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Fish and Game Q&A: Is it legal to use lights to monitor wildlife if you do not have any guns in your possession?

May 26, 2011 |  1:33 pm

Two fawns nurse as a doe takes advantage of a late night snack.

In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: Is it legal to use lights to monitor wildlife if you do not have any guns in your possession? Watching wildlife at night is a very interesting way to educate kids to be on the lookout for and gain an interest in wildlife. I’ve always wondered if using lights to do this would be considered harassment somehow and not be allowed? (Bill T.)

Answer: It is not illegal to shine lights since you won’t have a "method of take" with you, but your activities could alert a game warden who might think you are using the spotlights to poach game at night. Be aware that there are vehicle code laws that prohibit shining a hand-held spotlight from a motor vehicle and another provision that requires "off road" lights to be covered while traveling on a public roadway or highway.

Instead, you might consider using a trail cam like those sold through most outdoor-gear stores. These will allow you to capture (with night-vision equipment) images or video of wildlife that might be visiting a watering hole or passing through an area. There are some cameras that take photos when a light sensor is tripped and some that take photos at certain time intervals. The trail cams would not bother or harass the wildlife, and you’d be able to take photos of them while they are acting normally, doing whatever they naturally do at night. You might also be surprised by the different species that will appear that you probably would not expect!

Q: I helped my boss, who is legally blind, get a disabled license for fishing. However, due to her disability, she will need help baiting her hook. Can I legally help her without needing a two-pole stamp? (Sandy B.)

A: Yes, as long as you are just assisting and not controlling the rod or reeling the fish in for her, you will not need a fishing license or second rod stamp.

Q: If my friend and I catch and retain our boat limit of salmon, can we continue fishing for them if all are immediately released? (Anonymous)

A: No. If you have taken and retained your limit of salmon, or any other limit of fish, you cannot continue fishing with gear and methods that will most likely target those fish. According to California Department of Fish and Game Lt. Dennis McKiver, if you were to do this, by law you are attempting to take more salmon. "Take" is defined by law to include hunting, pursuing, catching, capturing or killing, or attempting to hunt pursue, catch, capture or kill (Fish and Game Code, Section 86 and California Code of Regulations, Section 1.80). If you are in possession of a limit of salmon, you may not attempt to catch additional salmon. If you do, you could be subject to a citation if you are targeting salmon while you are in possession of your limit of salmon. In addition, salmon are not good candidates for catch-and-release fishing because they are highly susceptible to hooking mortality, so it is important to stop salmon fishing when you reach your limit.

Q: While hunting on a game bird club, can a non-licensed non-hunter carry an unloaded shotgun while walking with other hunters? (Anonymous)

A: Although it may not technically violate the law for you to carry an unloaded shotgun without a license, by doing this with others who have ammunition and are taking game, it will likely generate many questions by the game warden contacting you in the field. Whether you have a hunting license is not an element of "take." You may argue you are not taking game, but the warden has sufficient evidence to prove you are. Do you really want to put yourself through the hassle of going to court? Leave the firearm behind if you want to go with your buddies while they are taking game.

Q: Is it legal to use animal carcasses as bait for hunting coyotes? (Wilcox)

A: Yes, the carcass of legally acquired wildlife may be used as bait when taking coyotes. It is legal to use feed, bait or other material capable of attracting coyotes and other non-game animals unless you’re hunting these animals with the assistance of hunting dogs (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 475[e]).

If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, e-mail it to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

Photo: Two fawns nurse as a doe takes advantage of a late-night snack. Credit: Nathan Borgmeyer, Apex, N.C., courtesy of Cuddeback Digital

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