Last Updated: 10th May 2023
While California is renowned for its sun-kissed beaches and stunning coastal scenery, there’s much more to discover beyond the surf and sand. That’s right – we’re talking about hunting in California!
California boasts a remarkable variety of game species and landscapes that cater to hunters of all levels and interests. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of hunting in this stunning state, covering everything from the diverse wildlife and hunting opportunities.
But amidst all the fun and enjoyment, it is important to note that California has some of the strictest hunting regulations in the United States. These regulations encompass gun restrictions and highly competitive permit drawing, which can impact the hunting experience.
Are you up for an exciting experience? Once we’re done here, you’ll be fully prepared for an incredible hunt in the state. Shall we get started?
Table of Contents
California Hunting Seasons
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) manages and oversees hunting seasons to ensure ethical and responsible conduct while preserving ecosystems and wildlife populations.
Here’s the general rundown of the open hunting seasons in California:
Big Game Seasons
|Dear Hunting||General Season: Mid-August to early November|
Archery: Early July to late October
|Elk Hunting||General Season: Early September to early January|
Archery: Late July to mid-November
Apprentice: Mid-August to early January
|Black Bear Hunting||General Season: Mid-August to late December |
Archery: Mid-August to mid-September
|Pronghorn Hunting||General Season: Early August to mid-September|
Archery: Early to mid-August
Apprentice: Late August for a week
|Bighorn Sheep Hunting||Mid-August to mid-September; Early December to early February|
|Wild Pig Hunting||Year-Round|
Other Game Seasons
|Wild Turkey Hunting||Spring General Season: Late March to late April|
Spring Archery Season: Early to mid-May
Fall Season: Mid-November to mid-December
|Waterfowl Hunting||Ducks and Geese: Early October to late January|
Coots, Moorhens, and Snipes: Early October to January
|Upper Game Birds Hunting||Quail: Late September to late January|
Pheasant: Early November to late December
Chukar: Mid-October to late January
Dove: Early to late September; Late November to late December
|Small Game Hunting||Rabbit and Hare: Early July to late January|
Tree Squirrel: Mid-September to late January
Tree Squirrel-Archery: Early August to early September
Remember that these are the general rundown of the hunting season dates for each species.
Hunting dates vary depending on the hunting zone you’re planning to hunt.
Popular California Hunt
One of the reasons deer hunting is famous in California is the state’s diverse landscapes and habitats, which provide excellent homes for both black-tailed deer and mule deer.
The variety of terrain, from coastal areas and forests to mountains and deserts, offers unique challenges and beautiful backdrops for deer hunting adventures.
The number of antlerless deer tags issued in California is restricted to regulate hunting, ensuring a healthy breeding population and balanced sex ratio.
Also, California enforces antler point restrictions to manage the age structure of the deer population in some areas.
This protects younger bucks, allowing them to reach maturity and contribute to the gene pool, ultimately improving the overall health of the deer population.
Black Bear Hunting
Black bear hunting is another exciting hunting opportunity available in California.
The state’s healthy and sustainable black bear population makes it a popular destination for bear hunters.
Black Bear Regulation
To legally hunt black bears in California, resident, and nonresident hunters must have black bear hunting tags on top of the hunting license.
It is important to note that hunting bears weighing less than 50 pounds or sows with cubs is illegal.
Wild Pig Hunting
California allows wild pig hunting year-round, so hunters can pursue these animals without worrying about a specific hunting season. This also comes with no daily or seasonal bag limit.
Also, various methods are allowed to hunt wild pigs in the state, such as spot-and-stalk, still hunting, and hunting with the aid of calls.
These reasons appeal to hunters with different skill levels and preferences, making it a popular hunting species in the state.
Wild Pig Regulation
Like other big game species, hunters must obtain a separate wild pig hunting tag in addition to their hunting license.
While hunting wild pigs with dogs is permitted, it is crucial to remember the limitations on the number of dogs allowed and the requirement for GPS collars and treeing switches.
Unique California Hunt
California offers some unique hunting opportunities that you might find intriguing. These hunts have limited permits, making them highly sought-after species by hunters.
It’s important to note that these hunts are only possible with randomly-drawn hunting permits. Meaning hunters must go through the application process to be eligible for these hunting experiences.
Tule elk are native to the state and found nowhere else in the world. They’re smaller and lighter in color than their Rocky Mountain elk cousins, making them a distinct trophy for hunters.
Tule elk are primarily found in the grasslands, marshes, and oak savannas of California’s Central Valley and coastal regions.
They’ve adapted well to the state’s unique ecosystems, and their population has recovered from near extinction due to conservation efforts.
Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep are a distinct subspecies found only in California. Their limited range and small population make hunting opportunities scarce, adding an element of prestige and exclusivity to the experience.
These majestic animals live in the rugged, high-elevation habitats of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, making them a challenging and rewarding quarry for hunters.
Best Hunting Places in California
California is home to diverse hunting opportunities, thanks to its varied landscapes and abundant wildlife.
Here’s the list of the top hunting locations in California and what makes each of them stand out:
Cache Creek Wildlife Area
This over 70,000-acre wildlife area in Lake and Colusa countries is among the favorites of deer, wild pigs, and quail hunters.
The area’s varied habitats, such as oak woodlands, grasslands, and chaparral, provide ideal conditions for a diverse range of game species.
This area is not just home to a thriving population of game species. It is also a picturesque destination providing a beautiful backdrop for your hunting adventure. This wildlife area is accessible year-round and offers hiking trails and camping opportunities for a complete outdoor experience.
Los Padres National Forest
Stretching across the Central Coast and Southern California, Los Padres National Forest boasts vast hunting grounds for deer, black bears, wild pigs, and small game species.
The forest’s mixed terrain, including mountains, canyons, and valleys, creates a challenging yet breathtaking hunting environment for hunters to enjoy.
This national forest boasts a wide array of vegetation, including chaparral, oak woodlands, and lush conifer forests, which offer great cover and food for game animals.
Remember to obtain a forest-specific permit and follow all regulations before exploring this vast wilderness.
Grizzly Island Wildlife Area
Located in Solano County, the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area spans over 12,900 acres and is situated in the heart of the Suisun Marsh – the largest contiguous estuarine marsh in the United States.
This area is a haven for waterfowl hunting, providing crucial habitat for ducks, geese, and other migratory birds. The diverse ecosystem, comprising tidal wetlands, seasonal wetlands, and uplands, supports various wildlife.
Interestingly, Grizzly Island is also home to the Tule elk, offering limited hunting opportunities for this unique species native to California.
In Southern California, Tejon Ranch is a vast private property spanning over 270,000 acres. As a private property, hunters who wish to hunt on this land must hire a professional guide and pay the associated fees.
The ranch offers a diverse range of guided hunting experiences for deer, elk, wild pigs, and upland game birds like quail, dove, and chukar.
At the ranch, preserving the natural habitat is a top priority, which has led to the flourishing of the ecosystem and the abundant presence of wildlife. Visitors fond of hunting can relish the breathtaking scenery and thrilling adventures of the oak hills and pine forests.
Carrizo Plain National Monument
If you’re looking for hunting opportunities for deer, pronghorn antelope, and small games, this national monument in San Luis Obispo County may be worth considering.
It offers a picturesque setting with vast grasslands and a unique landscape featuring the striking Soda Lake, but it’s also home to many endangered species and native plants and animals.
However, please note that hunting access may be limited due to its status as a national monument. For this reason, it’s essential to check the regulations before planning your hunt.
If you’re planning to hunt in California for the first time, finishing a hunter education course is mandatory before you can buy a hunting license.
The state offers different hunting licenses to cater to the diverse demographics and the needs of aspiring hunters. Here’s the rundown of the available hunting license in California:
|Disabled Veteran Hunters||$7.98|
|Short-term Hunting||1-day Hunting: $24.33|
2-day Hunting: $49.94
Species Hunting Tags
In addition to your license, you’ll need the appropriate tags or validations for the specific game species you’re targeting. Some species, like deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, may have limited tags available through a random drawing system.
|Bighorn Sheep Tag||$521.91||$1,630.62||N/A|
|Wild Pig Tag||$24.33||$81.53||N/A|
|Black Bear Tag||$49.96||$321.95||N/A|
State’s Firearm Restrictions
California has some of the strictest firearm regulations in the United States, which can impact the hunting experience in the state.
The state has strict regulations on what it considers assault weapons. These regulations prohibit using certain semi-automatic firearms with specific features, such as pistol grips, flash suppressors, or collapsible stocks.
As a result, some popular hunting rifles or shotguns may be classified as assault weapons and are not legal for hunting in California.
California has strict hunting regulations and costly licensing requirements to preserve and conserve wildlife. However, despite these measures, hunting in California remains a top choice for those seeking ample opportunities and breathtaking scenery.
Want to broaden your knowledge about hunting opportunities in other US states? Our hunting-by-state guide is just for you!