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Everything you need to know about France’s hunting season

Hunting, whether you are in favour or not, is hugely important in France with over five million people are registered to take part in the past time. Here's what you need to know about it.

Everything you need to know about France's hunting season
Hunters walk in a field on the opening day of France's hunting season in central France on September 18, 2022. (Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

When does it start?

Hunting season has a staggered start in France, as the dates are chosen by local authorities. For most of the country, September is the starting month. 

In 2022, the first départements to launch the season were those of Grand Est – Haut-Rhin, Bas-Rhin and Moselle – who began on August 23rd. In contrast, Manche, Indre, and Eure-et-Loire were listed as the final départements to open the season in 2022, beginning on September 25th.

Some départements have two different start-times within their locality – for Ariege the lowland zone started on September 11th, whereas the mountain (highland) zone started on September 18th. In Charente-Maritime, the whole of the département began on September 11th, except for Île d’Aix, who began a week later. Similarly, Deux-Sèvres launched their season on September 11th, but the town of Niort had to wait until September 25th. 

Outside of mainland France, the overseas territories begin hunting at different periods of time in the year. You can see the 2022 dates below:

  • Reunion: January 1
  • Guadeloupe and Saint Martin: July 30
  • Martinique: July 31
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon: September 3

France’s hunting association (Fédération nationale des chasseurs) has an interactive map on their website that allows you to put in your département number to see personalised information about when the season begins and ends in your area, as well as the contact information for the branch of your local hunting association.

When is it over?

The season in mainland France is mostly over by the end of February, though end dates are also staggered.

Here is the list of end-dates for 2022-2023 season:

  • January 8, 2023: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-Maritimes.
  • January 15, 2023: Haute-Savoie.
  • January 29, 2023 : Savoie.
  • January 31, 2023: Lozère
  • February 1, 2023: Aveyron, Moselle, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin
  • February 8, 2023: South Corsica
  • February 28, 2023 : Ain, Aisne, Allier, Ardèche, Ardennes, Ariège, Aube, Aude, Bouches-du-Rhône, Calvados, Cantal, Charente, Charente-Maritime, Cher, Corrèze, Haute-Corse, Côte-d’Or, Côtes-d’Armor, Creuse, Dordogne, Doubs, Drôme, Eure, Eure-et-Loir, Finistère, Gard, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Gironde, Hérault, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Isère, Jura, Landes, Loir-et-Cher, Loire, Haute-Loire, Loire-Atlantique, Loiret, Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, Maine-et-Loire la Manche, la Marne, la Haute-Marne, la Mayenne, la Meurthe-et-Moselle, la Meuse, le Morbihan, la Nièvre, le Nord, l’Oise, l’Orne, le Pas-de-Calais, le Puy-de-Dôme, les Pyrénées-Atlantiques, les Hautes-Pyrénées, le Rhône, la Haute-Saône, la Saône-et-Loire, la Sarthe Seine-Maritime, Seine-et-Marne, Yvelines, Deux-Sèvres, Somme, Tarn, Tarn-et-Garonne, Var, Vaucluse, Vendée, Vienne, Haute-Vienne, Vosges, Yonne, Territoire de Belfort, Essonne, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne.
  • March 31, 2023: Ille-et-Vilaine.

What can I hunt in France?

As of 2020, there were 89 species authorised for hunting France, divided between land-based game, waterfowl and migratory birds.

You are not permitted to hunt whatever you wold like – the game allowed to be hunted in your area is decided by your local authorities, sometimes on the day-of. Certain localities might prevent the hunting of particular species during certain times for environmental or other reasons. Some animals may also be subject to controls (i.e. only a certain amount can be hunted per year). 

Typically, hunting for birds is allowed for a much shorter time than for big game. 

You will want to check with local authorities to see what is authorised to hunt before heading out.

Getting a hunting permit

You must have a permit to hunt in France (permis de chasser). In order to obtain one, you must pass both a theoretical and practical examination. These are held all year round and are organised by the National Hunting and Wildlife Agency (Office National de Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage).

To get a permit you must be at least 16 years old and you must produce a relevant medical certificate.

Here is the list of things that can prevent you from getting a permit:

  • Having lost the right to bear arms;
  • Having been convicted of a hunting offence and be in good standing for previous convictions;
  • Having been sentenced to more than 6 months in prison for rebellion or violence against agents of the public authority;
  • Having been banned from the country;
  • Having lost the right to keep or obtain a hunting license;
  • Being registered in the national automated file of persons prohibited from acquiring and holding weapons.

The permit valid for life, but it must be renewed every year at a departmental hunters’ federation.

If you hunt without a permit, you can be subject to a fine of up to €1,500. Additionally, if you hunt without your permit on your person, then you can also be fined by up to €38.

You must also have paid your licence fees (known as redevance cynégétique). These run from €223.64 for an annual pass to €17 for a three-day pass. 

Where can I hunt?

You can hunt on any public land, though legally some areas might be required to create a ‘communal hunting association’ (ACCA) on the territory before hunting is authorised there. This means that if you want to hunt on land that has a communal hunting association attached to it, you must become a member of that association. 

Hunting on private land is allowed if it is your own land or if the land has been rented out or entrusted to an ACCA. 

According to the 1964 Verdeille law, which is still in effect in several regions across France, a landowner who has a plot of at least 20 hectares (in a single block) must cede their land to the local ACCA during the hunting season. If the landowner refuses, they must demonstrate to local authorities how they will manage the growth of ‘problematic’ species, such as wild boar. 

It is forbidden to hunt:

  • within 150m of a dwelling or private home
  • on land that has a continuous fence that impedes the passage of game;
  • on the land of an ACCA if the association’s hunting right holders have expressed their disagreement;
    on private land of more than 20 hectares without the owner’s authorization;
  • on another person’s private property 
  • In protected areas, such as regional and national wildlife

If you hunt in a forbidden zone you can be subject to a class five fine (up to €3,750) and three months of imprisonment.

Other rules

There are several safety rules in place. For big game hunting that uses firearms, hunters must wear fluorescent clothing. Additionally, signs must be posted before the hunt begins on public roads in order to indicate to passersby the main entrances into designated hunting area. Finally, as of 2020, hunters were required to complete basic safety training every ten years.

Regulations regarding specific depend on the département –  they often concern four types of fluorescent accessories (harness, armband, cap, vest – or chasuble).

When a hunter encounters a non-hunter (hiker, mushroom forager, etc), they must immediately open and unload their weapon and hold their dogs.

Tips for hunting in France as a foreigner

In many rural parts of the country, hunting is seen as a crucial institution. 

You may notice that the majority of hunters in France take their dogs and are on foot – it is rather uncommon to hunt on horseback. However, the dogs are typically from specific hunting breeds and are well-trained for the activity. You will want to consider this before bringing your household pet along. 

If you are interested in getting to know a bit more about French hunting culture, you might want to visit the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris. It includes several taxidermy collections and explains “the relationship between man and animal,” as well as France’s past and present when it comes to hunting.

Hunting weapons in France

A “hunting weapon” by French legal standards is a long gun whose total length is greater than or equal to 80 centimeters and the length of the barrels greater than or equal to 45 or 60 centimeters depending on the mechanism.

Hunting weapons (semi-automatic repeating long guns, manual repeating firearms…) are weapons listed in category C.

Hunting via archery is also regulated via licence. 

How to stay safe, for non-hunters

There are smartphone apps that exist for non-hunters to download to their smartphones. One is called “Melchone” which was launched in 2018 and partnered with the National Forestry Office (ONF). 

Essentially, the application allows users to see whether a hunting party is nearby to the area they are walking, biking, or riding in. For hunters, the program offers a separate section where they can update their hunting area and schedule.

READ MORE: How to get through France’s hunting season ‘without being shot’

Hunting accidents in France

For the 2019-2020 season, the French office of biodiversity (OFB) counted a total of 136 hunting accidents and eleven fatalities for that year.

In a statement, the organsiation wrote that the general trend of hunting accidents, particularly fatal ones, is “down” in France. 

In total, more than 400 people have died in hunting-related incidents between 1999 and 2020.

The majority of the victims (90 percent) are hunters themselves. 

However, these values have been criticised by anti-hunting organisations, like the Group for a France without hunting (Rassemblement pour une France sans chasse) who stated that the figures do not include deaths that happened long after, as a result of injuries.

Over half of hunting incidents occur when hunting big game, and they are typically related to the improper handling of a weapon. 

What are opinions about hunting in France?

Hunting is a controversial topic in France. Several animal rights organisations are strongly opposed to the practice.

In 2021, a citizens’ petition – supported particularly by hikers who do not feel safe during the hunting season – was considered by the Senate in order to ban hunting on Wednesdays and Sundays throughout the country. A poll by Le Journal du Dimanche found that 69 percent of French people were in favor of a ban on hunting during weekends and school vacations. 

READ MORE: La chasse: Why hunting is becoming an election issue in France

This subject became a controversy during the Presidential election – candidates like Yannick Jadot, from the Green Party, favoured a ban on hunting during weekends and vacations, so that other users could “walk in nature.” The leader of left-wing party, La France Insoumise, concurred. 

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‘My partner was killed by a French hunter who mistook him for a wild boar’

As France once again introduces new rules on hunting safety - including €1,500 fines for drunk hunters - we look at the issue of fatal and near-fatal accidents caused by 'la chasse', and speak to one woman who lost her partner to a French hunter's bullet.

'My partner was killed by a French hunter who mistook him for a wild boar'

Hunting is a perennially controversial issue in France due to the high number of accidents caused by hunters who do not respect safety rules. 

Over the past 20 years more than 100 people have been killed by hunters – the majority of the casualties are hunters themselves but other victims have included cyclists, hikers, dog-walkers and people outside in their own gardens. 

One of these victims was Susannah Hickling’s French partner Richard – who was shot by a hunter who mistook him for a wild boar in the Var département where the couple lived.

Susannah, a Brit who had moved to France the previous year, was left alone with the couple’s new baby.

Susannah and Richard. Photo: Sausannah Hickling

She said: “We lived in a really rural area of the Var département, in the south of France, and my partner had a business gathering and selling foliage to florists.

“He was out collecting one day in a forest about 50km from our home, with his father and his sister, when he was shot by a hunter.

“The man heard a noise and just fired blankly into the foliage, thinking it was a wild boar. The bullet hit my partner in both legs, it severed his femoral artery and he bled to death very quickly, before the emergency services could get there.

“At the time I was in Marseille because our son had been born prematurely and was in intensive care. The baby was improving and I was thinking it would soon be time to take him home and we would be a family.

“Instead I was alone with my newborn baby and the dog.”

You can hear the team at The Local discussing issues around hunting in the latest episode of the Talking France podcast. Download here or listen on the link below

Rules around hunting have been tightened up and several new laws introduced since Richard lost his life in 2003, but in his case the hunter was prosecuted for manslaughter – he had been hunting out of season, had fired blindly at vegetation without identifying a target and had switched ammunition from birdshot to bullets. 

Susannah said: “He was sentenced to 24 months in prison, of which 21 months were suspended. So he served three months in jail and lost his hunting licence.”

Although tragedies like this are thankfully rare, many inhabitants of rural France describe altering their daily behaviour during hunting season or feeling afraid when they know there are hunters in the area.

Julia Kornig who spent her childhood in Vaucluse, told The Local: “I grew up learning how not to go outdoors during hunting season, making sure to wear brightly coloured clothes and pretty much being terrified of getting shot during those times because it’s something that sadly happens very regularly.”

Kene Ovenshire, a veteran of the US Airforce, who now lives in Landes, told The Local: “My experience here in south west France during hunting season is that this is more of the Wild West than anywhere I’ve ever lived or visited in the US.

“I have a small 11 hectare farm, my home sits right in the middle of my property. My wife and I have eight horses and we enjoy riding on the paths that surround our home.

“But during hunting season we do not ever go out for walks, hikes, or bike rides. The hunters in our area are constantly coming within more than 150 meters of our home, on our property, and cracking off shots at the game they are hunting – pigeons, wild boar, deer, whatever.”

Claire Younghusband who lives in an old farmhouse on the border of the Lot and the Dordogne said: “Just about every weekend and some weekdays from September to February there are convoys of 4x4s and mini vans tearing up and down our lane and through our small commune where there is very poor visibility and dangerous corners.  

“We dare not enter our own woodland at this time of year and are increasingly concerned about being in the garden when we can hear the dogs,” she added.

And this is an experience that Susannah can relate to. She said: “Before this I had been aware of hunters in the area – during the hunting season I wouldn’t let the dog out, and if I heard them shooting nearby I would take the car down to the village instead of walking.”

But her biggest exposure to hunting was through her partner himself and his family.

“My partner was a hunter and his whole family were too – his grandfather was head of the local hunting group, and would tell everyone how he had been in the Resistance during the war and kept everyone fed on wild boar that he had shot.

“Hunting is very much part of the rural community – certainly in that area anyway – and many of the hunters were proud of how they conserved the land, cleared brush and took part in forest fire prevention work.

“My partner was always very hot on gun safety and hunting within the rules – so it was a tragic irony that he was shot by someone who was hunting alone and was breaking most of the normal hunting safety rules.

“My partner’s family were destroyed with grief at what had happened, and they were very angry about that three-month sentence, but they didn’t see it as a reason to stop hunting. They viewed it as one guy who was breaking all of the rules that good hunters should abide by.”

Since 2003 there have been several new codes introduced to try and make hunting safer – the most recent is the creation of a 14-point plan that includes the introduction of fines of €1,500 for hunters found drunk in possession of a gun or bow, rising to €3,000 for repeat offenders.

The code also includes some changes to the way that hunters get gun licences, but stops short of calls made during the 2022 election campaign for hunting to be banned at weekends – when hikers and cyclists are most likely to be out and about in rural areas.

And the gradual tightening of the rules is having an effect, with a steady decrease in the number of fatal accidents – in 2022 there were eight fatal accidents, all of which involved hunters themselves.

The Office français de la biodiversité, which tracks hunting accidents, recorded 44 fatal accidents in 1998, 19 in 2010 and 11 in 2018.

Susannah said: “I would not agree with banning hunting, I think it’s part of the rural community and it’s an important social activity for many people.

“But also there need to be rules and they need to be enforced – just as we don’t allow people to drink and drive we shouldn’t allow people to be drunk with a gun – so I definitely think a greater emphasis on safety is a good thing.”

Ultimately, Susannah ended up moving back to the UK with her young son, but still visits France regularly to spend time with her partner’s family and still harbours great affection for the country. Her son, now at university, is studying French.