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California Hunting Overview

California hunting provides numerous opportunities for big game species such as elk, antelope, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, wild pig, and bear. Residents can also hunt for Tule Elk, a unique subspecies that is smaller than the more commonly-known Rocky Mountain Elk. However, nonresidents have limited options for big game hunting in California outside of deer.

Tags for several big game species, including elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and premium deer hunts, are issued through the big game drawing, which is available from April 15 to June 2. Hunters must have an annual hunting license and species-specific tags to hunt big game. Hunters may apply for the big game drawing through the Online License Service of the California Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Big Game Species

California is home to a diverse range of big game species, including deer, elk, antelope, and bears. Deer species can be found all throughout the state, while elk hunting permits are limited but worthwhile when obtained. Antelope is limited to northeastern California, and bears are only available to hunt during the same seasons as deer. Over-the-counter tags are available for black bears, although there are several restrictions such as not being able to hunt with dogs or bait.

Draw and OTC Sales and Dates

California Big Game DrawMule Deer, Columbian Blacktail Deer, Elk, Antelope, Bighorn Sheep, Black BearApril 15, 2024June 2, 2024
California Leftover Deer TagsDeerJuly 2, 2024 - 8AM (tentative)

California Hunting Point System

California uses a Modified Preference Points system. Hunters earn points for each year they apply for a hunting tag but are not drawn. Preference points in this system work as in a standard preference system. However in the Modified Preference Point System, tag quotas for each species are split into two portions: one portion awarded by preference point drawings, the other awarded in draw-by-choice drawings.

For deer, hunters must apply for the premium deer tag drawing but not be drawn for their first choice premium tag to earn a preference point. They can also elect to only purchase a point. If a hunter is drawn for a premium tag for their first choice, their preference points for that species will be reset to zero. If a hunter is successful in the deer drawing for their second or third choice, they will not use their points and will also earn one preference point.

For elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep, hunters earn one preference point for each species they apply for but are not drawn for the tag, or if they choose to purchase a point only. If a hunter receives a tag, they lose all accumulated preference points for that species. If a hunter is drawn for a tag of one of these species but do not purchase the tag, they do not lose their preference points for that species.

Hunters lose all accumulated preference points for any species if they do not participate in the drawing for that species for five consecutive years.

California Point Types

ElkPreference PointBoth
DeerPreference PointBoth
PronghornPreference PointBoth
Bighorn SheepPreference PointBoth

How to build points

Points can only be acquired through the annual draw.

Tags, Licenses, and Pricing

An Annual Hunting License is required to apply in the California Big Game Draw, including for purchasing a point only. An application fee is applied per species for elk, pronghorn, and sheep, including for points-only purchases.

General License Fees

ItemResident PriceNon-Resident Price
Annual Hunting license$54.00$188.74

Species Specific Fees

ItemResident PriceNon-Resident Price
Elk Tag$512.05$1,568.05
Pronghorn Antelop Tag$172.29$527.50
Deer Tag - 1st$35.38$317.00
Deer Tag - 2nd$44.28$317.00
Application Fee per species (Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, Bighorn Sheep)$8.13$8.13
Bear Tag$52.41$334.05
Bighorn Sheep Tag$468.75$1,736.75

California Hunting Regulations

Hunters Education

  • Hunters Education is required for all individuals, regardless of age. Alternatively, a hunter can provide a hunting license issued by another state within the past two years. These must be must be entered by a license agent.

Age Restrictions

  • To be eligible to hunt deer, elk, or antelope, hunters need to be at least 12 years old by July 1st.
  • For bighorn sheep hunting, the minimum age requirement is 16 years old by the same date.

Archery Limitations

  • Mechanical broadheads and lighted nocks are allowed.
  • Crossbows cannot be used during the archery seasons unless you possess a disabled archer permit

Group Hunting

In California, group applications are allowed for deer, elk, and antelope. Applicants may either join an existing group or create a new one, with the group leader receiving a unique Party Number.

  • Deer – up to 6 members applications are allowed per group, including both residents and non-residents.
  • Elk and Antelope – limited to 2 group applicants, residents only
  • Sheep – Group applications are not permitted

California Hunting FAQ

Waiting Periods

Youth Hunting

Landowner Tag Options

Weapon Restrictions

Return / Transfer Tags

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