Question: Over the years I've been asked by DFG officials to produce my hunting license, show my game, show my gun and show my shells. However, this past weekend, my brother and I, as well as other hunters, were asked at the refuge parking lot to voluntarily submit to a pat-down search and to have our gear thoroughly examined for extra shells beyond the 25-shell limit. I really felt like the pat-down search was a bit much. We were only a few hundred feet from the parking lot, we arrived well before shoot time and we fully complied without any resistance. I'm assuming that since we were asked, we were not required to submit to the search.
The only related regulation I can find is this: "The department may inspect the following: (a) All boats, markets, stores and other buildings, except dwellings, and all receptacles, except the clothing actually worn by a person at the time of inspection, where birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibia may be stored, placed, or held for sale or storage."
I have three questions: Could I have refused to submit to a pat-down search? What would have been the repercussions of refusing? What are the repercussions of having more than 25 shells in the field?
Answer: Mike Carion, the Northern California district chief, said a search of the clothing a person is wearing is non-negotiable but limited to situations when an officer believes the person might have a weapon. Outside that, a clothing search can only be conducted with permission or in conjunction with an arrest.
That being said, hunting equipment and all "containers" are subject to inspection by wardens. Failure to allow a search is grounds for arrest.
Many types of hunting gear are designed to hold shotgun shells, game, etc. These items are not technically clothing as defined by the law, but are more like equipment, and thus would not be exempt from a search. If the purpose of the search is merely to locate hunting equipment, the officer can ask the person to remove this type of hunting gear so it can be searched. For example, a hunter could be asked to remove a hunting jacket, game bag or maybe even waders if they were designed to hold equipment.
A person can deny consent to search their clothing. But consenting is a smart choice. If an officer believes a person might have a firearm or other dangerous weapon and there could be a potential officer safety issue, the individual can still be searched.
So, to answer your questions:
1) Yes, you can refuse a pat down.
2) Though refusing a pat-down search could raise a "red flag," which may cause the officer to think you are hiding something. It is legal to withhold consent to a search.
3) As for the repercussions for having more than 25 shells in the field, you could be cited or possibly ejected from the area.
Q: Can I give fish away to friends and family? If so, do they need to have a fishing license for me to give it to them?
A: Yes, you can give fish away. Though you can only take one bag limit per day, you can give that limit away so that you can go fishing another day and not be in violation of the possession limit. The recipient of your fish does not need to have a fishing license, but cannot possess more than the legal limit at any time.
Remember: Though your friends are allowed to possess fish without a license, if they are in a boat or in the field and have access to fishing equipment, this is prima facie evidence that they took the fish themselves — so make sure the fish are taken home and you are not out in the field when you give your fish to an unlicensed person. Possession of fish and equipment used to take fish when out in the field or coming back from a fishing trip is evidence the person was fishing and they can be cited for not having a license.
Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. Send questions to: CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.