Odd state law poses the legal question: Can you hunt rabbits while accompanied by a ferret?

  • This Oct. 1, 2014, file photo shows a black-footed ferret peeking out of a tube after being brought to a ranch near Williams, Ariz. This species is endangered in New Hampshire and cannot be owned here, unlike the domestic ferret.   AP file photo

  • A long-standing state law makes it illegal to hunt while “in possession” of a ferret. AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 1/14/2020 2:01:37 PM

Even if the state loses one of its more unusual laws, which says you can’t be “in possession, custody or control of a ferret” while hunting, you’re probably not going to be able to go rabbit-hunting with ferrets any time soon.

“I’ve taken a lot of good-natured ribbing about this (law) – what is this all about?” Paul Sanderson, legal coordinator for New Hampshire Fish and Game, told a legislative committee at a hearing Tuesday on the bill, HB 1213.

The bill was put forward by Max Abramson, L-Seabrook, who said he was concerned less about hunting with ferrets and more about possession of them.

“The way the law is written right now, you couldn’t have a pet ferret in a pickup truck if you were hunting,” he said.

His bill would repeal RSA 207:6, which has been on the books for more than 80 years.

Ferrets are used to hunt rabbits in many parts of the world but it has been illegal here since at least 1935, when a series of existing New Hampshire statutes, including this one, were codified into their current form. Nobody at Tuesday’s hearing before the Fish and Game Committee knew its history prior to that.

Only dogs and falcons can be used to assist with hunting in New Hampshire, under various rules and regulations. And even if ferret hunting was allowed in New Hampshire it probably wouldn’t happen here because we don’t have the right kind of ferret.

As explained by Rep. Robert L’Heureux of Merrimack, who said he has owned 13 ferrets – “they really are a lot of fun” – and whose wife was the former president of the state ferret owners association, hunting is done with black-footed ferrets, which are an endangered species in New Hampshire and cannot be owned.

“We have the domesticated ferret,” L’Heureux said. “They would not survive at all outside. The thought of somebody ever using one (to hunt) is ridiculous.”

He said that despite the wording of the law, his understanding is that “you would not be cited for mere possession” of a ferret but “only if it is used in actual hunting.”

Owning pet ferrets became legal in New Hampshire in 1993, said Sanderson.

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