All About Hunting In California

California, a western U.S. state, includes within its terrain cliff-lined beaches and the dense foliage of the redwood forest, which is the abode of a variety of unique animals, namely, Tule elk, California Clapper rail, California newt, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and the list continues.

It can be well ascertained that California’s diverse wildlife is one of the few examples of the state’s biological richness found nowhere else on Earth.

Since the state boasts of endemic species in plenty, California automatically becomes a paradise for the hunters who are in search of a game. However, there are certain rules and regulations which the hunters must abide by.

The positive aspect of hunting in California is that the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced a new endeavor to recruit hunters and anglers on a large scale.

Though it may sound quite paradoxical, hunters play a vital role in state wildlife conservation. They also aid to boost the funding for fish and wildlife conservation in California.

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1. Hunting Dates

Hunting dates are an important factor to be taken into consideration by the poachers. While separate hunting dates are applicable to the animals depending on their species, there are certain animals too that do not have any particular such dates and can be hunted throughout the year.

Breeding or nesting, age or gender distribution, recreational and economic concerns are the causes owing to which different states set different hunting seasons.

There are mainly two bases on which the hunting season is defined. Firstly, if the animal population is too large, the moderators will time it to offer hunters a greater benefit to hunt the game.

Secondly, if there is a dwindling animal population, the dates are set in such a way so as to give the animals a greater survival advantage.

The Golden State’s hunting seasons are segregated into different regional zones.  Separate seasons of big and small game hunting are described below.

1.1 Big Game

Big game in California consists of deer, elk, pronghorn, antelope, bighorn sheep, bear and wild pig.

Hunting season of deer commences from August 10 and ends on November 10. While hunting season of elk ranges from July 25 to November 1, bighorn sheep seasons generally run between August 15 and December 5.

However, there is a striking coincidence in the hunting seasons of California Bear and California Pronghorn (August 22 to September 6).

How To Apply For CA Big Game Drawings

1.2 Small Game

The category of small game includes Tree squirrel, rabbits and varying hare; and Jackrabbit.

The hunting season of tree squirrel ranges from September 12 to January 31 and between July 1 to January 31 for rabbits and varying hare.

However, there is no definite hunting season for jackrabbit and can be hunted throughout the season.

2. What Species To Hunt In California?

Being the home to a variety of species, California offers ample opportunities to the poachers in search of a game. There are 221 mammal species listed, including 181 terrestrial and 40 marines.

Being hemmed in by mountains, the state bestows a rare collection of fauna, which is a unique lineament of the Golden State.

2.1 Tule Elk

Among all the endemic species of California, Tule Elk are among the most easily noticeable, with populations sporadically spread throughout the state.

Tule Elk are the smallest subspecies of elk in North America and weighs about 400 to 500 pounds.

The coats of elk are light, buffy beige with a darker brown long-haired mane circling the necks of both the males and females. The female elks do not have antlers and the males drop theirs annually.

The hunters need to adhere to the hunting norms which are mentioned in the state’s official website.

2.2 Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep can be classified into- Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep and Desert Bighorn Sheep. The hostile climate of high Sierra mountain is the home to Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep. They have a brownish skin tone and have rounded horns.

The Desert Bighorn Sheep almost resembles to Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep with the only contrast being that the latter’s (Sierra Nevada’s) horns are more divergent as they coil out from the base.

An adult bighorn sheep stands at 30 to 39 inches tall at the shoulders. The coat can vary from a light sandy color or slate hue, with white on the stomach area and on the back of the legs.

The vehicle access is, however, limited to certain designated routes which the hunters must abide by. The hunters must also adhere to the rules regarding license.

Since altitude sickness has affected previous hunters, it has become imperative to ensure that the physical condition of the hunter is moderately good, with no serious ailments.

2.3 Pronghorn

Pronghorn is the only species that has survived among all the members of the Antilocapridae family. It resembles to a deer and weighs between 90 and 120 pounds.

It has a tan to reddish brown body while its cheeks, belly, chest and inner legs are white. The male’s horns are lyre-shaped while the female horns are generally straight.

The special characteristic of pronghorn is that it has excellent eyesight and can spot a threat up to four miles way! If it is threatened, it may attack with its sharp hooves.

Like other big game mammals, the rules and regulations are almost similar.

2.4 California Deer

California Deer is sparsely found on the floor of the interior valleys, but most frequently found near the banks of the river or streams. It usually has an oak woodland habitat.

Commencing from the 19th century, the state has consumed enormous amounts of natural habitat of the California deer.

Still, they can be spotted in the riparian zones. The antlers of the deer tend to have an upward growth and not in a forward direction.

The hunting season varies between different zones, which are listed in the official website of California’s Hunting Department. The weapons for hunting also vary according to the zones.


2.5 California Bear

The California Bear is an important component of the ecosystem of California. It has been categorized as a game mammal since 1948. The skin tone of black bears varies from tan or brown or black.

Being skilled at climbing, black bears can quickly mount a tree to defend themselves from a predator. They are mainly found at in mountainous area above 3,000 elevation.

However, bear hunting regulations have become stricter. Trapping or killing of cubs has been prohibited. The bag limit has also been reduced from two to one bear per license year.

About 30,000 black bears are now estimated to occupy 52,000 square miles in California.

2.6 Wild Pig

Domestic pigs were introduced in 1700s to California as livestock. Later, in the mid-1950s, a European wild boar was introduced, which bred with the domestic pigs and thus generating wild pigs in the process.

They dwell in a variety of habitats ranging from meadows to grasslands and woodlands.

Wild pigs could be killed with no such restrictions since they were unclassified under state law, until the mid 1950s.

However, wild pigs were given the status of a game mammal in 1957 by the Legislature and since then the hunters were required to possess wild pig license tags while hunting wild pigs.

2.7 Sage Grouse

Sage Grouse, or most commonly called, Sage Hen is a fowl-like bird and is a native of California. They can usually be found near areas of sagebrush, wet meadow and water. They live on sagebrush and green grass, insects, sunflower, etc.

It is quite an arduous task to hunt a sage grouse since they emit a sharp cackle and often have a strong sage flavor because of their eating habit. However, they are considered to be a prized game because of the delicious taste of their meat.

2.8 Jackrabbit

Jackrabbit is one of the natives of California and one of the largest North American hares. They occupy mixed shrub-grassland terrains. The black-tailed jackrabbit lives on a diet of shrubs, small trees, grasses and forbs.

It is an important prey species for many carnivorous mammals and a significant small game animal for the hunters.

3. Where Can You Hunt?

3.1 Public Lands

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife manages vast acres of public lands, which provide habitat to a rich variety of animals and plant species.

The public lands are generally open for hunters, unless there are any particular rural or local laws governing the same.  Bighorn Mountain Wilderness of 38,500 acres provides ample hunting opportunities, including mule deer, bobcats and mountain lions.

Shasta-Trinity National Forest is California’s largest national forest at 2.1 million acres, holding great potential for hunting. Madoc National Forest of 1.7 million acres offers both big and small game opportunities.

Best Hunting Zones in California Ever

3.2 Private Lands

CDFW has created the Private Lands Management (PLM) program which provides incentives to landowners to manage lands for the conservation of wildlife. 

Participation in the program demands the submission and acceptance of a sound management plan. Many PLM properties offer expanded hunting season dates and bag limits.

In 1983, the California Legislature voted to make this programme a long-term plan. Landowners participating in PLM program, after consultation with biologists, endeavor to provide ample sources of water, plant native plants for fodder and make brush piles for cover.

The hunters may find a little relaxation in the rules and regulations in the private hunting lands.

4. License Requirements

The hunting license is of utmost necessity if you want to go for hunting in California. The first prerequisite for hunting is to purchase a California hunting license, for which you must have proof of hunter education on your CDFW customer profile.

The forms which are accepted by CDFW as proof of hunter education requirements include: Annual California Hunting License (issued in any prior year) or Two-day California Non-resident Hunting License ( issued after 1999/2000) or Certificate of successful completion of a California-approved hunter education course from any state or province or hunting license issued within the previous two years from any state, province, European country, or South Africa.

In order to make sure that your proof of hunter education is added to your CDFW customer profile, the documentations that are required are: driver’s license or state identification card (if under 18 years of age, a birth certificate or Guardian’s identification may be used), GO ID ( Existing customers- Permanent CDFW number found on your licenses) and an accepted form of Hunter education.

How to Get a Hunting License in California

4.1 Age Requirements

Resident Hunting License is required for any resident 16 years of age or older who takes birds or mammals. Non-resident Hunting License is required for any non-resident 16 years of age or older who takes birds or mammals.

Junior Hunting License is required for any resident or non-resident less than 16 years of age who takes birds or mammals. To qualify, hunter must be less than 16 years of age at the beginning of the license year (July 1).

4.2 Senior Citizen License

Senior Citizen Fishing License is available for low-income California residents, 65 years of age and older, who meet the specified annual income requirements.

4.3 Resident Disabled Veteran License

California respectfully offers complimentary hunting license to its resident disabled veterans. The license can be available to any resident or non-resident honourably discharged disabled veteran with a 50 percent or greater service-connected disability.

After you prequalify for your first Disabled Veteran Reduced Fee Hunting License, you can purchase a disabled veteran license, anywhere licenses are sold.

4.4 Military License

California also offers hunting and fishing licence to residents who had once served in the military. It can be available to any recovering service member.

A recovering service member is defined as a member of the armed forces, including a member of the National Guard or a Reserve, who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy and is in an outpatient status while recovering from a serious injury or illness related to the member’s military service.

After you prequalify for your Recovering Service Member Reducing Reduced-Fee Hunting License, you can purchase a recovering service member hunting license, anywhere licenses are sold.

How to purchase a hunting license online in California

5. Rules and Regulations

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has set certain norms which has to be followed by the hunter. The regulations are enumerated below.

5.1 Distance Regulations

Except for the owner, or person owning the premises, or a person having the sole permission of the owner or person in possession of the premises, it is illegal to hunt or to discharge or throw while hunting, any firearm or other deadly weapon within 150 yards of any occupied dwelling house, residence or any barn.

5.2 Legal Hunting Hours

Although there is not much distinctly mentioned legal hunting hours in California, the hunters need to bear this in their mind that hunting and shooting hours for big game including deer, antelope, elk, bear, wild pig and so on; shall be from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset.

5.3 Hunter Orange Requirement

Although there is no such compulsion that hunters have to wear hunter orange clothing, it is strongly recommended that all hunters wear hunter orange clothing visible from all sides while hunting big game and upland bird.

5.4 Bag Limit

In California, there are certain tag permits or bag limits, depending on the size of the game.

5.5 Can You Hunt at Night?

Whether you can hunt at night completely depends on the type of animal that you desire to hunt. If you are in an area where night hunting is legal, you may only be permitted to hunt non-game mammals and furbearers.

You are not restricted related to the use of rimfire or shotgun, only on the condition that you may only use and possess non lead ammunition while hunting.

However, you are restricted to use a motorized vehicle, while using artificial light. For regulations on the use of lights, please check the California Mammal Hunting Regulations Booklet.

Tips from California Department of Fish & Game

6. Hunter Education

California’s first hunter education law was enacted in 1954 for those who do not have a hunter education certificate or who do not have a hunting license from other provinces.

Students need to choose any one mode for the classes, from the following options.

6.1 Traditional Hunting Education Courses

The course comprises ten hours of classroom, home assignment and field guidance in wildlife management, archery, sportsmanship and ethics, first aid and survival. Pupils of this course are awarded a Certificate of Completion at the end of the course.

6.2 Online Courses

Online course is not enough for a hunter education certificate. After the completion of the Online course, you will have to attend a 4-hour follow up class with a certified instructor, only after you have completed the written aspect of the class.

How to signup for a California Hunter Education Class

7. Bowhunting in California

Bowhunting demands a lot of patience, effort and perseverance. Before aspiring to be a bowhunter, one first has to be a proficient archer. However, certain rules that a bowhunter must take into account are:

  • If you are bowhunting during the archery season, it is illegal to have a firearm.
  • If you are intoxicated, you can’t use your bow to hunt birds or mammals.
  • It is illegal to shoot birds or mammals with bows via an internet connection.
  • It is illegal to fire arrows across a road or public way in an unsafe or reckless manner.
  • It is illegal to shoot arrows within 150 yards of a building.

7.1 Bow and Arrow Requirements

For bowhunting in California, there are no such well-defined requirements with the sole condition that the bow has to be a device consisting of a flexible material having a string connecting its two ends and used to discharge an arrow held in a firing position by hand only. Bow can either be long, recurve or compound bow.

8. Game Calls

Game calls refer to the signals made by the hunters in order to lure the game to the trap. There are two types of game call: hand-held and electronic. Hand-held game calls are carried out with the help of wood or plastic and are cost-friendly.

Electronic game calls are, however, not always considered legal. Recorded or amplified sounds may not be used to take any non-game bird or non-game mammal except coyotes, bobcats or American crows.


Hunting acts as a chief mode of entertainment and is an extremely popular sport, practiced all over the world. The benefits of hunting are multi-faceted and is mainly carried out for monetary and recreational purposes.

California, being the dwelling place of a rich variety of animal species, automatically becomes a hunter’s paradise. However, one has to take the legal measures and adhere to the hunting norms as mentioned in the official website of the California Department of Fish and wildlife:


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