How to hunt and fish legally in Canada 

By: Callum Denault

Published on: September 11th, 2023

Gathering your own food can be a rewarding and old-fashioned way to save money on grocery shopping, whether you do it through hunting live animals, fishing, or gathering wild crops to eat. While Canada is filled with a lot of edible wildlife, it is important that hunters and fishers follow the laws in a humane, sustainable way. 

Hunting license, gun license, and other permits

Anyone who wants to hunt wild animals in Canada must have a hunting license, and licenses for any guns they plan on using to hunt.  

Canadian residents can apply for a firearms license with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) either online or by mail. Some crossbows are prohibited, such as those that can be aimed and fired with one hand, or are at least 500 millimeters in length (19.68 inches). Other types of bows are fine to own without the need for a registration or license.  

American citizens or residents are allowed to bring their guns into Canada, as long as every gun they bring is declared, and none of their firearms are prohibited weapons in Canada.  

Non-residents who want to hunt in Ontario will need an Outdoor card, to be accredited with the Fish and Wildlife Licensing Service, and any other licenses needed for the specific animal they want to hunt. Any non-resident ​​who wants to hunt a black bear must contact an operator licensed to offer bear hunting services, and similarly, non-residents wishing to hunt moose must reach out to a tourist outfitter.  

Hunting laws by province 

To avoid trouble with the authorities, it is important to make yourself familiar with the local laws in the province or territory you plan to hunt in, and how they apply to whichever type of animal you plan to hunt. You can find a list of provincial/territorial government webpages about hunting laws from Outdoor Canada and the Canadian Hunter Alliance

For example, if you were planning to hunt white-tailed deer in Ontario, you would need to visit the Ontario Hunting Regulations Summary website and browse the table of contents to find their entry on the white-tailed deer. Each section of Ontario is listed—which is under a Wildlife Management Unit—along with when the animal is in season (allowed to be hunted), depending on what kind of weapon you are using, and if you are resident or non-resident of Ontario. 

The Ontario website also has a guide on how to use their regulations, which comes with a contact email and phone number for those who need more help. 

Hunting migratory birds 

To hunt migratory birds in Canada, you must have a Migratory Game Bird Hunting (MGBH) permit. These permits are issued by the federal government, are valid anywhere in Canada, and must have a Canadian Wildlife Habitat Conservation (CWHC) stamp on them.  

Similar to the laws for hunting land-based animals, each province and territory has its own regulations for hunting birds. For example, the Ontario regulations divide the province into ​​four hunting districts headed by their own Wildlife Management Units​​ which limits how many animals of a specific species hunters are allowed to kill and bag, as well as banning certain birds from being hunted at all.  

Hunters can only kill and bag a single member of the Barrow’s Goldeneye species, while Harlequin​​ Ducks, King Rails, and Yellow Rails have no open season. In order to protect animals in danger of going extinct and to avoid getting in legal trouble for hunting a protected species, it is important you do not kill any animal you are unable to clearly identify. 

Fishing laws in Canada

In general, provincial/territorial governments are in charge of freshwater fishing laws, while the federal government overlooks marine fishing; with the exception of salt water fish species that tend to migrate into freshwater areas. As with the regulations for other types of animals, here is a list of websites for the fishing laws of each province and territory.  

Ontario allows both Canadian residents and non-residents to apply for a fishing license, and similar to hunting, ​​ There are catch limits on how many fish you are allowed to keep in a day, without releasing them back into the water; how many you are allowed to possess (including in any number of fridges or coolers you have at home, but not including any fish you ate or gave away), and limitations preventing you from keeping fish of a certain size.  

To keep fish populations healthy, Ontario has restrictions on certain fish species, and you are not allowed to keep a fish if it is too small or large. It is recommended you measure a fish from the tip of its closed mouth to the end of its tail, with its tail fins compressed to maximize the fish’s length. 

You must release a fish still alive and back into the water if it fails to meet certain requirements. This includes fish that are the wrong size, belong to protected species, would put you over your limit of caught fish, were caught out of season, or fish that were hooked anywhere other than their mouth. The Ontario government has advice on how to best catch and release fish in a safe, humane way. 

Hunting marine mammals

Commercial hunting of whales is banned in Canada, with the exception of licenses given to Indigenous Canadians, who are referred to as “Indian or Inuk” in legal writing. Laws on the hunting of whales, dolphins, walruses, and seals are generally meant to ensure animals are killed as quickly and humanely as possible, and that no part of any hunted animal is wasted.  

Hunting of seals—or sealing—is allowed for commercial reasons, and their fur is valuable. Compared to other hunting practices in Canada, commercial sealing is very controversial, with the methods sealers use being condemned by activists

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