Is Tennessee’s Most Famous Weird Law An Urban Legend?

Pick up any “weird law” book, or navigate to any site listing “weird laws”, and you’ll find some variation of the following about Tennessee:

It is unlawful in Tennessee to shoot game animals from a moving vehicle. Except whales.

My kids absolutely love this strange fact about landlocked Tennessee.  So do I.

Unfortunately, I’m wondering if it isn’t true.  Or some weird extrapolation.  I can’t find the whale exception ANYWHERE in Tennessee Code Annotated. (Granted, I haven’t read every word – who could? – but no reasonable search turns up anything remotely resembling whales).   Here is the base law, TCA 70-4-109:

70-4-109. Hunting from aircraft, watercraft or motor vehicles unlawful — Penalty — Exception for persons confined to wheelchairs. —

(a)  It is unlawful to chase, hunt, or kill any wild birds, wild animals or wild fowl in the state of Tennessee from any craft propelled by electric, gasoline, steam or sail power, or airplane or hydroplane or from any automobile or motor vehicle, unless otherwise provided by law, rule and regulation or by proclamation; provided, that under no circumstance shall this subsection (a) be construed as authorizing the legalization of hunting from an automobile or motor vehicle while under power.

(b)  Notwithstanding subsection (a), any person totally and permanently confined to a wheelchair as certified by appropriate documentation to the executive director may hunt or kill any wildlife from a stationary automobile or motor vehicle during the lawful hunting seasons; provided, that it is unlawful for such person to shoot directly across or over any road, path or other right-of-way; and provided further, that any such persons shall be accompanied by another person who is not so confined at all times when hunting, and that such person shall retrieve all game taken in such hunt.

(c)  A violation of this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

[Acts 1951, ch. 115, § 36 (Williams, § 5178.65); 1979, ch. 237, § 1; T.C.A. (orig. ed.), § 51-416; Acts 1989, ch. 591, § 113; 2005, ch. 109, § 1.]


Now, I figured the “unless otherwise provided by law” clause to mean that there was an actual exception for whales somewhere in TCA.  There is an interesting section about “nongame mammals” in the definitions in 70-8-103, but that deals with species protection, not shootin’ whales.

A more likely scenario is that whales don’t fall under the definitions of “wild birds, wild animals or wild fowl” in Tennessee law, but that’s no fun.  I was hoping for an actual, codified exclusion for whales.

Are there any lawyers, law students, Tennessee judges, or lawmakers who can clarify this for me?  Is one of the most endearing facts about my home state not a fact at all?

(BTW, in researching this, I found the most wonderful document that puts together all the laws concerning animals in TN, from the University of Tennessee colleges of Law and Veterinary Medicine .  Check it out, although it’s a little dry.  Still, you can learn the most wonderful and obscure things looking at it).