Can felons in Wisconsin go deer hunting?

Felons in Wisconsin will have a difficult, if not impossible, time deer hunting for the rest of their lives.

Deer hunting in Wisconsin is a tradition that many of us have known our entire lives.  As we approach the holiday season, hordes of Wisconsinites migrate north to hunt the state’s native white-tailed deer.  Different timelines apply to different hunts, involving different sorts of weapons.  In 2023, the archery and crossbow season runs between September 16, 2023 and January 7, 2024.  The gun season runs between November 18 and November 26, 2023.  Finally, the muzzle loader season stretches between November 27 and December 6, 2023, per the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

As criminal defense lawyers, sometimes we encounter individuals charged in connection with crimes committed during the hunting season. Frequently these charges involve drunk driving or minor arguments, but sometimes they involve individuals in possession of firearms when they shouldn’t be.  In Wisconsin (and the United States), individuals convicted of felonies are not allowed to possess firearms for the rest of their lives.  This prohibition also applies to individuals convicted of domestic violence offenses and applies for a limited timeframe when the defendant is subject to a restraining order.

If you face any sort of criminal charge in Wisconsin, hiring the right criminal defense lawyer is incredibly important.  At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., our entire law firm focuses on helping individuals accused of committing crimes in Wisconsin.  We don’t charge for initial phone calls or consultations, and encourage you to contact us at (414) 270-0202 to see how we can help.

Felons cannot engage in hunting involving firearms

Section 941.29(1m) of the Wisconsin Statutes prohibits various individuals from possessing a firearm.  The list includes:

  • Individuals convicted of felonies in Wisconsin.
  • Individuals convicted of felonies outside of Wisconsin.
  • Individuals subject to mental health Chapter 51 or Chapter 55 commitments.
  • Individuals subject to various restraining orders and injunctions requiring the surrender of firearms.

If you fit within one of the above-listed categories, you are prohibited from possessing a firearm.  While possession of a firearm isn’t necessarily required to help others during a firearm-based deer hunt, it’s important to remember that simply touching a firearm is enough to face criminal charges.  Possession, as defined by Wisconsin Criminal Jury Instruction 1343, is defined as:

  • An item is in a person’s possession if it is an area over which the person has control and the person intends to exercise control over the item.
    • It is not required that the person own the item in order to possess it.  What is required is that the person exercise control over it.
    • Possession may be shared with another person.  If a person exercises control over an item, that item is in his or her possession, even though another person may also have similar control.

Finally, being found in possession of a firearm as a felon (or any of the other categories) subjects the defendant to a Class G felony criminal charge.  A Class G felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.  This charge further breaks down into a maximum penalty of 5 years initial confinement and 5 years extended supervision.  Various county prosecutors, such as you’ll find in Milwaukee, frequently seek prison sentences for individuals facing this charge.  It’s serious.

Can I join a hunt if I don’t possess a firearm?

Accompanying friends and relatives on a hunt, by itself, is not illegal.  Helping with driving fields and cleaning/processing animals after a successful hunt is not illegal.  But being around firearms is asking for trouble.

An additional definition of possession, called “constructive possession,” is sometimes used by prosecutors to pull together weaker cases.  Constructive possession refers to circumstances that are sufficient to support an inference that the person exercised control over, or intended to possess, the item in question.  Constructive possession falls short of, and requires less than, actual possession.

Let’s consider an example: you’re at a hunting cabin and you’re surrounded by firearms.  You fall asleep in a bunk bed with a firearm in a rack directly next to your bed.  The gun is not yours, you haven’t touched it, and you don’t plan on touching it.  But simply reaching out is enough for you to physically grab the gun.  Could a prosecutor charge you in this situation?  Absolutely.  Using constructive possession to show criminal liability isn’t much of a stretch.

Let’s consider another example: you and a friend are in a garage gutting a deer together.  Your friend’s rifle is on the other side of the garage.  You haven’t touched it and you don’t plan on it.  This situation is a lot more difficult for a prosecutor to prove.  While this is certainly not actual possession, a creative prosecutor could try to show constructive possession.

Walk through fields, gut deer, and join in the festivities.  But do not actually or constructively possess firearms.

A white-tailed deer in Wisconsin.
Hunting is a pastime enjoyed every fall by many Wisconsinites. But those with felony convictions cannot possess firearms, and therefore are extremely limited in how they can take part.

Can felons in Wisconsin hunt deer with bows and crossbows?

Prior to 2013, the only Wisconsin hunters who could possess a crossbow were those with disabilities.  In June of that year, 2013 Assembly Bill 194 expanded crossbow use, allowing all hunters throughout the state to use crossbows.  While crossbows can be used to hunt deer, they cannot be used to hunt elk, bear, and turkey.

Along with crossbows, hunters with felony convictions can possess and hunt with long bows, recurve bows, compound bows, and composite bows.  There is no specific law prohibiting felons from using these weapons.

Felons are prohibited from possessing firearms.  And firearms, by statutory definition, are weapons that act by the force of gunpowder.  None of the weapons described above operate by force of gunpowder.

Charged with a crime while hunting? Contact Van Severen Law Office, S.C. for help.

While being a felon in possession of a firearm is the main criminal charge we discussed in this post, many other criminal charges can result while hunting.  The excitement of hunting, the alcohol-fueled celebrations, and the near-constant presence of firearms leads to many possibilities.  At Van Severen Law Office, S.C., we’re equipped to handle any of them.

Our law firm focuses 100% of its time defending individuals accused of either drunk driving or criminal charges.  We’ve helped thousands of individuals facing misdemeanors and felonies throughout Wisconsin.

Contact us at (414) 270-0202 if you’re a potential client seeking representation.  We offer free consultations and can discuss how we’re able to help during that meeting.

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