Animal campaigners have raised concerns about the possible “unjustified killing” of mountain hares before they are given new protected status.
Legislation passed by Holyrood in June will give the animals more safeguarding but with this yet to come into force, supporters are concerned culling will still take place.
The closed season, during which culling of mountain hares is forbidden, is due to come to an end on Friday.
Liz Ferrell, chairwoman of Scottish Environment LINK’s Wildlife Crime Group, said there is now a “legitimate concern that a pre-emptive killing of this species could take place”.
The group is now calling for this year’s closed season to be extended to prevent any “unjustified killing” of the animals – which are classed as a priority species under Scotland’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has already said the open season – during which the animals can be killed – is expected to start as normal on August 1.
BASC Scotland director Dr Colin Shedden said: “It is entirely appropriate for the mountain hare open season to continue until a workable licensing scheme comes into force.”
Campaigners say some 26,000 of the animals can die each year in hare cullings, which they claim often take place on grouse moors.
When the species was given protected status in June, gamekeepers branded it a “grave mistake”.
Alex Hogg, chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “This is a bad law made by people it will not impact upon.”
But Ms Ferrell said the change – which was passed with the support of SNP and Green MSPs – is an “important step in tackling wildlife crime in Scotland”.
The legislation was changed after rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon announced the Scottish Government will back an amendment from Greens co-leader Alison Johnstone to the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill to give mountain hares protected status.
It came after more than 22,000 people singed a petition in support of the measure.
Ms Ferrell said: “The elevation of mountain hares to protected species status in Scotland was necessary to safeguard their dwindling populations but there is legitimate concern that pre-emptive killing of this species could take place during this year before their new protections come into force.
“The Wildlife Crime Group members therefore urge the use of existing powers held by the police to extend the closed season for mountain hare culling to prevent any unjustified killing.”