Any deviation (poaching) from hunting or fishing regulations damages natural resources and negatively impacts both consumptive and non-consumptive wildlife users. This study explored deterrents to rule-breaking rooted in normative and traditional regulatory models, and evaluated factors influencing legitimacy of regulations by poachers. Hunters and anglers in North Carolina who had broken regulations (n = 60) were asked to rate the importance of poaching deterrents including sanctions (penalties issued for breaking rules), enforcement of regulations by wildlife officers, and normative social pressure. Respondents rated the known presence of game wardens as the most effective deterrent to poaching and rated factors associated with normative pressure as the least important. Respondents regarded regulations intended to promote wildlife conservation as the most legitimate and regulations that promoted fair chase and humane treatment of animals as among the least legitimate justifications for regulations. Public safety, humane treatment of animals, and environmental protection were more strongly supported as justifications for hunting regulations than for fishing regulations. Our findings highlight the importance of visible law enforcement, large penalties, and forming a clear nexus between regulations and sustainable game populations. Similarly there is a need to frame fair chase and humane treatment of animals as legitimate reasons for regulations, with the latter being particularly necessary for fishing regulations.