not be in ticketed hunter’s best interest to take the path of least resistance just so they can pay the lower fine indicated on the Natural Resources Police citation.

Effective as of January 2, 2017, new regulations empower the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to suspend hunting licenses and privileges for up to five years and impose restitution “fines” of up to $10,000 for the illegal harvest of various game animals.  The regulation was proposed in October 2016 and was quickly finalized less than two months later under the authority of the Wildlife Poaching Prevention Act of 2012 and the Poaching Restitution Act of 2016.  The new regulations may be found at COMAR § 08.03.16.01 through .05.

DNR may now suspend hunting licenses and privileges for one year for the following violations:

  • Making a false statement to obtain a hunting license, stamp, permit, or DNRid
  • Hunting, possessing, or transporting any bear, turkey, or migratory waterfowl during a closed season or in excess of daily or season limits
  • Killing a threatened or endangered species while hunting
  • Unlawful use of bait
  • Failure of a non-resident to appear in court for a DNR citation

DNR may now suspend hunting licenses and privileges for three years for the following violations:

  • Hunting while revoked or suspended
  • Carrying a firearm while hunting under the influence of alcohol or a narcotic drug

DNR may now suspend hunting licenses and privileges for five years for the following violations:

  • Carelessly or negligently shooting, wounding, or killing another person
  • Intentionally or willfully destroying or damaging the real property, personal property, or farm livestock of another person
  • Intentionally or willfully destroying or damaging a domesticated animal that is in a safety zone
  • A separate conviction within 12 months of a suspension issued pursuant to this regulation resulting from a separate incident than the violation for which the suspension was imposed

In addition to suspensions, the new regulations impose monetary restitution for illegally injuring or killing animals or poaching deer, which is defined as killing whitetails or sika either after legal hunting hours, during a closed season, over a bag limit, in violation of a DNR permit, with an illegal weapon, or while trespassing.

The amount of restitution for poaching is largely determined by the deer’s gross Boone and Crockett Club score, as applicable:

  • For any sika deer or a whitetail with a gross score of less than 150 inches (or eight or fewer antler points), restitution is between $2,000-5,000 and 80 hours of community service
  • For a whitetail with a gross score of more than 150 inches, restitution is between $5,000-10,000 and 80 hours of community service
  • For a doe whitetail, restitution is between $300-500 and 40 hours of community service

Finally, a court may impose restitution for any other violations of Title 10 of the Natural Resources Article (these are all the laws dealing with Maryland wildlife) that result in the injury or death the following animals, at the listed amounts:

  • Endangered species – $2,000
  • Black bear – $1,500
  • Threatened species – $1,000
  • Forest game birds and mammals (other than deer and black bear) – $500
  • Wild waterfowl – $500
  • Fur-bearing mammals – $100
  • Nongame birds and mammals – $100
  • Wetland game birds – $100

Accordingly, Maryland hunters should keep these new penalties in mind as they set out for the field or blind and if they are unfortunate enough to be cited for a violation by the authorities.  If your hunting privileges are put at risk, you may want to contact an attorney to discuss your options.  We have experience in these matters and are ready to meet with you to see if we can assist.