UPDATE. The amendments to the Federal Law “On Weapons” that legalize bows and arrows as hunting weapons have been signed into law by President Putin on August 2, 2019. The Hunting Regulations were amended to allow hunting with bows and crossbows effective January 30, 2020. At present, bowhunting in Russia is fully legal. The warnings about certain outfitters expressed below, however, are still valid.
If you’re an avid bowhunter with a drive to hunt abroad, you’ve probably heard the news that the Russian Parliament has finally made hunting with a bow in Russia legal, or even saw offers for bowhunting in Russia. Unfortunately, the media these days is not free of fake news, and this is one of them. This blog post will tell you why it is so, and why you shouldn’t book a bowhunting trip to Russia just yet.
Let’s start from the beginning. Russian hunting regulations allow hunting only with weapons that the Federal Law “On Weapons” classifies as “hunting weapons” (on the “what’s not allowed is forbidden” principle). And the weapons law – at present – classifies all archery gear as “sport” (meaning athletic competition), and not “hunting” weapons. Therefore, hunting with a bow in Russia is illegal, and is a misdemeanor, violating a number of articles in the hunting regulations that forbid hunting with illegal or not properly registered weapons.
An exception is high-fence hunting, which, according to Russian law, isn’t even hunting at all (it goes as slaughter of domestic animals). So, an offer to take a red deer, wild boar, or mouflon with a bow in Russia may be perfectly legit. But it’s obvious that there is no high-fence hunting for Kamchatka bear, Chukotka moose, Koryak snow sheep or Dagestan tur. Why do some outfitters and agencies already offer such hunts, coupled with a headline “The Parliament legalizes bowhunting in Russia”?
Here are the facts. A group of members of the State Duma, the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament, did introduce a bill that will amend the Federal Law “On Weapons”, so that hunting bows shall be classified as “hunting weapons”. This bill was voted on April 2, 2019, and passed in the first reading almost unanimously. But it is still a long way from becoming law.
The first reading is the most important stage in the Russian legislative system – a bill that has passed it has a 95% chance to become a law. But the first reading is only Step 1 of 5. The bill has yet to pass the second and third hearings in the Duma (Russia’s analogue of the House of Representatives). This is meant to give lawmakers a chance to amend the text according to criticisms and comments that surfaced during the debates. Often, at this stage the bill loses much of its initial strength. After the third hearing the bill is passed by the Duma and is headed to Russia’s analogue of the Senate – the Federation Council. If the upper house of the Parliament approves it, the bill is on the way to the President to be signed into law.
The whole process may take anywhere between a couple of months and a few years. For example, a law against cruel treatment of animals (which affected Russian hunters by efficiently banning many dog-training activities) was passed in the first reading in 2010, and then stalled for eight years, coming into effect only in 2018. Predictably, the thing that may delay the bill on its way to the President’s desk, or cause significant changes, is public backlash. So far the anti-hunters have not reacted to the bill in any measurable way, but you never know with this crowd.
The bottom line is, even though the bill passed the first hearing in the Duma, bowhunting in Russia is still illegal, and won’t be legal for many months ahead. Even if the bill becomes law in 2019, the hunting seasons, quotas, and regulations for this year are already in place. So, even under the most favorable conditions there won’t be any bowhunting trips in Russia until the 2020 season.
Even then there are many important questions to be resolved. The bill states that hunting bows shall be subject to registration, although the Russian National Guard, the law enforcement body responsible for firearms licensing and registry, says it will only keep records, and there will be no purchase or keep-and-carry permits. But shall international hunters be required to obtain a temporary import for their bows, like they now have to for their firearms? From our experience assisting hunters with import permits, we know that some people are having enough problems even with rifles, although the process is not too different (we have described the procedure in this blog post here). But what the regulations will be for the bows, is yet a mystery.
Another piece of paperwork that may greatly impact hunters and hunting are the nationwide Hunting Regulations. The Ministry of Natural Resources is currently developing a new version of the regulations, and claims the amendments will “encourage international hunting tourism”. But nothing is known beyond that. And beyond legislation there’s the hunt itself. There’s hardly a guide in Russia that has a shade of experience guiding bowhunters, although some are used to stalking animals within shotgun range. An outfitter who cares about his hunters’ good experience will probably take some time to make sure they can deliver a decent chance for a trophy.
What is absolutely clear is that bowhunters in Russia will not get any privileges as compared to rifle or shotgun hunters. Unlike their North American colleagues, Russian wildlife managers do not account for success rates when determining harvest quotas. The number of animals that the population may lose without any negative consequences is the number of licenses issued, and if hunters enjoy only 50% or even 25% success rate, it’s not the wildlife managers’ problem. Consequently, there’s no motivation for a serous outfitter to offer a bowhunting trip, and risk customer dissatisfaction.
A reliable outfitter will absolutely not offer a bowhunting trip in Russia at this stage. So, why do some outfitters offer bowhunting trips to Russia? Some may simply be deluded by the media headlines, which often sound as if the law is already in effect. BookYourHunt is really careful who we allow to market hunts on our online marketplace. Through our system you book your hunt directly with the outfitter but it is still BookYourHunt that stands behind our service. So, we try to vet the outfitters as good as we can, to prevent a bad experience. That said, here’s a small trade secret, for every Russian outfitter that gets to join our marketplace there are two who are denied the privilege because of a history of misleading clients and/or hunting violations. Be suspicious of any current bowhunting offers in Russia. Hunting in Russia is fantastic but you really should do your homework before you book!
Also, as we clearly are aware these days, do not trust everything the media says. While the headlines “Russian Parliament legalizes bowhunting” sound refreshingly positive, there’s still a long way to go before trophy books register the first bowhunting trophy from Russia. Sign up for our social media pages and the blog updates – when bowhunting in Russia becomes actually legal, and outfitters start offering genuine trips, we’ll be the first to report on it!
UPDATE: And here you go – since January 30, 2020, it is fully legal to use bows and crossbows for hunting in Russia!