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What Animals Can You Hunt in California? 9 Common Game Species

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three elk hunters

As one of the largest and most biologically diverse states in the U.S, California is a prime spot for hunters looking to hunt game. There are over a dozen animals you can legally hunt, whether you’re after either birds or mammals. In this article, we’ll cover nine common game species that you can hunt in the Golden State, with useful information about which regions and times are available for sport and a few reasons why you might want to hunt certain animals. See below to learn more! 

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Top 9 Animals You Can Hunt in California:

1. Deer

white tailed deer
Image Credit: Daina Krumins, Pixabay
Regions Northern, eastern, western
Seasons Late summer and fall

Among all game animals, deer are probably the most commonly hunted. Whether you’re out for your first time or an experienced veteran, these animals are a good choice due to their size, popularity, and tasty meat. Finding them shouldn’t be too difficult, and it’s recommended that you hunt at dusk or dawn to increase your chances of success. Hunting sectors are predominantly in the northern, eastern, and coastal regions of the state. If you’re interested, there is also an option for a Premium Deer Tag Drawing.

2. Bears

bear in forest
Image Credit: LTapsaH, Pixabay
Regions Northern, eastern, western
Seasons Late summer and fall

Californian residents can hunt bears in the state, with the date of the bear coinciding with deer season. Depending on the time of year, you can hunt with a bow or rifle. Black bears are the only native bear species in California, so don’t expect to get a grizzly or brown bear. The hunting period typically starts in July or August and ends in December. However, the archery period is far shorter: from August to September. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) may close the general season sooner if the number of successes has hit its 1,700-count threshold.

3. Pronghorns

pronghorn in the middle of the field
Image Credit: mdimock, Pixabay
Regions Northeast
Seasons Late summer

Pronghorns are a relatively common animal in the west but aren’t hunted much in California. According to the CDFW, the total number of harvested pronghorns in 2021 was just 201. This might be due to the short time hunters have to get one since they have less than a month. Still, pronghorns are prized not just for their meat but for their unique horns and the excitement they bring to the table. Not many applicants get this opportunity, but it’s a special occasion and memory you won’t forget!

4. Elk

A male elk with large horns
Image Credit: Josef Pittner, Shutterstock
Regions Northern
Seasons Late summer and late fall

There are several reasons why some hunters prefer to hunt elk over deer. Their enormous size, monumental antlers, and taste make for superb wall decorations and dinners. Due to their prominence in the mountains and temperate forests, hikers often stumble upon them while climbing. Their hunting range varies quite a bit since their hunting regions are based on the type of elk. Based on California’s official records, three of these types live in the state: Roosevelt, Tule, and Rocky Mountain.

5. Bighorn Sheep

desert bighorn sheep
Image Credit: Mike Goad, Pixabay
Regions Southern, eastern
Seasons Winter and late summer

The iconic bighorn sheep, also nicknamed the ram, is one of the most famous wild animals in the U.S, with their range spanning most of the western parts of the nation. Californians can hunt these beasts, but the hunting regions are fairly limited. The only approved areas are located in San Bernadino and Riverside counties, except for one small local of Mono. You can only hunt the animals in the wintertime unless you visit the White Mountains from August to September.

6. Boars

wild boars in the grass
Image Credit: Ralph, Pixabay
Regions Variable
Seasons All seasons

Wild pigs are unlike their domesticated cousins since they have a short temper and formidable tusks on their faces. Boars are generally hunted at night using infrared scopes to precisely track the animals. Keep in mind that some counties do not allow hunting after sunset. At this time, there is no limit to how many wild pigs you can bag, and you can spend as much time hunting as you want. There are several areas where boars are hunted with a special permit, such as Camp Roberts, Carrizozo Plains Ecological Preserve, Grizzly Island Wildlife Area, and Cottonwood Creek Wildlife Area. Hunters are allowed to use crossbows for pig hunting.

7. Waterfowl

Wild motley waterfowl on the lake
Image Credit: Frezi Gate, Shutterstock
Regions Varies on the species
Seasons Fall and winter

There’s no shortage of aquatic birds living in California’s diverse waterways, and there are several waterfowl species you can hunt in the state. Equipped with your shotgun, you’ll be able to hunt geese, ducks, coots, moorhens, scaups, and more. Rather than having a one size fits all approach, there is a season for each bird species, ranging from October to March. The bag limits can exceed 20 in many cases, whereas some waterfowls will have more restrictions.

8. Upland Game Birds

hunter holding pheasant bird
Image Credit: Steve Oehlenschlager, Shutterstock
Regions Varies on the species
Seasons Late summer to winter

Hunters aren’t restricted to waterfowl, as game birds such as pheasants, quail, chukar, ptarmigans, grouse, pigeons, doves, and turkey are all available to hunt. What’s special about hunting these in California is that you can pursue game with firearms, bows, and falcons. Special permits may be required based on what you’re after, and the hunting season for upland game birds depends on your location.

9. Small Game

tree squirrel
Image Credit: GregReese, Pixabay
Regions Varies on the species
Seasons Varies on the species

Only a few small game mammals can be hunted in the Golden State: rabbits, hares, and tree squirrels. However, you can use falcons to bag the rodents, in addition to archery and general firearms. The daily bag limit for tree squirrels is four, which can be hunted from late summer to winter. You can bring home a maximum of five rabbits and/or hares per day, which can also be hunted from summer to winter. There is no limit to how many jackrabbits you can kill per day, and they can be pursued year-round.

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There are many game species in California, but knowing which you can hunt and at what times of year is indispensable information for hunters.

The best resource you can use is the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website, which you can find here. This will give you the most recent updates on regulations, specific county date ranges, and other details for California’s game. 

Remember to hunt safely and obey all local hunting laws. We wish you the best of luck!

Featured Image Credit: melissamn, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.