Hunting may be regulated informally by unwritten law, self-restraint, a moral code, or by governmental laws.
Hunting licenses are millennia old.
Amongst the first hunting laws in the Common law tradition was from the time of William the Conqueror (reign in England starting 1066). In the Peterborough Chronicle entry of 1087, The Rime of King William reported in verse that:
- Whoever killed a hart or a hind
- Should be blinded. 
This was because "William the Conqueror's moral life lives in the landscape. His control of the forest mirrors his control of the people, and his establishment of hunting laws reveals the dissonance between his love for animals and his contempt for the populace: ...
- He loved the wild animals
- As if he were their father.
Hunting licenses have several purposes. These reasons include: public safety (especially of children, both as hunters and bystanders), regulation and conservation of wild animals, revenue for the sovereign state, and containing the transmission of animal-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease and rabies). The safety issues are especially highlighted in urban areas and shopping districts. For example, after in an incident in November 2012 whereby a man allegedly shot at a deer in a Walmart parking lot in Pennsylvania, he was charged with "reckless endangerment, ... hunting without a license, shooting on or across highways and unlawful killing or taking of big game."
All firearm owners and users in Australia require a firearm's licence, but normally do not require a licence to hunt. Most target species are feral or introduced species, and almost all native animals are protected. Landowners may obtain a "Destruction Permit" to kill or remove native species when their numbers impact agriculture. Hunting in New South Wales national parks requires a R-licence issued by the Game Council, but (as of mid-2013) this situation has been suspended pending review. Professional hunters are issued what is sometimes referred to as a D-licence, but rather than being a hunting licence this is a category of firearms that includes semi-automatics and large capacity magazines.
Hunting regulation and licensing falls under both provincial/territorial and federal jurisdiction. The federal government is responsible for protecting migratory birds and nationally significant wildlife habitat, the regulation for endangered species and the international wildlife issues and treaties (i.e. CITES) for Canada. For example, Migratory Game Bird Hunting licence is issued by the Canadian Wildlife Service, an agency of Environment Canada. All other matters fall under the provincial/territorial jurisdiction.
The use of firearms in hunting is also separated into provincial/territorial and federal jurisdiction. Whereas the Canadian Firearms Program will determine who is eligible for a Possession and Acquisition Licence and issuance of firearm registration certificates, it is the provincial/territorial government's responsibility to regulate when and how the firearms can be used in hunting animals.
In Québec hunter education and licensing is managed by the Fédération Québécoise de la Faune. Sécurité Nature, a program managed by the FQF, offers a variety of hunting education courses which allow residents to hunt legally after obtaining their licence and a permit at designated outlets (most hunting & fishing stores, Canadian Tires, etc.) for a fee.
A German hunting license is a certificate that grants its holder the exercise of hunting within legal ordinances. It is also the precondition to own hunting arms and ammunition (unlimited number of rifles/shotguns and up to two handguns). The actual right to exercise hunting in a specific area is entitled to the respective landowners (if they own an area of more than 0.75 square kilometres (190 acres), otherwise all landowners of a municipality are integrated into an association) who may use their right for themselves or lease it. Depending on size and value of a hunting area a typical leasing rate may vary from about 10 to 100 USD per acre per year. Additionally the lesse has to pay the landowner any damage by deers, wild hogs etc. The right to hunt is connected to the duty to care for all kind of animals listed by the hunting laws. For several species such as deers plans have to be developed by hunters and authorities, how many animals of a specified class and age may (or have to) be killed within a certain period of time. The purpose of the hunting license is to ensure that only well trained persons may exercise hunting. Applicants must fulfill the following requirements:
- Successful completion of a hunting exam,
- Certificate of a liability insurance for hunters,
- Personal trustworthiness (§ 5 German Weapons Act),
- Applicants must be at least 16 years for a Youth Hunting License, otherwise 18 years,
- Flawless Criminal record.
The hunting exam is a test of expertise with a high failure rate. To pass it, each applicant has to participate in a comprehensive, difficult instruction course which consists largely of the areas shooting (shotgun and rifle), theory (esp. weaponry, local wildlife and habitat) and practice.
In practice the German system of examination for deer hunters (stalkers) is very much in line with the English DMQ level DSC2. Over the last ten years or so European countries in general have made efforts to harmonise the previously fragmented rules and regulations with parallels being taken from the more difficult UK system.
In the United States, regulation of hunting is primarily performed by state law; additional regulations are imposed through Federal environmental law regarding migratory birds (such as ducks and geese) and endangered species.
Each state has different standards and paperwork requirements for getting a hunting license. These include the areas, time periods, harvesting techniques, distinctions between species, and a hunting safety course.
Licenses to hunt typically go on sale once a year. Some states, such as New York, allow only during a defined single season, or for a lifetime during such seasons for residents of the state, upon payment of the appropriate fees. As a general rule, hunting licenses are non-transferable, are a privilege (not a right), and does not allow trespass on private land.
Hunting big game typically requires a tag for each animal harvested. Tags must be purchased in addition to the hunting license, and the number of tags issued to an individual is typically limited. In cases where there are more prospective hunters than the quota for that species, tags are usually assigned by lottery. Tags may be further restricted to a specific area or wildlife management unit.
United States law also mandates strict limits on the hunting ("taking") of endangered species. The U.S. is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The Bush Administration proposed lifting some restrictions in 2005 (for antelopes), as did the Norwegian Government (for wolves) in the same year.
Both Federal and state laws exempt the following:
- Pest species, as noted above, such as rodents. There is a false urban legend that a hunting license is required to trap mice.
- Native Americans based on Native American treaties; some states require residency on a Native American reservation. The Supreme Court of the United States held in Menominee Tribe v. United States that Congress must affirmatively take away Native Americans' hunting rights; otherwise, Native Americans are presumed to have such rights and do not required hunting licenses.
- Specific statutes, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and eagle feather laws (see below).
- Alaskan Natives.
- Active service members of the military, who often get free licenses.
- The blind.
- Sport hunting for targets.
- Youth are usually exempt from paying for a hunting or fishing license, but this varies by state from those under 12 years old to those under 16 years of age.
Eagle Feather Law
The Eagle feather law, (Title 50 Part 22 of the Code of Federal Regulations), stipulates that only individuals of certifiable American Indian ancestry enrolled in a federally recognized tribe are legally authorized to obtain eagle feathers for religious or spiritual use. American Indians and non-American Indians frequently contest the value and validity of the Eagle feather law, charging that the law is laden with discriminatory racial preferences and infringes on tribal sovereignty. Their arguments include that the law does not allow American Indians to give eagle feathers to non-American Indians, a common modern and traditional practice. (Many non-American Indians have been adopted into American Indian families, made tribal members, and given eagle feathers.)
Challenges regarding the Second Amendment
Some hunters have challenged hunting licenses, as being in violation of the right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; the Supreme Court of the US in February 2008, heard arguments on the proper standard of review for gun laws or regulations. However, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court declined to examine the broader issues, leaving state hunting licenses valid and in force.
The current law is unclear at to what standard of review would apply, but the rational basis or arbitrary and capricious tests are the most likely standards. Under either standard, most hunting license regimes in the United States would likely pass muster, due to the need to conserve natural resources, to enforce the police power, and to raise revenue, all valid purposes of such laws.
Public policy arguments
Most major conservation organizations in the US favor the continued legality and regulation of hunting, including Ducks Unlimited, the National Wildlife Federation, and The Wilderness Society. The Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, and the World Wildlife Fund also support licenses for regulated hunting of wildlife.
The Sierra Club supports hunting licenses, but there has been tension in the group for two decades between those who want to ally with hunters and to regulate them, and those opposed to hunting altogether.
- Beast of Gévaudan, a famous episode of wolf hunting
- Canned hunt
- Regulation of recreational fishing
- Exotic pets
- National Shooting Sports Foundation, The Ethical Hunter, brochure p. 6, March 2003, site at 
- Bennett, Elizabeth (May 24, 2012). "How to Stop Wildlife Poachers". New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- Busse, Nick (May 29, 2012). "Open season with new omnibus game and fish law". Twin Cities daily Planet. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- Delo, Howard (May 31, 2012). "Hunters first to pony up for conservation". Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- Toth, Leslie (May 10, 2012). "Hunters, anglers face higher license prices". Mille Lacs County Times. Retrieved June 5, 2012.
- Seth Lerner, Inventing English: A Portable History of the English Language, p. 43 (Columbia U. Press 2007), citing Cecily Clark, The Peterborough Chronicle (2nd ed. Clarenden Press 1970).
- Old English text here is removed.
- "Man Charged For Hunting In A Walmart Parking Lot". March 27, 2013. Retrieved March 27, 2013.
- Wildlife BC
- Migratory Bird Hunting Permits for the 2008 Season
- See description of # of tag holders in N.Y. state: .
- See also Driver's license
- See, e.g., Learning How to Shoot, or Is There a Gay NRA?, by Erik F. vonHausen, Diversity Rules!, May/June 2007.
- Sandra Purohit (n.d.). "Aerial Hunting FAQs" (PDF). Defenders of Wildlife. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- "2007–08 hunting licenses available Monday". Ch. 9 News. Associated Press. 2007-08-08. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- See, e.g., New York Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0701, found at , click on "ENV", then Article 11.
- See, e.g., New York Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0702, found at , click on "ENV", then Article 11.
- See, e.g., New York Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0703, found at , click on "ENV", then Article 11.
- "Alaska Online Licensing Home Page". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "California Dept. of fish and game". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "License and permit requirements". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Georgia DNR, How to get a hunting License". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Illinois DNR, Online services". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Louisiana department of wildlife and fisheries". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Section 1.18: Issuance and Use Of Deer Hunting Tags". Retrieved 2009-03-17.
- "Ohio DNR, Hunting Licensing". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "TN DNR, Online licensing". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Texas Parks and Wikdlife – Hunting & wildlife". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Virginia Hunting & Fishing Licenses". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- See, e.g., New York Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0713 (3), found at , click on "ENV".
- "Hunting Safety Courses and Exams". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- See, e.g., New York Environmental Conservation Law section 11-0703 (4), found at , click on "ENV".
- "The Federal duck stamps program". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- Endangered Species Act of 1973, Title 16 of the United States Code, §§ 1531-1544
- "US CODE: Title 16, 1531". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- For a fuller description of the Endangered Species Act, see that article, or [this portal: http://www.llrx.com/features/esa.htm].
- "Tiger, (Panthera tigris)". Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- "Permission given to hunt endangered wolves". New Scientist. 2005-01-22. Retrieved 2007-09-21.
- Barbara and David Mikkelson, "Trapping License", at Snopes.com website. Accessed March 17, 2011.
- See Hunting Licenses: Free Licenses and NEW YORK STATE DEPT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION: RESIDENT SPORTING LICENSE APPLICATION. Both retrieved February 23, 2012.
- Joan Biskupic, Do you have a legal right to own a gun?, USA Today, February 27, 2008, p. 1-2.
- District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. ___ (2008).
- "Hunters and Conservation". national Shooting Sports Foundation. n.d. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- The WWF website states: "World Wildlife Fund, for example, does not oppose gun hunting or trapping by indigenous people to meet their basic needs. We do insist that hunting and trapping be regulated so that the survival of any species does not become threatened. The decision to allow trophy hunting is a sovereign one made entirely by the government concerned. We vigorously oppose any hunting or trapping activities which violate international, national, or state law."Sandra Purohit (November 4, 2009). "Guns and Hunting". World Wildlife Fund. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- Williams, Ted (September–October 1996). "Natural Allies: If only hunters, anglers, and environmentalists would stop taking potshots at each other, they'd be an invincible force for wildlands protection". Sierra magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- Bass, Rick (July–August 2001). "Why I Hunt: Stalking wild game in a rugged landscape brings one environmentalist closer to nature". Sierra magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- various (November–December 2001). "LETTERS (to the Editor)". Sierra magazine. Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- Semcer, Catherine (January 28, 2013). "Making Sage Grouse Part of Our Wildlife Restoration Success Stories". Sierra Club's Lay of the Land (blog). Retrieved July 22, 2013.
- Palmer, Theodore Sherman (1904). Hunting licenses: Their history, objects, and limitations. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. pp. 72 pp. ASIN: B00088530Q.
- Potter, Dale R.; Kathryn M. Sharpe; John C. Hendee (1973). Human Behavior Aspects Of Fish And Wildlife Conservation – An Annotated Bibliography (PDF). U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. pp. 290 pp.