From the later 14th cent. the right to hunt game, and particularly the edible game of deer, pheasants, rabbits, and partridges, was legally restricted to those members of the social order
with an income of £40 a year or more. The legal position was reformed and strengthened in 1671 in an effort to try to prevent anyone from hunting hares, partridges, and moor fowl, unless they had freeholds of at least £100 a year, or long leaseholds valued at £150. Wild duck, deer, and rabbits were not included in the legislation because they had a higher legal status as private property and their seizure could therefore be regarded as common theft. Sons and heirs of esquires and others ‘of higher degree’ were permitted by the 1671 Act to participate, while all lords of manors ‘not under the degree of an esquire’ were authorized to appoint gamekeepers with the right to seize guns and goods. The 1671 legislation also excluded non-landed wealth from the ranks of sportsmen, and turned the hunting of game into the exclusive pastime of a social minority. Not surprisingly the laws also produced considerable friction in the countryside during the 18th cent. Efforts to repeal the laws began in the 1770s, but came to a successful conclusion only in 1831. However, poaching
remained an offence, and as a result an undeclared state of war persisted in the countryside through the 19th cent., although the position was modified by the Ground Game Act of 1881.
game laws, restrictions on the hunting or capture of wild game, whether bird, beast, or fish. After the Norman Conquest (1066), England enacted stringent game laws, known as the Forest Laws, which made hunting the sole privilege of the king and his nobles. Other European feudal states had similar laws. The English laws softened progressively after the 16th cent., and in the 19th cent. hunting was open to all who obtained a license. In the United States game laws have been directed at protecting wildlife from indiscriminate slaughter by trappers, hunters, and fishermen. The almost total extermination of the bison in the 19th cent. demonstrated the need for conservation laws, now in effect in nearly all states. Common protective devices include prohibitions against lake and river pollution; designation of a closed season during which game may not be taken; limitation of the age, size, or sex of the game hunted; the requirement of licenses, even in open season; and restrictions and prohibition of the sale or possession of game meat. Ironically, because license fees often fund state conservation agencies, conservationist efforts often depend upon persons whose hunting may contribute to the endangerment of some species.
See W. C. Robinson and E. G. Bolen, Wildlife Ecology and Management (2d ed. 1989).