Hunting Laws and Regulations in California

California Department of Fish and Game is the institution regulating hunting in the state of California. Anyone applying for a California hunting license must own a Hunter Education Certificate. Residents of the state of California may obtain a permit once they turn 16.

Who’s able to obtain a hunting license in California?

There are several types of licenses to obtain in the state of California, so here’s what you need to know:

  • Resident

A person living in California for at least six months is defined as a resident. Residents are considered to be the active-duty military members as well.

If you’re a California resident and plan on hunting, you must obtain a resident hunting license. Hunter pursuing big game need to get more tag licenses. Take a break to access the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website for more details.

  • Non-resident

The non-residents must own non-resident hunting licenses. Should they go after the big game, they also require additional tag licenses. Some restrictions may apply, so look into it.

  • Youth hunting license

The Junior Hunting License is mandatory for both residents and non-residents under the age of 18 wanting to hunt mammals and birds. Hunters younger than 12 need additional tag licenses for hunting big game.

  • Senior hunting license

In the state of California, there are no hunting licenses, specifically addressing senior citizens.

  • Military and Veteran License

It’s possible for active-duty military members to buy resident hunting license. Any recovering service member that is under medical treatment for serious illness or injury can apply for Recovering Service Member Hunting License.

Any disabled veteran (both California residents and non-residents) that have 50% or higher disability and have been honorably discharged can ask for Disabled Veteran Reduced Fee Hunting License.

  • Disability license

Any mobility impaired person is provided with the option of requesting free Mobility Impaired Disabled Persons Motor Vehicle Hunting License. It’s also possible for visually impaired persons to apply for free Visually Disabled Muzzleloader Scope Permit.

Disabled hunters can ask for Disabled Archer Permit too.

Side note: It’s only from July 1 through June 30 of the next year when the hunting licenses are good for use. Any California resident has the possibility of buy a lifetime hunting license.

What are the rules on hunter orange in California?

No law in California requires you hunter or blaze orange when hunting in California. However, the DFW suggests that all hunters should wear hunter orange clothing that is easy to notice from every side when hunting upland bird. It’s the same for hunting big game.

How many rules are for hunting big game?

We should start by highlighting that it’s illegal to use rifles and pistols for taking any mammal or bird in Picacho and Providence Mountains State Recreation Areas.

Deer, elk, wild pig, pronghorn antelope, and Nelson bighorn sheep are defined as big game. You need to check the terms on the forked-horn buck, antlerless deer, and either-sex deer.

You may hunt and shoot big game thirty minutes before sunrise to thirty minutes after sunset.

Here are some of the rules on hunting big game in California:

  • You can only take the big game with a firearm with non-lead projectiles and ammunition
  • It’s legal to use pistols and revolvers with centerfire cartridges with softnose or expanding shells on deer, bear, and wild pigs
  • You can use rifles with centerfire cartridges with soft nose or expanding projectiles, bow, and arrow, matchlock, wheellock, muzzleloading guns with black powder.
  • Revolvers and pistols with a minimum barrel length of 4in, with centerfire cartridges with softnose or expanding projectiles are legal to use for taking bighorn sheep and elk
  • You can use crossbows for hunting deer and wild pigs throughout the regular season
  • It’s illegal to use devices that throw/cast/project artificial light or modify a light source electronically, with the intend to enlarge an animal visibly. It’s not legal to throw/cast/project artificial light or electronically change a light source with the desire of pointing of aim straight on an animal.
  • You may use devices such as laser rangefinders (red-dot scopes) with self-illuminating reticles and fiber optic sights featuring self-illuminating sight/pins.
  • It’s illegal to possess a loaded muzzleloading firearm in a vehicle

Deer tags and general information

When hunting deer, it’s not only the valid California hunting license that you need, as deer tags are also necessary. You must have it on you when hunting deer.

In the state of California, you may obtain two deer tags per license year. A hunter requesting for deer tag cannot be younger than 12 before July 1 of the license year for which they’re asking. Should they apply after July 1, they have to be already 12.

It’s necessary that you ask for The First-Deer Tag Drawing Application or First-Deer tag before or at the same time with the Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application (only for the junior hunters) or Second-Deer Tag.

We should highlight that it’s not legal to obtain more than one First-Deer Tag Drawing Application/First-Deer Tag and one Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application/second-deer tag for the same year. Should you be convicted of deer violation the previous year, you cannot apply for deer tags next year.

The Fish and Game Commission is allowed to revoke the hunting rights of anyone convicted of three violations of the state’s hunting laws or regulations over five years.

There are hunt tags for various zones, so make sure you go to for more details. There are hunting zones only for archery, military lands hunt, and apprentice hunt tags.

It’s not possible to exchange the premium deer tags, but you can transfer non-premium deer tags if the following conditions are accomplished:

  • The tag quota for the exchanged tag was not filled
  • The earliest season (no matter if it’s general or archery) for the tag that is transferred hasn’t opened just yet
  • There are still tags available for the zone you require
  • You pay the exchange fee which is $10.30

Deer tag fees aren’t refundable, and Deer Tag Drawing Application fees are the same once the deer tag application went into the Big Game Drawing.

Archers that don’t possess and archery the only tag can hunt only in the zone, areas, or zones for which they own a general ticket or an area-specific archery tag.

Apart from the exceptions stated in the regulations (go to for more details), crossbows cannot be used during the archery season nor throughout the general season when using an archery-only tag.

Is hunting bear in California interesting for you?

Anyone hunting bear in California, no matter if resident or non-resident, should be at least 12 years old and own both a valid hunting license and a bear tag. CDFW license sales office, online, license agent, or by telephone sales is where you should look to buy bear tags. Hunters aren’t allowed to get more than one bear tag per hunting license year.

No hunter should own more than one bear per hunting license year.

Here are some regulations when hunting bear:

  • It’s not legal to feed or bait bears for killing them. It’s illegal to hunt bear over bait nor within a 400-yard radius of garbage dump/
  • It’s unlawful to get a cub or a sow with one or several cubs
  • Any bear hunter that goes with a guide has to check if the guide possesses a valid guide’s license. Don’t forget to write down the guide’s license number on the bear tag in the designated area.
  • Any licensed bear hunter taking a bear must return the validated return card portion immediately.
  • Only CDFW employees are allowed to validate bear tags. You have to confirm the bear tag before transportation of the bear unless you’re taking it straight to the closest authorized person for verifying the ticket. You have to validate the bear tag within one business day if the CDFW office isn’t open.
  • It’s not legal to sell parts of any bear in the state of California
  • Anyone taking a bear has to present the skull (even when damaged) to the CDFW office/officer. CDFW will own the head after you take the bear.
  • CDFW also demands a premolar tooth from every bear taken throughout the hunting season, to give the wildlife biologist with enough information.

What are the rules for hunting bobcat in California?

Here are some of the many rules to follow when hunting bobcat in California:

  • The bag and possession limit is five bobcats per season
  • It’s illegal to pursue, take, or own a bobcat without owning a hunting license and bobcat hunting tags
  • It’s not legal to trap a bobcat, nor attempt trapping, selling or exporting a bobcat or a part of it taken in the State of California.
  • Bobcat hunting tags are suitable only for the current hunting license year when bobcats can be legally harvested
  • Hunters with bobcat hunting tags have to carry the tag when hunting bobcats. They need to fill out the card entirely and permanently once they collect a bobcat. It’s also mandatory to attach a ticket to the pelt, keeping it so until it’s brown, dried, or mounted.
  • It’s not legal to import, obtain from out-of-state or receive for sale bobcat pelt or parts

In April 2019, Sydney Kamlager-Dove (California Assembly Member) has issued Assembly Bill 1254, which stops the bobcat hunting season in California. According to current California las, the bobcat trapping is banned in California, but hunting is still legal.

What are the regulations on elk, pronghorn & bighorn sheep hunting?

For instance, in 2018, you would be allowed to have no more than 16 preference points of any species. Going over the rules will show you that it’s not legal to make more than one application for a species. Even if you send more than one application for the same species, you will be denied to and even risk prosecution.

Applicants must pay $8.13 processing fee for the application and the fee isn’t refundable.

When it comes to restriction, you should know that applicants must be 12 years and up before July 1 and also own a valid California hunting license. Non-residents can be drawn for elk/pronghorn tags every year. In the case of an apprentice, they need to hold a valid California junior hunting license. If drawn, the junior hunters must go together with a licensed adult chaperone when hunting. The latter shouldn’t be younger than 18.

As for bighorn sheep hunting, the applicants should be 16 and up before July 1 of license year and own a proper California hunting license. There cannot be more than 10% of the Bighorn sheep tags provided for the non-residents every season year.

It’s not legal to apply as a party in the case of the Bighorn sheep tag. Funny enough, but anyone successful with the draw application and recipients of fund-raising tickets need to take the hunter orientation requirement.

A maximum of two residents are able to request as a party, whereas non-residents cannot use as a party for pronghorn or elk tags.

Is it legal to hunt wild pigs in California?

You’re lucky if you plan on hunting wild pigs in California as the general season is open all year. On top of everything else, there is no such thing as daily big or possession limit for wild pigs in the State of California, so hunt all you want!

What are the rules for the small resident game?

There are some areas in which you can take tree squirrels throughout the general season. Bow and arrow or raptor are legal for taking tree squirrels. However, it’s legal only throughout the general tree squirrel season.

When it comes to bag and possession limit for tree squirrel, it’s four squirrels per day and four in possession.

During the general rabbit and hare season, it’s legal to hunt a brush, cottontail, and pigmy rabbit and some hare with raptors. You can take five per day and have 10 in possession. Pay attention to the areas where it’s forbidden to take brush and cottontail.

For Jackrabbits, white and black-tailed, the general is open statewide all year, and there is no bag and possession limit.

In the case of resident small game mammals, thirty minutes before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset are the legal shooting hours.

Taking or attempting to take the small resident game with a firearm has to be according to the use of non-lead projectiles and ammunition under Section 250.1. Here’s what you can use for taking small resident game:

  • You cannot use shotgun shells that have shot sizes larger than no.BB, except for quantity larger than no.2. every shot has to be loose in the tank
  • You may use shotguns 10-gauge or smaller with shotshells that hold a maximum of three rounds in the magazine and chamber together.
  • Bow and arrow
  • Falconry
  • Gas or compressed air powered air rifles that you use with the caliber of the pellet. You can take a wild turkey with a bullet that is minimal 0.177 caliber
  • You can use firearm rifles and pistols only for taking rabbits and squirrels. In Los Angeles County, you cannot use guns and pistols.
  • It’s illegal to use electronic and mechanically-operated calling and sound-reproducing devices when taking resident game birds
  • You can only use coursing dogs for taking rabbits
  • Any archer hunter cannot own a firearm during archery season while archery hunting
  • It’s illegal to use live decoys when trying to take resident game birds
  • Crossbows, but there are some exceptions to check
  • You can only use revolvers and pistols for taking sooty and ruffed grouse in some counties
  • You may use dogs only for taking and retrieving small resident game.

 What are the requirements for migratory waterfowl?

Any hunter 16 and up should buy the Federal Duck Stamp if hunting migratory waterfowl. The California Duck Validation is needed for anyone planning to take a bird.

Hunters that own a Junior Hunting License make an exception. Moreover, hunters must possess proof of them completing the Harvest Information Program (HIP).

Here’s what unlawful when bird hunting in California:

  • You cannot hunt nor discharge a firearm within 150 yards of safety zone without having the permission of the owner or the person controlling the property
  • It’s illegal to hunt over bait
  • You cannot waste the carcass of any mammal or game bird
  • You cannot use live decoys when hunting waterfowl
  • It’s not legal to shoot unauthorized nongame birds
  • It’s not permitted to carry game birds without entirely feathered head or wing attached
  • You cannot take waterfowl or resident small game with a shotgun that holds more than three shells
  • It’s not legal to litter in or within 150ft of state water. It’s not lawful either to scatter where it can go into state waters. The empty shotgun shells reaching the state waters and not retrieved are also included.
  • It’s illegal to hunt on federal or state wildlife areas with no proper permit as needed.
  • You cannot use mammal (dog is an exception) or an imitation of a mammal as a blind in approaching or taking game birds
  • You cannot transfer tag, license, permit, application, nor reservation to another hunter
  • It’s not legal to fail to exhibit when asked by any peace officer the cards, licenses, devices used for taking wildlife
  • It’s not legal to own stamp, tag, license, permit, application, or reservation that wasn’t rightfully released for you.
  • You cannot use a hunting license that isn’t entirely filled out
  • It’s illegal to hunt without having the hunting license on you.

Instead of a conclusion

Hunting in California can be rewarding and fun, but you should never do it unless you’re playing by the book.