If we talk about USA, where exactly is the difference between self defense and illegal hunting?

Let's say a dangerous animal approached your house. How close should it be for you to shoot it and not be punished for hunting without a license?

Or just punished for shooting within a town borders (which may be illegal)?

  • Are you in the house?
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 5:37
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    IANAL but bringing the house into it seems to muddy things. As long as you have a right to be somewhere, and as long as you fulfill any obligation to retreat from danger, you can use appropriate force to defend yourself. When you do it to people it's a defense against murder. If doing it to animals isn't a defense against hunting without a license then I don't want to live on this planet anymore.
    – Patrick87
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 17:22
  • @Frisbee Yes, let's say I am in the house Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 18:53
  • If you are in the house how are you in danger? How is that self defense? No you can't shoot a grizzly bear sleeping on you porch and claim self defense.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Oct 18, 2015 at 22:48
  • How close depends on how dangerous the animal is at any given distance.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 8:35

1 Answer 1


You face two legal perils when you use a firearm against a wild animal:

  1. Most wild animals are protected or regulated as game by state and/or federal law.
  2. Unnecessarily discharging a firearm is forbidden in many jurisdictions.

With respect to both charges, self defense is almost always a justification (assuming the possession of the weapon used was lawful).

The specifics vary a little by jurisdiction, but this Utah rule is pretty typical:

R657-63-3. Self Defense.

(1) A person is legally justified in killing or seriously injuring a threatening wild animal when the person reasonably believes such action is necessary to protect them self, another person, or a domestic animal against an imminent attack by the wild animal that will likely result in severe bodily injury or death to the victim.

(2) In determining imminence or reasonableness under Subsection (1), the trier of fact may consider, but is not limited to, any of the following factors:
(a) the nature of the danger;
(b) the immediacy of the danger;
(c) the probability that the threatening wild animal will attack;
(d) the probability that the attack will result in death or serious bodily injury;
(e) the ability to safely retreat;
(f) the fault of the person in creating the encounter; and
(g) any previous pattern of aggressive or threatening behavior by the individual wild animal which was known to the person claiming self defense.

(3)(a) A person shall notify the division within 12 hours after killing or wounding a wild animal under Subsection (1). (b) No wild animal killed pursuant to Subsection (1) or the parts thereof may be removed from the site, repositioned, retained, sold, or transferred without written authorization from the division.

(4)(a) A person is not legally justified in killing or seriously injuring a threatening wild animal under the circumstances specified in Subsection (1) if the person:
(i) has the ability to safely retreat from the threatening animal and fails to do so, except when the animal enters a home, tent, camper, or other permanent or temporary living structure occupied at the time by the person or another person; or
(ii) intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly provokes or attracts the wild animal into a situation in which it is probable it will threaten the person, another person, or a domestic animal.

Federal law is a little more terse: The Endangered Species Act includes the following:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, no civil penalty shall be imposed if it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant committed an act based on a good faith belief that he was acting to protect himself or herself, a member of his or her family, or any other individual from bodily harm, from any endangered or threatened species.

Defense of property

One can be fined for killing threatened or endangered animals in defense of property or livestock (see, for example, Christy v. Hodel).

These instructions from the Missouri Department of Conservation are typical:

If wildlife is damaging your property, you ... may shoot or trap most damage-causing wildlife out of season and without a permit to prevent further damage. Note: Wildlife you may not shoot or trap under this provision are migratory birds, white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, turkeys, black bears, mountain lions, and any endangered species. For conflicts with these species, contact your local county conservation agent or nearest Department office. Control action may be taken only on your property. Wildlife you take under this provision may not be used in any way, and you must report it to the Department within 24 hours, then dispose of it in accordance with Department instructions. Check with local city or county authorities regarding the use of traps and firearms in local jurisdictions.

  • Thanks a lot! And what if an animal is killing my livestock? Or ruining property. Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 16:16
  • @SergZ. - Protection of "domestic animals," which I understood to mean pets, is likewise allowed, but I assume livestock are also "domestic animals." Two points I am unsure of, and I would like to see answered: (1) Can one defend domestic animals against endangered animals? (2) Can one use lethal force to protect property against damage from any animal? I'll keep looking for answers to those if nobody else can find them.
    – feetwet
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 16:28
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    @ColleenV - And (strangely) worse: the protected predator she killed was a pet.
    – feetwet
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 17:29
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    @SergZ. - Found a little more info on defense of property and amended the answer: It looks like in general there are probably more species you need permission to touch than those you do not, so if in doubt it's best to check with a wildlife officer before taking action. In any case, you have to provide timely notice to a wildlife office after the fact.
    – feetwet
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 18:13
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    @feetwet don't get me started about the woman killing the hawk. Reminds me of the woman that put her cat on a vegetarian diet and was completely mystified when it became ill.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 19, 2015 at 18:40

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