General Information & Hunting Regulations
- Mandatory Hunter Education Requirement
- Tree Stand Safety Guidelines
- Blaze Orange Requirements
- Hunting Hours
- Hunting with Dogs
- Training Dogs
- Legal Use of Firearms and Archery Equipment
- Unlawful Methods
- Unlawful Feeding of Certain Wildlife
Mandatory Hunter Education Requirement
Hunter Education courses provide instruction in hunter safety, principles of conservation, and sportsmanship. The courses are usually ten hours in length and cover many topics preparing new hunters to enjoy their experience in the outdoors. Courses are offered free of charge throughout the Commonwealth. A list of courses is available online, or you may contact one of the Department's regional offices.
For information about obtaining a replacement certificate, see the "Replacement Cards" section of the Hunter Education page. Note: Older records may not be available. A replacement card cannot be issued if there is no record of a completed class.
Virginia accepts and recognizes all states' and countries' hunting licenses and hunter education credentials for the purpose of complying with mandatory hunter education requirements. These may be in the form of an identification card or certificate.
You must complete an approved hunter education course and carry your certificate while hunting if either of the following apply:
- You are 12–15 years of age. (You must complete hunter education but you do not have to carry your certificate if accompanied and properly supervised by a licensed adult.)
- You are at least 16 years of age and you are hunting with your first hunting license.
Although it is recommended for all hunters, you are not required to complete hunter education if:
- You only hunt foxes with hounds while on horseback, but without firearms.
- You are exempt from the requirement to purchase a license.
- You are hunting with an apprentice license. In that case you must be accompanied and directly supervised by an adult over the age of 18 who has, on his person, a valid Virginia hunting license. "Accompanied and directly supervised" means the adult maintains close visual and verbal contact with, provides adequate direction to, and can immediately assume control of the firearm from the apprentice hunter. The apprentice hunting license cannot be used as proof of holding a previous hunting license, for the purposes of purchasing a hunting license without proof of hunter education.
- You are under the age of 12. However, you may not hunt unless accompanied and directly supervised by a licensed adult.
Any person 16 years of age or older may certify that he or she has held a previously issued hunting license by signing the front of the license.
Tree Stand Safety Guidelines
- Use a full-body safety harness to secure yourself to the tree. Stay attached whenever you are off the ground. Minimize slack in the tether so that if you fall, it will not be very far. This reduces the risk of injury and may allow you to climb back into your stand. Hanging in a harness for a long time may cause irreversible injury or death. Have a plan for self-rescue.
- Never climb with equipment; use a haul line to get your unloaded gun or bow into and out of the tree stand. Crossbows may be raised while cocked, but should never be loaded with an arrow until you are securely in the stand and ready to hunt. It can be dangerous to try to cock a crossbow while in a tree.
- Keep manufactured tree stands in good working condition. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
- Many falls occur because of the failure of homemade stands, especially as they age. It is best to avoid them.
- While most manufactured tree stands are safe if used properly, they are occasionally found to be defective and recalled. To find out if your stand has been recalled, check the Consumer Product Safety Commission website.
Blaze Orange Requirements
When hunting any species during the firearms deer season and youth deer day, every hunter (see exceptions below), or persons accompanying a hunter, shall wear a blaze orange hat or blaze orange upper body clothing that is visible from 360 degrees or display at least 100 square inches of solid blaze orange material at shoulder level within body reach and visible from 360 degrees. Hats may have a bill or brim color or design other than solid blaze orange. Hats shall not be in "camo" style, since the latter is designated to prevent visibility. A logo, which does not detract from visibility may be worn on a blaze orange hat.
Hunters using ground (pop-up, chair, box, etc.) or tree stand blinds that conceal them from view must display a minimum of 100 square inches of blaze orange, visible from 360 degrees, on the OUTSIDE of such blinds. This blaze orange is in addition to any worn on the hunter's person.
- Blaze orange is not required of waterfowl hunters, dove hunters, individuals participating in hunting dog field trials, and fox hunters on horseback without firearms.
- Hunters hunting with archery tackle during an open firearms deer season, in areas where the discharge of firearms is prohibited by state law or local ordinance, are exempt from the blaze orange requirement.
- Blaze orange is not required during the muzzleloading deer season(s).
- Sunrise-Sunset Table (PDF)
- There is no Sunday hunting, except that raccoon may be taken until 2 A.M. on Sunday morning.
- One-half hour before sunrise to onehalf hour after sunset for nonmigratory birds and game animals except during spring gobbler season.
- One-half hour before sunrise until 12 noon during spring gobbler season, except the last 12 days the hunting hours are ½hour before sunrise until sunset.
- One-half hour before sunrise to sunset for Youth Spring Turkey Hunt Day.
- Hours for bear hound training season are from 4:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M.
- Bobcat, foxes, raccoons, and opossums may be hunted by day or night during authorized seasons.
- Nuisance speciesmay be taken day or night.
Hunting with Dogs
- Dogs may be used to pursue wild birds and animals during hunting seasons where not prohibited.
- Section 18.2-136 of the Code of Virginia decriminalizes trespass in certain instances related to dog retrieval. That section provides: "Fox hunters and coon hunters, when the chase begins on other lands, may follow their dogs on prohibited lands, and hunters of all other game, when the chase begins on other lands, may go upon prohibited lands to retrieve their dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls, but may not carry firearms or bow and arrows on their person or hunt any game while thereon. The use of vehicles to retrieve dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls on prohibiteds lands shall be allowed only with the permission of the landowner or his agent. Any person who goes on prohibited lands to retrieve his dogs, falcons, hawks, or owls pursuant to this section and who willfully refuses to identify himself when requested by the landowner or his agent to do so is guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor."
- Tracking dogs maintained and controlled on a lead may be used to find a wounded or dead bear or deer statewide during any archery, muzzleloader, or firearm bear or deer hunting season, or within 24 hours of the end of such season, provided that those who are involved in the retrieval effort have permission to hunt on or to access the land being searched and do not have any weapons in their possession.
- It is unlawful to use dogs when hunting any species with archery tackle during any archery season.
- It is unlawful to chase with dogs or hunt with dogs or to attempt to chase or hunt with dogs any wild animal from a baited site or to train dogs on any wild animal from a baited site. Furthermore, it shall be unlawful to place, distribute or maintain bait or salt for any wild animal for the purpose of chasing with dogs, hunting with dogs, or the training of dogs. A baited site will be considered to be baited for 30 days following the complete removal of all such bait or salt.
- It is unlawful to intentionally cripple or otherwise harm any game animal for the intent of continuing a hunt, or chase, or for the purpose of training dogs. Upon treeing, baying, or otherwise containing an animal in a manner that offers the animal no avenue of escape, the person or the hunting party shall either harvest the animal if within a legal take season and by using lawful methods of take or terminate the chase by retrieving the dogs and allowing the animal freedom to escape for the remainder of the same calendar day.
- It is unlawful to dislodge an animal from a tree for the intent of continuing a hunt, or chase, or for the purpose of training dogs.
For Training Dogs on Military Bases Contact the Appropriate Base
- Fort A.P. Hill Game Check Station: (804) 633-8244
- Fort Belvoir Outdoor Recreation: (703) 805-3688
- Ft. Pickett Game Check Station: (434) 292-2618
- Quantico Game Check Station: (703) 784-5523
The training of dogs on live wild animals is considered hunting and is unlawful during the closed season except as noted below.
- You must have a valid hunting license while training dogs on live wild animals.
- You may train dogs during daylight hours on rabbits and nonmigratory game birds on private lands. Participants shall have no weapons other than starter pistols in their possession and no wild animals shall be taken. Weapons may be in possession when training dogs on captive raised and properly marked mallards and pigeons so that they may be immediately shot or recovered, except on Sunday.
- You may train dogs on National Forest or Department-owned lands only during authorized training seasons that specifically permit these activities.
- You may train dogs on quail on designated portions of the Amelia Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Chester F. Phelps WMA, Chickahominy WMA and Dick Cross WMA from September 1 to the day prior to the opening date of the quail hunting season, both dates inclusive. No weapons other than starter pistols may be in possession, and pen-raised birds may not be released.
- Pen-raised quail may be released at any time on private land with land - owner permission. However, birds can only be shot during the regular quail season. Regular bag limits apply.
- You may train dogs during daylight hours on rabbits and nonmigratory game birds on the Weston WMA from September 1 thru March 31, both dates inclusive. Participants in this dog training season shall have no weapons other than starter pistols in their possession, shall not release pen-raised birds, and must comply with all regulations and laws pertaining to hunting. No game shall be taken.
Legal Use of Firearms and Archery Equipment
Valid Concealed Handgun Permit Holders May:
- Possess a concealed handgun during archery seasons, muzzleloader seasons, and general firearms seasons.
- Possess a concealed handgun on National Forest and Department lands during the closed season.
- Possess and transport a loaded concealed handgun in or on any vehicle on National Forest and Department lands.
- Possess a concealed handgun while using dogs for tracking wounded or dead bear or deer but no game may be taken.
Special restrictions may apply to specific firearms use in some counties. See Local Firearms Ordinances for details.
- No restrictions on shot size except for spring gobbler season when it is unlawful to have any shot in possession larger than number 2 fine shot while hunting.
- Shotguns must not be larger than 10 gauge.
- Unplugged shotguns are legal for hunting nonmigratory game and crows.
- Shotgun barrels must be at least 18 inches long.
- Shotguns with rifled barrels are permitted in areas where slugs may be used.
- All game birds and animals, except deer, may be hunted with shotguns from boats. Hunters must have permission from the landowner to hunt/retrieve game located on private land.
- Rifles used for deer or bear must be .23 caliber or larger.
- Rifles (including air rifles) may be used for taking wild animals and wild birds, except migratory game birds and waterfowl, and where prohibited by local ordinances.
- Rifles (including air rifles), pistols, and revolvers may be used for hunting crows, except where prohibited by local ordinances.
- Rifles (including air rifles), pistols, and revolvers may be used for hunting turkeys, except where prohibited by local ordinances.
- Pistols, revolvers, and muzzleloading pistols may be used for small game, except where prohibited by local ordinances.
- Pistols and revolvers are lawful for deer and bear hunting only in those counties where hunting deer and bear with rifles is lawful. Cartridges used must be .23 caliber or larger and have a manufacturer's rating of 350 footpounds muzzle energy or more.
- Muzzleloading shotguns, muzzleloading rifles, or archery tackle may be used to hunt during the firearms seasons where not prohibited.
- Archery tackle (including crossbows) may be used for hunting wild birds and animals.
- Crossbows are legal to use by any
- If a crossbow is used during an archery season (including the urban archery season) the hunter must have a crossbow license.
- If a hunter chooses to use both conventional archery tackle and a crossbow during an archery season, he will need both an archery license when using the conventional bow and a crossbow license when using the crossbow.
- If a hunter chooses to use a crossbow during the firearms season, no crossbow license will be required (just as there is no requirement for a person to have an archery license if using conventional archery equipment during the firearms season).
- The laws governing the use of archery tackle also apply to crossbow tackle.
All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Laws
No ATV shall be operated:
- On any public highway, or other public property, except as authorized by proper authorities or to the extent necessary to cross a public highway by the most direct route.
- By any person under the age of 16, except that children between the ages of 12 and 16 may operate ATVs powered by engines of no less than 70 nor more than 90 cubic centimeters displacement.
- By any person unless he is wearing a protective helmet of a type approved by the Superintendent of State Police for use by motorcycle operators.
- On another person's property without the written consent of the owner of the property or as explicitly authorized by law.
- With a passenger at any time, unless vehicle is designed and equipped to be operated with more than one rider.
- The above does not apply to members of the household or employees of the owner or lessee of private property on which the ATV is operated.
Penalties may include hunting or trapping privilege revocation for one year to life and forfeiture of firearms.
A person found guilty of a violation a second time within three years of a previous conviction shall have their hunting or trapping privilege revoked by the court trying the case.
It is unlawful to:
- Hunt wild birds and wild animals with firearms or other weapons on Sunday, except on licensed shooting preserves. Raccoon hunters may hunt until 2:00 A.M. Sunday mornings.
- Hunt migratory game birds with a shotgun capable of holding more than three shells in the magazine and chamber, combined, unless allowed by federal regulations and authorized by the Department.
- Discharge a firearm or archery tackle in or across or within the right-of-way of any public road.
- Cast a light attached to a vehicle or from a vehicle beyond a roadway upon places used by deer without written permission of the landowner or at any time while in the possession of a rifle, shotgun, pistol, archery tackle, or speargun.
- Handle any firearm in a reckless manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of any person.
- Destroy, mutilate, or take down "posted" signs or to litter.
- Take or attempt to take wild animals and wild birds with the exception of bobcats, coyotes, crows, and foxes by the use or aid of recorded animal or bird calls or sounds or recorded or electrically amplified imitation of animals or bird calls or sounds; provided, that electronic calls may be used on private lands for hunting bobcats, coyotes, and foxes with written permission of the landowner and on public lands except where specifically prohibited.
- Hunt adjacent to forest fires.
- Willfully and intentionally impede the lawful hunting or trapping of wild birds or wild animals.
- Kill or cripple and knowingly allow any nonmigratory game bird or game animal to be wasted without making a reasonable effort to retrieve the animal and retain it in possession.
- Hunt under age 12 without being accompanied and directly supervised by a licensed parent, guardian, or other adult designated by the parent or guardian. The term "accompanied and directly supervised" means the adult maintains close visual and verbal contact, provides adequate direction to, and can immediately assume control of the firearm.
- Hunt with an Apprentice Hunting License without being accompanied and directly supervised by a licensed adult over the age of 18. The term "accompanied and directly supervised" means the adult maintains close visual and verbal contact, provides adequate direction to, and can immediately assume control of the firearm.
- Shoot a rifle or pistol at wild birds or animals on or over the public inland waters of the state. However, licensed trappers may shoot a .22 caliber rimfire rifle or pistol on or over public inland waters for the purpose of dispatching trapped animals.
- Carry a loaded rifle or pistol on a boat or other floating device on public inland waters for hunting wild birds or animals.
- Shoot waterfowl or migratory game birds from a boat being propelled by a motor.
- Hunt while under the influence of intoxicants or narcotic drugs.
- Molest eggs, nest, den, or young of any wild bird or animal, except nuisance species, at any time without a permit as required by law.
- Occupy any baited blind or other baited place for the purpose of taking or attempting to take any wild game bird or wild game animal or to put out bait or salt for the purpose of taking or killing any wild game bird or wild game animal, except for the purpose of trapping furbearing animals.
- Shoot or attempt to take any wild bird or animal from any vehicle, except as otherwise provided by law.
- Exceed the bag limit or possess over the daily limit of any wild bird or animal while in the forests, fields, or waters of this state.
- Use vehicles or possess firearms while retrieving dogs on private lands without permission of the landowner.
- Use live birds or animals to decoy or call game.
- Kill or attempt to kill any deer while in a boat or other type of watercraft.
- Hunt or attempt to kill or trap any species of wild bird or wild animal after having obtained the daily bag or season limit during such day or season. However, any properly licensed person, or a person exempt from having to obtain a license, who has obtained such daily bag or season limit while hunting may assist others who are hunting game by calling game, retrieving game, handling dogs, or conducting drives if the weapon in his possession is an unloaded firearm, a bow without a nocked arrow, or an unloaded crossbow. Any properly licensed person, or person exempt from having to obtain a license, who has obtained such season limit prior to commencement of the hunt may assist others who are hunting game by calling game, retrieving game, handling dogs, or conducting drives, provided he does not have a firearm, bow, or crossbow in his possession.
- Hold in captivity any live wild birds or wild animals outside the limits allowed by regulations without a permit.
- Alter, change, borrow, or lend a hunting license or permit.
- Hunt with explosive head arrows or arrows to which any drug, chemical, or toxic substance has been added.
- Possess or transport any wild bird or wild animal or the carcass or the parts thereof, unless specifically allowed and only in accordance with regulations.
- Hunt wild birds and wild animals with fully automatic firearms, (i.e., machine guns).
- Sell or purchase any wild bird or wild animal carcass or parts thereof, except as specifically permitted by law.
- Virginia law specifies that it shall be unlawful for any person who has been convicted of a felony to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport any firearm. A muzzleloading firearm is considered a firearm under Virginia law. Any person prohibited from possessing, transporting, or carrying a firearm under this law may petition the circuit court of the jurisdiction in which he resides for a permit to possess or carry a firearm.
- Use radio tracking equipment, except on dogs or on raptors permitted by a falconry permit, to aid in the chase, harvest or capture of wildlife.
Shooting From the Road is Illegal
Shooting at wildlife from a vehicle and/or from or across a public road is illegal. Penalties include: fines, license revocation, and forfeiture of firearms.
Unlawful Feeding of Certain Wildlife
Not only is it illegal to hunt, chase with dogs, or attempt to kill game birds and animals from a baited site, it is also illegal to feed some wildlife under certain circumstances. The Department does not encourage the feeding of wildlife at any time of the year. Feeding restrictions help control the transmission of diseases, nuisance problems, littering concerns, and enforcement issues about hunting with bait.
Unlawful to Feed Deer: September 1, 2012 through January 5, 2013
It is illegal to feed deer year round in Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah, and Warren counties and in the City of Winchester.
It is unlawful for any person to place or distribute food, salt, minerals or similar substances, to feed or attract deer from September 1 through the first Saturday in January, both dates inclusive. Nor, upon written notification by Department personnel, shall any person continue to place or distribute any food, salt, mineral or similar substances for any purpose if the placement of these materials results in the attraction of and/or feeding of deer. No part of this regulation shall be construed to restrict bona fide agronomic plantings (including wildlife food plots) or distribution of food to livestock.
Unlawful to Feed Bear
It shall be unlawful for any person as defined in Code of Virginia § 1-230 to place, distribute, or allow the placement of food, minerals, carrion, trash or similar substances to feed or attract bear. Nor, upon notification by Department personnel, shall any person continue to place, distribute or allow the placement of any food, mineral, carrion, trash or similar substances for any purpose if the placement of these materials results in the presence of bear. After such notification, such person shall be in violation of this section if the placing, distribution, or presence of such food, minerals, carrion, trash or similar substances continues. This section shall not apply to wildlife management activities conducted or authorized by the Department.
Earn A Buck (EAB) Questions and Answers
- What is EAB?
- EAB is a regulation designed to increase the antlerless deer kill.
- Where is EAB in effect?
- EAB areas include all private lands in the counties (including the private lands in the cities and towns within) in Bedford, Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Franklin, Frederick, Loudoun, Patrick, Prince William, Roanoke, Shenandoah, and Warren counties.
- When is EAB in effect?
- During all open deer seasons (archery, muzzleloading, and firearms).
- Will deer hunters have to kill an antlerless deer first under EAB?
- No, under EAB the first deer can be an antlered buck or an antlerless deer (a doe or button buck)..
- How will EAB work?
- In EAB areas at least one antlerless deer must be taken on private lands in an EAB area before the second antlered deer of the license year may be taken on private lands in an EAB area. Furthermore, at least two antlerless deer must have been taken on private lands in an EAB area before the third antlered deer of the license year may be taken on private lands in an EAB area.
- What if I hunt deer in one of the EAB counties and in other counties in Virginia?
- EAB will still apply. Antlered bucks taken anywhere in the state count against the EAB antlered buck requirement, but only antlerless deer taken on private lands in the designated EAB areas count toward the EAB antlerless deer requirement.
- Why require EAB?
- The Department's Deer Management Plan calls for deer populations to be reduced in all these counties, and traditional liberal deer regulations have not effectively achieved that objective. In fact, deer populations in several of these counties have increased. EAB has been demonstrated in several other states to be an effective management tool to control and reduce deer numbers.
- Can a deer hunter shoot an antlerless deer first and be "prequalified" to kill two bucks?
- Can a deer hunter shoot two antlerless deer first and be "prequalified" to kill three bucks?
- Can antlerless deer "carry over" from year to year?
- What should I do if I have additional EAB questions?
- Email Matt Knox at email@example.com.