OKLAHOMA CITY — After years of failed efforts, lawmakers have made it legal to hunt coyotes at night without a permit.
Senate Bill 1809, which became law Nov. 1, also allows the hunting of feral pigs at night without a permit.
The expanded hunting rights only apply to lands designated as agricultural. Landowners, lessees or designated agents who have written permission are the only ones who can hunt them at night without a permit.
The new law also prohibits hunting the creatures without a permit during deer gun season, a 16-day hunting window that opens the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Lawmakers also increased the broader penalties for night poaching from $250 to $1,000.
There are no limits on how many feral swine or coyote can be killed, but the law is aimed at protecting crops, livestock, feed, seed and other materials used in agriculture.
Brad Boles, R-Marlow, the House author, said legislators worked with the Department of Wildlife to balance public safety concerns with the needs of the state’s agricultural community.
Boles, who represents a rural agricultural district, said the overpopulation of coyotes and feral hogs is a really big concern for his constituents because they’re killing livestock and damaging crops.
“We tried to work out a good balance giving people the right to shoot animals on their own property but also have the check and balances in place as well,” Boles said.
Previously farmers and ranchers could hunt the animals at night, but had to have a special permit and had to “go through different hoops and procedures to get that,” Boles said.
The new law makes it more convenient, he said.
Coyotes could previously be hunted during daylight hours year-round with a hunting license. Landowners can also shoot them during daylight hours if they’re threatening livestock. The new law does not impact any current laws for hunting coyotes or feral swine, Boles said.
State Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, has long advocated for permitless nocturnal coyote hunting and said he’s happy with the final measure. He said with the cost of inflation, ranchers cannot afford to lose livestock to coyotes.
“They need every one of them because their margins have gotten even tighter,” said Murdock, who is also a rancher. “They’ve got to be able to protect their livelihood. (Feral swine) are also maybe not so much predatorial, but they damage millions of dollars’ worth of crops each year.”
Micah Holmes, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, said his agency wanted to balance the needs of farmers and ranchers while protecting Oklahoma’s deer populations from poachers.
The new law balances both needs by allowing farmers and ranchers to kill feral pigs and coyotes without a permit at night except during a 16-day hunting window surrounding Thanksgiving, he said.
“That’s the time of year where there’s a lot of (hunting) activity and a lot of folks may be tempted to break the law,” Holmes said. “We expect this change to take care of both those issues.”
Agricultural landowners can still kill coyote and feral swine at night during deer gun season by getting a traditional depredation permit from a game warden.
“We appreciate the Legislature working with us and understanding our perspective and our desire to keep our (deer) population healthy and make sure our game wardens are safe out there,” Holmes said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.