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How to Get a Hunting License and Permit

by Robert Ranstadler

Old Hunting License

Whether stalking prey for sport or sustenance, there’s no better time to get into the hunting scene than right now.

The regulatory barriers standing between aspiring hunters and their first hunt, however, can be quite intimidating and full of questions.

What’s the difference between a hunting license and permit?

Is a permit the same thing as a tag?

Do I need tags to hunt?

Where can I go to buy a license?

And, perhaps most importantly, how much is all this stuff going to cost?

Don’t fret. We’ve got you covered.

Below are answers to your questions, including all the ins-and-outs of hunting permits and licensing.

Also included is a list of local agencies concerned with the licensing and permitting of hunters across all 50 U.S. states.

Now the only question remaining is what the heck are you waiting for?

Get to reading, get licensed, and get hunting today! And check out our Beginner's Guide to Hunting for a complete guide on how to get started with hunting. 


What are Hunting Licenses and Permits?

A hunting license is the most basic certification required to legally pursue or hunt animals in the United States.

Although some minor federal regulations address specific types of hunting, local authorities typically issue state hunting licenses and enforce hunting laws.

Most hunting licenses are issued as wallet-sized cards that hunters are required to carry while tracking game. Licenses are used for both general and more specific applications, on a state-by-state basis.

Permits, on the other hand, are extra certifications that can optionally be obtained in addition to a hunting licenses.

Some permits are simply stamps placed onto existing licenses while others, such as tags, are individual physical permits. In some states, tags are a physical part of the license and notched or otherwise marked by hunters when they harvest an animal.

To hunt deer in my home state of Virginia, for example, I need a basic hunting license and a deer hunting license.

I must also obtain additional permits, depending on how and where I want to hunt.

Muzzleloading weapons, for instance, require a special firearms permit, while hunting in a state forest requires regional permitting as well.

Deer tags are physically printed on deer licenses in Virginia, which must be marked after each kill and validated by appropriate authorities.

Other states sometimes require that the tag be physically attached to the harvested animal. In either case, state law usually requires hunters to check-in with local stations to record their kills.

Woman duck hunter petting Labrador retriever

Who Needs a Hunting License or Permit?

Anyone wishing to legally hunt animals needs to obtain a hunting license.

Pursuing and killing wild game without the appropriate training, certifications, and credentials is called poaching and is illegal.

Hunting during the incorrect time of year, pursuing the wrong type animal, shooting with the incorrect weapon, or without the proper credentials are all punishable offenses.

First-time offenders are typically charged with misdemeanor offenses and forced to pay a fine.

Repeat offenders are sometimes charged with felonies, forced to pay thousands of dollars, have their licenses revoked, or (in extreme cases) sent to jail.

Generally, there are some exemptions to the licensing process.

The hunting of pest species, such as rodents and mice, normally does not require a license.

Native Americans and recreational (target) shooters are also exempt from licensing laws.

Youth hunters, veterans, and state employees sometimes get free or discounted licenses but must nevertheless observe posted regulations.

The hunting of migratory birds, on the other hand, requires a federal endorsement.

The best bet and safest practice is to always consult with state wildlife and game authorities prior to departing for a hunt.

American bison by  the Grand Teton in Yellowstone


Why are Hunting Licenses and Permits Required?

Hunting licenses and permits are regulatory measures that safeguard public safety and conserve natural resources.

Most states require that prospective hunters attend safety and educational courses as part of the licensing process.

Forcing hunters to register their kills with appropriate agencies also prevents the spread of dangerous diseases, such as rabies.

Finally, licensing fees and taxes are valuable revenue streams for many state governments.

Permits regulate the time of year hunters can stalk their prey, how many animals they can harvest per season, where they can legally hunt, and the type of animals available for hunting.

Tag systems can be particularly complex but are used to balance supply and demand.

Some states freely issue multiple tags, others hold lotteries, while some might only issue one specific type of tag per year (a “once-in-a-lifetime” tag).


Where Can I Obtain a Hunting License or Permit?

Hunting licenses and permits are obtained through state governments, all of which are listed at the end of this article.

For example, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department does all the credentialing for their residents, while the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission handles business for hunters in the Sunshine State.

Non-residents may obtain out of state hunting licenses, albeit usually at significant cost.

A Rhode Island resident must pay $18 annually to hunt within his or her state, for instance.

That same Rhode Island hunter, in comparison, would have to pay $164 to stalk game while visiting California.

Tags can also vary widely in cost, depending on the type of animal hunted and state residency, as well.

In Oregon, for example, a resident black bear tag runs $15. A non-resident hunter pursuing bighorn sheep, on the other hand, would have to pay a whopping $1,413 per tag.

Again, it’s best to do your homework here.

Silhouette of a young man shooting long rifle


When Should I Get a Hunting License or Permit?

The short answer is now!

Most states charge relatively low annual fees for general licenses, while some states only require a single payment for a lifetime license.

Seasonal and specialty licenses and permits, in comparison, should be purchased at the correct time of the year, with deadlines varying state per state.

Legally sanctioned times to hunt, called “seasons,” typically last anywhere from two to eight weeks.

Most seasons occur during the fall and winter months, but a few take place in the spring or summer.

Pheasant season goes during the middle of October in Michigan, for example, while bison hunting starts in April across parts of Arizona.

When in doubt, check with your local wildlife, conservation, or game commission. 

Large yellow hunting license tag

How to Get a Hunting License or Hunting Permit

State agencies regulate the issuing of licenses and collection of fees, but approved vendors, or “licensing agents,” typically perform the point of sales transactions needed to purchase permits and licenses.

Licensing agents are found in a variety of places, from sporting good stores, to gun shops, and (in some cases) even your local department of motor vehicles.

Virtually all will require that you verify your identity and fill-out an application as part of the process. Some additionally require proof of mandatory safety or conservation training.

The easiest way to locate approved licensing agents in your state is by consulting with the appropriate state authority, as outlined below.

Many states additionally allow people to buy a hunting license online.

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks, for instance, offers a fully-online application and licensing process.

Please note, however, that most agencies usually require hunters to create an electronic profile, attend mandatory online training, and pay fees via a certified payment method (credit card, PayPal, etc.).

Requirements vary widely per state and should be investigated on an individual basis. More information may be found by clicking any of the below links.


Links to State Hunting License and Permit Information

Please refer to the links listed below to learn more about hunter licensing and permitting requirements throughout all 50 U.S. states (provided courtesy the International Hunter Education Association). 


























New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota





Rhode Island

South Carolina

South Dakota







West Virginia




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