Staying Legal — After the Hunt
Parts are parts, right? When it comes to turkey hunting, some parts are more important than others. Especially the part after killing a bird and transporting it back to camp or home. Some states have rather specific requirements for tagging, registering, field dressing and transporting game animals after harvest. There are physical parts of a turkey that are very important to keep intact, as they will verify that you've killed a legal bird. Here are a few pointers that will help keep you legal after the hunt is over:
Check the Tag: As soon as the tag arrives in the mail or is purchased from a licensing vendor, read it. Many tags are tossed in a desk drawer and are never seen again until the day of the hunt — usually a mistake. The tag and the accompanying documents will spell out specific regulations, check-in requirements and how to properly transport harvested game. Some tags require validation before the hunt through a signature to legally activate the permit, while others require validation after the kill. Read the tag or regulations book to see what is needed to validate your permit.
Tag the bird: This is one of the areas where hunters get in trouble. They bag a bird and get so excited they forget to tag the bird immediately, or not tag it in the right spot. Again, check your license to see if the tag belongs on a foot, around the neck or other places. And don't forget to validate the tag.
Retain Evidence of Sex: Some states require intact head, beard and legs with spurs, while a few even require feathers. The reason for the specifics is to allow law enforcement a way to confirm that you've legally killed a tom, or at least a bearded turkey, and it is the correct type of turkey in states with multiple subspecies. The specific sex requirement also meets the federal requirements when shipping or transporting birds out of state.
Wanton Waste: It is illegal in some states to field dress and quarter your bird, or dispose of turkey parts such as the legs, back and wings at your hunting site before check-in. In general, it is a good idea to keep the bird intact (removing entrails is okay) until the bird is checked in, validated and at your residence. If you are worried about spoilage, place ice packs in the body cavity to speed cooling and don't delay in checking in your bird. Check legal requirements with your local Department of Natural Resources law enforcement office, regulations book or tag documentation for specifics.
Check-in: Read check-in information to see if birds need to be checked in with a specific county, office or nearest check-in station. It may save you a long day of driving across the county. Calling check stations ahead of time to check whether they are open is also a good idea. Check-in stations often issue the permanent transportation tag or validate your temporary tag.
Transportation Tags: Ask the local wildlife agency if they require separate transportation permits for out-of-state shipment of game. Keep tags attached to birds at all times until it reaches your residence or place of consumption.
Check with Your State: As an added precaution, check with your home state where you'll be transporting your bird. Some states, in order to clear up any confusion regarding the Lacey Act, require that the hunter also meet the legal requirements for retaining evidence of sex for the destination state.
It may seem complicated, but doing a few minutes of reading tag documentation, asking the right questions and understanding the rules will result in fewer headaches when bringing your trophy home from the field.
— P.J. Perea