California is known for arguably some of the most diverse terrain, climates, and public land for hunting access in the continental United States.
Depending on where you’re at in the state, you can be at the beach, the mountains, or the valley, all in under two hours from each locale.
Essentially, you can hunt waterfowl in the valley in the morning, and then head to the mountains, or the coast, in the afternoon for deer hunting, if you so desire.
Now, California often gets a bad wrap when it comes to hunting, and most of the time for good reason.
We have some of the most restrictive and ridiculous laws in place when it comes to guns and ammo.
For example, in 2016, California passed a highly restrictive ammo background check law, that was enacted in 2019, which makes ammo purchasers pass a background check prior to purchasing ammo. There are numerous “gotchas” about the law, such as not being able to buy ammo if you haven’t purchased a firearm at your current address in the past five years, but I won’t go into the nuances of the law in this piece.
Additionally, California was also one of the first states to ban lead ammo outright.
Everything here has to be “non-toxic”, which means instead of paying $15 or $20 for a box of .270, we’re paying upwards of $50 for a box of “non-toxic” copper rounds.
Needless to say, if you’re coming to hunt waterfowl or big game in California, you better brush up on the regulations.
As far as big game hunting goes, California offers tags for all the major species you’d expect such as deer, bear, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, pigs, etc. Draw wise, you can enter into the draws for tags every year, but for some of these hunts its relatable to winning the lottery.
Personally, I’ve been putting in for elk and pronghorn hunts for over 15 years and have yet to be drawn, however, if I buy a deer tag early in the season, I can secure a tag to a variety of California deer hunting zones relatively easily, others not so much though.
To say competition is fierce for public land deer hunting in California would be an understatement. The zones that I mainly hunt in (Zone’s D3-D5) are absolutely LOADED with deer hunters on opening weekend, something to the tune of 100,000 deer tags are sold every year for these zones alone.
With all of that pressure, it’s understandable why the deer hunting success rate is so low.
For the 2020 deer season, I managed to luck out and draw a tag for zone X7b, so this will be my first season hunting in an area with a noticeably higher success rate, something to the tune of 30% (ish), so we’ll see how that goes.
The season opens for X7b this coming weekend, so I hope I can report back with news of a successful hunt, lord knows we’re going to need all the help/luck we can get with the chaos happening with the fires and zone closures.
Waterfowl hunting wise, California’s Central Valley has a reputation for some of the best waterfowl hunting in the Pacific Flyway, with numerous public refuges and plenty of public lands easily accessible for hunting.
Species wise, the Central Valley is often loaded with Mallards, Pintail, Gadwall, Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Green Winged Teal, Wood Ducks, Divers, Canvasback, Ringnecks, Golden Eye, Scaup, and Bufflehead, just to name a few.
If you’re looking for geese, you’ll find Snow geese, Ross geese, Tule White Front, Greater White Front, Canadian’s, Specks, Lesser Snow Geese, and a few other species that frequent the valley.
Needless to say, you can knock a few waterfowl species off your bucket list if you know where to go and what to look for.
The vast majority of my public land waterfowl hunting has taken place in Northern California, so I can’t speak to other areas of the state, but for the most part, it’s a streamlined and easy to understand process that affords plenty of opportunities to get out in the field. The refuges in the area are easily accessible and the management is oftentimes very knowledgeable and willing to go the extra mile to help keep newcomers on the right path.
More often than not you’ll find the same guys every weekend in the refuge parking lots, so there’s plenty of opportunities to sync with like-minded waterfowlers and pick up a thing or two from the well-seasoned locals.
If public land hunting isn’t your thing, and you’re looking for something more private and less stressful, there are numerous duck hunting clubs located throughout the valley.
There’s really something for everybody and every budget out there.
I know waterfowlers that have been able to snag a seat in an average shooting duck blind for as low as $750, and I know guys on the other end of the spectrum that spend upwards of $250,000 a year on a membership to their duck club. The sky is truly the limit when it comes to duck hunting clubs, and often times you do get what you pay.
With the incredibly diverse amount of terrain and public land hunting access in California, you really can’t go wrong with giving big game or waterfowl hunting a shot if you get the opportunity.
Yes, there are some hoops to jump through, and more than a few asinine firearms and ammunition laws, but once you’ve got it dialed in there are few places in the country that offer such diversity in hunting opportunities.
For the uninitiated that might have questions or concerns, you can always leverage the Hunt Bums Forum for more information, or simply drop the Hunt Bums crew a line and we’ll do our darndest to help get you on the right track.