What Are the Common Weapons Violations?

If you’re hunting in Colorado, it’s important to be aware of the rules, including the laws regarding weapons. Weapons violations can carry hefty costs and sometimes even a jail sentence.

For safety reasons, hunting in Colorado is a highly regulated field. Weapons offenses while hunting can be particularly significant, and unfortunately many hunters commit them without intending to. Here are some common weapons violations you should be aware of:

  • Having a loaded firearm (other than a revolver or a pistol) in your vehicle. Hunting rifles in motor vehicles (including ATVs, motorbikes, cars, trucks, and snowmobiles) should not have any ammunition in the chamber or magazine. This is the case for both on-road and off-road vehicles.
  • Not wearing pink or daylight orange fluorescent gear. If you’re hunting elk, deer, pronghorn, moose, or black bear with a firearm, you must wear at least 500 inches of material above the waist, including a covering that is visible from all directions.
  • Shooting from a road. You need to be at least 50 feet from the centerline of a designated state or county road before you discharge your firearm. It’s also illegal to shoot across the road.
  • Not having a hunting license / hunters education certificate in your possession while hunting. They must be on your person all the time, not in your truck or at home.
  • Reckless endangerment. If you discharge a firearm (or release an arrow) while you’re hunting in a manner that creates a risk of serious bodily harm to someone else, you might be charged with this offense.
  • Hunting under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance. The test is “to a degree that renders such person incapable of safely operating a firearm or bow and arrow to hunt or take any wildlife.”
  • Hunting using artificial light, night vision, or thermal imaging. It’s illegal to “project any artificial light” or use night vision or thermal imaging while hunting with a loaded firearm or bow, unless you have a permit or you’re hunting on your own property.
  • Illegal discharge of a firearm. It’s illegal to knowingly or recklessly fire a gun into any dwelling, building, occupied structure, or occupied motor vehicle.

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What Are the Penalties for Weapons Violations?

Offenses committed while hunting usually carry a license suspension point penalty. If you accumulate 20 license suspension points in a five-year period, your hunting license may be suspended from 0-5 years or 1 year to a lifetime suspension, depending on the offenses. If you drive with a loaded firearm, you can receive a ticket, an unclassified misdemeanor on your record, and 15 license suspension points, so it’s a good idea to make sure all firearms are unloaded before you put your vehicle in gear.

If you are caught hunting without fluorescent gear, you will receive a fine of $100, a 37% surcharge, and five suspension points. People who break the rules regarding artificial light / night vision and thermal imaging will receive a fine of $2000, and 20 license suspension points (you are subject to a 0-5 year suspension). If you hunt without a proper and valid license, you are also committing an unclassified misdemeanor, and the fine you receive will depend upon the type and size of the animal. Depending on the animal you took, you will also receive between 5 and15 license suspension points.

Shooting from the road, whether you’re using a bow and arrow or a firearm, is an unclassified misdemeanor in Colorado. The penalty includes a $100, a 37% surcharge, fine and five license suspension points. However, if your shooting is creating a risk of injury to other people, there’s a chance you might also be charged with reckless endangerment, another misdemeanor offense, which can result in $50 to $750 in fines and up to six months in jail.

Hunting under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance is punishable by a fine of between $100 and $1,000, a 37% surcharge, a county jail sentence of up to a year, and 20 license suspension points (you are subject to a 0-5 year suspension). Illegal discharge of a firearm is one of the more serious offenses a hunter can commit and is a Class 5 felony. The penalty is 1 to 3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole) and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.

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What Are the Common Defenses?

There are not many defenses to driving with a loaded hunting rifle, so it’s best to just ensure your rifle is not loaded. Although, if the officer violated your constitutional rights, there are defenses to the offense. If you shoot from the road and get caught, a few potential defenses may be that the road was on private property or that it was not a classified as a road by the state or the officer did not properly measure the distance from the road. Unfortunately, in this situation it’s not a defense to say that you discharged the firearm by accident. However, if you are caught without your license or hunters education certificate on you, it might be mitigation defense if you genuinely just forgot to take the documents out of your truck.

If you’re caught hunting while under the influence, you might be able to argue that while you had been consuming alcohol or drugs, you still weren’t impaired to the point that you could not safely operate a firearm or weapon.

Some potential defenses to a charge of reckless endangerment are:

  • Your conduct was accidental, rather than reckless
  • There was no risk of serious bodily injury to another person
  • A reasonable person in the same situation would not have been aware of the risk

If you’re charged with illegal discharge of a firearm, you could potentially argue:

  • You weren’t knowing or reckless but just negligent
  • You didn’t know your gun was loaded
  • You were acting in self-defense or defense of others

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Schedule a Consultation With a Colorado Wildlife Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a weapons violation (or any other crime) while hunting, it’s important to get good legal advice straight away. Patrick F. Welsh from Welsh Law, LLC, is an experienced wildlife law lawyer, available to give advice on all hunting queries.

Call Welsh Law, LLC, at (720) 836-1777 today for a free 30-minute consultation.

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