In jurisdictions where the hunting and killing of certain fish and animals is regulated, a bag limit refers to the total amount of carcasses a hunter may keep and take home with him. Bag limits commonly apply to larger or rarer game including deer, moose, elk, and bears. Penalties for exceeding a bag limit can be severe depending on the type of animal and the amount exceeded. For game that is seasonally hunted, taking any carcasses at all out of season can be similarly illegal.
The goal of bag limit laws is to maintain a healthy population of given species and essentially ensure a sustainable harvest year after year. Their efficacy is rooted in the ability of the relevant government or agency to enforce them, however. In less developed countries, bag limit laws may well be on the books, but due to inadequate enforcement poaching is prevalent.
A common goal behind bag limits and regulated hunting in general is to mimic the effect natural predation may have on a given species in cases where natural predators have for some reason been driven away. As a result, bag limits are not static. A dynamic population management program typically varies bag limits each season to stay around a target number of males and females for a species. This is why bag limits for male animals are often greater than those for females, who may be in the midst of child-rearing and whose survival is more important for the species' continuation.
An example of a bag limit for deer may be three males, known as bucks, and one female, known as a doe, in a single hunting season. A hunter must document each kill, which he may then take to mount or butcher. The same applies for regulated fish, though many jurisdictions employ what is called a catch-and-release policy. Unique to fishing, catch-and-release policies allow anglers to fish as much as they want as long as all caught fish are returned to the water alive. Given the unpredictable nature of fishing as far as catching different varieties, areas with endangered species often restrict anglers to catch-and-release for all types.
Penalties for violating bag limit laws vary among jurisdictions. Many, however, employ an escalation approach, with punishments becoming more severe for repeat offenses. Examples of common punishments include fines, license suspensions and revocations, and sometimes jail time. There may also be overarching rules in a particular country that outlaw any killing of a particular kind of threatened or endangered species.