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General hunting regulations

This page contains general Massachusetts hunting rules. Review these rules along with species-specific hunting regulations to prepare for the season.

Report all violations and all hunting-related accidents to the Massachusetts Environmental Police (800) 632-8075.

Table of Contents


All bows (recurve, long, and compound), except permitted crossbows, used for hunting deer, bear, and turkey must have a draw weight of at least 40 lbs. at 28 inches or at peak draw. Hand-held releases are permitted. Arrows used on deer, bear, or turkey must have well-sharpened steel broadhead blades not less than 7/8 inches in width. Expanding broadheads are legal. Archers may hunt deer with a bow and arrow during the shotgun and primitive firearms deer seasons, but must comply with all regulations of those seasons, including blaze orange and stamp requirements. Crossbows may be used by certain permanently disabled persons by permit only. For regulations and an application, visit www.mass.gov/masswildlife or contact MassWildlife at (508) 389-6300. A firearms license (FID or LTC) is not required for bowhunting.

Blaze orange

During the pheasant or quail season on WMAs where pheasant or quail are stocked, all hunters must wear a blaze orange hat. EXCEPTION: No orange hat required while hunting waterfowl from a blind or boat or night-hunting for raccoons or opossums. (see page 21, Wildlife Management Area Regulations) During the Youth Deer Hunt Day and the Shotgun Season for deer, all hunters must wear 500 square inches of blaze orange on chest, back, and head. During these seasons waterfowl hunters on coastal waters and salt marshes must wear 500 square inches of blaze orange (hat and vest) while hunting or in transit to their blind or boat during these periods. The orange may be removed once the waterfowl hunter is in a blind or boat. During the Primitive Firearms Season, all deer hunters must comply with the 500 square inch blaze orange requirement.


During the shotgun deer season and Youth Deer Hunt Day, dogs may be used for waterfowl hunting only on coastal waters and salt marshes. Hunting dogs may be trained at any time (except during the shotgun season for deer) provided that only pistols or revolvers and blank cartridges are used or possessed. A sporting or hunting license is required to train hunting dogs off-leash on Wildlife Management Areas.

Harvest reporting

Upon harvesting a deer, bear, or turkey, hunters must immediately fill out and attach the paper tag from the permit or license to the carcass. The game must remain intact (other than field dressing), with the harvest tag attached, until it is reported. Hunters who harvest a deer, bear, coyote, fox, or turkey must report or check their game within 48 hours of killing the animal. Hunters may report their harvested game online or bring their game to an official check station. For information on Online Game Reporting, or a list of official check stations visit the Game Check Station page. All deer harvested during the first week of the shotgun deer season must be brought to an official check station for biological data collection.

Hunting prohibitions

  • Report all violations to the Massachusetts Environmental Police (800) 632-8075.
  • Hunting, trapping or fishing for any birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians not listed in the Guide to Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping, or in the Massachusetts Migratory Game Bird Regulations.
  • Airbows, arrow guns or any firearms or other devices which project or propel an arrow, dart or bolt by gunpowder, compressed air, or by any other means except by the flexing and release of a bow string.
  • Poisoned arrows, or explosive tips, including firearms cartridges affixed to the end of arrows in such a way as they discharge upon impact with the target, or bows drawn by mechanical means, except for permitted crossbows.
  • Artificial lights for hunting any bird or mammal except raccoon and opossum.
  • Baiting migratory game birds, wild turkey, bear, or deer during or within 10 days of the start of their specific hunting seasons. See the Guide to Hunting, Fishing, and Trapping for more details.
  • Careless or negligent use of firearms.
  • Choke traps, leghold traps, or nets for taking any bird or mammal.
  • Discharge of any firearm or release of any arrow upon or across any state or hard-surfaced highway, or within 150 feet of any such highway.
  • Possession of a loaded firearm, discharge of a firearm, or hunting on the land of another within 500 feet of any dwelling or building in use, unless permitted by the owner or occupant. Click here for additional gun laws.
  • Electronic calls for hunting migratory game birds, wild turkey, or deer.
  • Hunting with a ferret or possessing a non-vaccinated/unneutered ferrets/ fitches without a permit.
  • Possession of rifles and handguns on WMAs stocked with pheasant or quail during the pheasant and quail season.
  • Hunter harassment is illegal.
  • Hunting on posted land without permission.
  • Hunting on Sunday.
  • Importation, transportation, liberation or possession of any live wild vertebrate protected under MGL Ch. 131 without a permit.
  • Hunting, target shooting, or possession of a firearm, bow and arrow or other weapon when under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs.
  • Loaded shotgun or rifle in or on any motor vehicle, recreational vehicle (including snowmobiles), aircraft or motor boat, except as stated in the Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations.
  • Machine guns, fully-automatic firearms, any tracer or incendiary ammunition.
  • Motor vehicles, off-highway vehicles (including snowmobiles), and/or aircraft for hunting any bird or mammal.
  • Possession of any Massachusetts Endangered Species Act-listed and/or wildlife, dead or alive, except by permit.
  • During the shotgun deer season, possession of rifles, handguns, or dogs in any woodland or field, or use of same on any game, is prohibited. The use of dogs is lawful for hunting waterfowl on coastal waters.
  • Hunting bear, deer, bobcat, or turkey with dogs, or training dogs on those species.
  • Power or sailboats for hunting birds except when beached or tied to a blind or for retrieving injured birds.
  • Removal of any mammal from walls, or holes in trees, ground, or logs.
  • Rifles chambered to take ammunition larger than .22 caliber long rifle, and pistols and revolvers chambered to take ammunition larger than .38 caliber, between the hours of 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise.
  • Sale of all species of mammals and birds or parts thereof, except unprocessed heads & hides to a licensed fur buyer or taxidermist, and shinbones & hooves of deer to anyone.
  • No species other than deer, coyote, and waterfowl/coot may be hunted with shot larger than #1 birdshot (.16” pellet diameter).
  • No possession of a shotgun shell loaded with a slug, sabot, single ball, buckshot (any size), except during the open seasons when deer may be hunted with a shotgun, or on a skeet, trap, or target range between sunrise and sunset.
  • Lettered bird shot may only be used for coyote hunting (.17 to .23” pellet diameter) and waterfowl/coot hunting (.17 to .19” pellet diameter); otherwise any lettered bird shot may only be possessed on a skeet, trap, or target range between sunrise and sunset. See migratory game bird hunting regulations and coyote hunting webpage for details.
  • Swivel or pivot guns for hunting any bird.
  • Taking nests, destroying, or disturbing eggs or nests of birds.
  • Target shooting on Sunday except on one’s own property or on a recognized shooting range.
  • Traps for taking birds except under permit. All traps except cage or box traps and common mouse or rat traps are unlawful for the taking of fur-bearing mammals.
  • Vandalism or damage to property or livestock.
  • Furbearer Contests: Contests where participants are awarded prizes for harvesting coyote, bobcat, red fox, gray fox, weasels, mink, skunk, river otter, muskrat, beaver, fisher, raccoon, and opossum.

Penalties: License revoked for one year in addition to other penalties; fines of up to $1,000, restitutions, and/or 1 year in jail. Careless and negligent use of firearms; fines of up to $500 and/or 6 months imprisonment and loss of license for 5 years.

Landowner liability

Landowners permitting use of their property for recreation without charging a fee are not liable for injuries to recreational users of the property except in cases of willful, wanton, or reckless conduct by the owner. (MGL Ch. 21 § 17C)

Ask the landowner
Hunting, fishing, and trapping are permitted on private land that is not posted against trespass; however, some towns have bylaws that require written permission. As a courtesy, ask the landowner for permission in advance. Landowners with posted land may provide (written) permission for individuals to access their property. Written landowner permission is required to trap on posted land. Hunters should check for relevant town bylaws pertaining to any written permission requirements and restrictions on discharge of firearms.

Non-resident hunters

  • Must obtain the same stamps and permits as residents. Permit and stamp costs for non-resident hunters may differ from resident hunters.
  • All non-resident hunters ages 15 and older must possess a valid Non-Resident Hunting License (Big Game or Small Game) to hunt. To purchase a license, you must have successfully completed a Basic Hunter Education course from any jurisdiction in any year or held a hunting/sporting license from any jurisdiction prior to 2007.
  • No Massachusetts gun license is needed to possess or transport long guns.
  • Must keep firearms unloaded and should be locked in a case while traveling into or through Massachusetts. May not purchase firearms, ammunition, or ammunition components in Massachusetts.
  • Must have a temporary non-resident handgun permit (LTC) for hunting with a handgun. Contact MA Firearms Support Services at (617) 660-4780 for permit requirements.
  • Non-resident migratory game bird hunters must complete a Massachusetts H.I.P. survey to hunt.

Open and closed hunting seasons

The following species may be taken year round (except during shotgun deer season) by licensed hunters with no daily or seasonal bag limit: English sparrow, flying squirrel, red squirrel, chipmunk, porcupine, skunk, starling, weasel, and woodchuck. During shotgun deer season all game hunting seasons are closed statewide except for deer, bear, coyote, and waterfowl.

Tree stands

Written permission of the landowner (on either public or private lands) is required to construct or use any tree stand which is fastened to a tree by nails, bolts, wire, or other fasteners that intrude through the bark into the wood of the tree, or that is fastened or erected in any manner and is emplaced for a period exceeding 30 days. This includes hang-on tree stands.

Youth deer hunt day restrictions

When hunting other game animals on the Youth Deer Hunt Day, (Oct. 2, 2021) additional requirements apply:

  • Rifles and handguns are prohibited for hunting any game.
  • Dogs may only be used for waterfowl hunting (ducks and geese) on coastal waters and salt marshes.
  • All game hunters must wear a minimum of 500 square inches of blaze orange on their chest, back, and head; waterfowl hunters are required to wear blaze orange in transit to and from their blind or boat.

Wanton waste

It is unlawful for hunters to intentionally or knowingly leave a wounded or dead game animal without making a reasonable effort to retrieve and use it. Each animal must be retained until processed or used for food, pelt, feathers, or taxidermy. This does not apply to animals unfit for consumption or use—animals and their parts that are damaged, destroyed, decayed, rotting, diseased, or infected.

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