The Texas Law on Hunting with Night Vision

by John Cagney Nash
Feral hogs, considered exotic species in Texas, can legally be hunted with night-vision equipment.

Feral hogs, considered exotic species in Texas, can legally be hunted with night-vision equipment.

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Assisted night hunting for non-protected, non-game species on private land is generally legal in Texas. Night vision equipment is not listed as a prohibited device in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Summary of 2010-2011 Hunting Regulations. The most common prey species for night vision hunting is feral hog.

Types of Night Vision Equipment

Night vision equipment increases ability to see in low-light conditions. Image intensification devices magnify the available light, such as moonlight and starlight; active illumination devices couple image intensifying technology with a near infrared light source that gives the image intensifier something to intensify; thermal imagers detect temperature differences between warm living prey and cooler backgrounds. Night vision goggles are usually image intensifiers, and reveal heat sources as black dots.

Texas Laws Relating to Location, Species and Means

Night hunting is illegal on public lands. Exotic, non-protected, non-game animals that may be hunted at night on private property include mountain lion, bobcat and ring-tailed cat, turtle and frog, nutria, raccoon, badger, mink, opossum, rabbit and jackrabbit, armadillo, skunk, porcupine, ground squirrel and prairie dog, coyote and stock-killing wild dogs and feral hogs. The state is home to an estimated 3 million wild hogs, all of which are busy foraging and eating. Each sow is able to breed three 10 to 12 piglet litters in marginally over a year. Javelina, however, are game animals, not feral hogs, and must not be spotlighted or hunted at night with night vision equipment. Means of hunting are specifically determined by the Texas Parks and Wildlife hunters' handbook: Means include any legal weapon and ancillary device, so long as the owner of that weapon and/or device is allowed by law to own it and is present. Means therefore includes lights and light-enhancing devices, including night vision equipment. Means does not include snares, poison or explosives.

Exclusions

Game animals and game birds may be hunted during prescribed daylight hours with any legal firearm, pursuant to the following exceptions: pellet guns, other air guns and fully automatic weapons are never legal to use in hunting. Rim-fire ammunition, of any caliber, may not be used to kill white-tailed deer or mule deer, desert bighorn sheep or pronghorn antelope. Eastern turkey may only be hunted with a shotgun during the spring Eastern turkey season.

Game Wardens

TPWD's website explicitly says: "Night hunting with a spotlight is often used; however, the local game warden must be notified beforehand. (There are certain laws which prohibit using artificial light where deer are known to range.)" "Must" is an exaggeration--there is no legally enforceable requirement that hunters notify the game warden, but it is advisable. While there is no law in Texas that prohibits the night-hunting of exotic non-game species, even during deer season, hunters who bag a deer during legal hunting hours must take precautions to ensure they have not broken other laws. Legal game kills must be tagged with the time of shooting, removed from the hunting area, butchered and hung or iced before hunting non-game species with night vision equipment. Game wardens will almost certainly assume that a hunter has illegally killed any deer found in an environment that is being actively night-hunted, despite the hunter's assurances that it was killed hours before.

Sensible Precautions for Night Hunting

It is a violation of the law to shoot a deer, or any game species, after dark using an artificial light, a practice called "spotlighting." It is therefore recommended that the local game warden be contacted prior to legal night-hunting expeditions. Game wardens who are aware of who is in their area, and why, are less likely to misinterpret or overreact to reports from the public that people are hunting at night. Game wardens and all staff of Operation Game Thief (ogttx.com) are obliged to investigate any such call, or any referral from a Sheriff's office.

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