California’s 2023 Big Game Hunting Regulations are now available. Go online to download a copy at wildlife.ca.gov/Publications/Hunting-Digest. Non-residents may apply for Desert bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and antelope. Applications are due online by midnight on June 2, 2023. Draw results will be available online around June 16, 2023 at www.ca.wildlifelicense.com/internetsales/.
|California Species Specific Information
|California Bighorn Sheep
|California Pronghorn Antelope
|Available California Hunts (HF Adventures)
Hunters may apply online for the big game drawings at www.ca.wildlifelicense.com/internetsales/, at any Department license sales office, or at any license agent statewide. Once you apply, you will be issued a GO ID number that will also be your permanent ID for the future. No paper applications will be accepted. If your hunter education is on file in California’s Automated License Data System (ALDS), you can apply over the phone by calling 800-565-1458.
Non-residents may not apply as a party for sheep, elk, or antelope. Deer hunters may apply with up to six people as a party. The points only code for elk is 499, for bighorn sheep is 599, for antelope is 799, and for deer is PD.
Bighorn sheep, elk, and antelope applicants will only have one hunt choice. For deer, you will have multiple hunt choices, but everyone’s first choice is awarded before anyone’s second or third choices are considered. There is no non-resident quota for deer in California. You may only draw one bighorn sheep permit in your lifetime in California. There is no waiting period for antelope, deer, or elk.
For premium deer permits for adult applicants, 90% of the individual zone permits will be given to applicants with the most preference points. There will be 10% of the individual zone or hunt permit quota awarded to all applicants, regardless of their preference point status. For zones or hunts with less than 10 permits, 1 permit shall be awarded in the random drawing. For apprentice deer permits for youth ages 16 years old and younger, 50% of the permits will be awarded in the preference point draw and the other 50% will be awarded in the random draw.
For Desert bighorn sheep, elk, and antelope, if one permit is issued in a unit, it will be awarded through the random draw. If two permits are issued, then one permit will be drawn through the preference point draw and one will be drawn through the random draw. If three permits are issued, then two permits will be issued in the preference point draw and one permit will be issued in the random draw. Otherwise, if there are four or more permits, 75% of the permits will be issued in the preference point draw. Non-residents are limited to up to one antelope and one elk permit total in California’s drawing per year. For Desert bighorn sheep permits, up to 10%, not guaranteed, will be issued to non-residents.
You must purchase a non-refundable hunting license of $204.69 to apply in California’s big game drawing. For sheep, elk, and antelope, there will be an $8.13 non-refundable application fee, which is due when you apply. Successful applicants will receive a payment notification or their permits in the mail by July 2, 2023. Successful applicants will have until July 17th to submit payment for their elk, antelope, or sheep permit or it will be offered to an alternate applicant.
When applying for deer, you will submit the entire deer license fee, which is $343.25. If unsuccessful, you can request the difference between the fee paid for a non-resident deer license permit application and a resident deer license permit application, $343.25 - $38.62 = $304.63 for 2023. A refund request must be submitted on or before March 1st of the following year. The method of payment will vary, depending on whether you apply in person at a license agent or online. Only Visa or MasterCard will be accepted when applying online.
Anyone applying for a hunting license must provide evidence that they have taken a hunter education course. If you have never applied before, you need to set up an account either on their website or by calling the Department of Fish and Wildlife. You must provide proof of hunter education to a license agent or a CDFW license sales office. You may also contact CDFW by fax at (916) 419-7585 or email LRB@wildlife.ca.gov and provide proof of hunter education and GO ID or your personal identification number. After your hunter education is updated in ALDS, you will be able to purchase hunting licenses now and in the future. There is no hunter orange clothing requirement in California, but some military bases may require it.
There is no minimum age requirement for purchasing a hunting license if the applicant can show proof of hunter education, but big game hunting is prohibited to those under the age of 12. Applicants must be 12 years of age by July 1st of the license year for which they are applying for deer, elk, or antelope. For bighorn sheep, applicants must be at least 16 years of age on or before July 1, 2023.
California has a modified preference point system. Unsuccessful applicants will earn one preference point per species each year they apply. Preference points are species specific, not hunt, zone, or weapon specific. Hunters who choose not to compete in the drawing may earn a preference point by using the points only code for the species in the hunt code section of their application(s). For deer, you will lose all accumulated preference points when you are drawn for a premium tag as your first choice. For sheep, elk, and antelope, you will lose all accumulated preference points for a species if you are drawn for and pay for the tag. You also lose all accumulated preference points for any species if you do not participate in the drawing for that species for five consecutive years. Preference point totals for parties are determined by averaging the party members’ points without rounding up or down. For 2023, the maximum number of points any applicant may have is 21.
We have followed the sheep and deer permit allocation rules and have computed the draw odds if your application is drawn in the preference point draw or if you were drawn in the random draw. Draw odds for premium deer permits and the up to 10% for Desert bighorn sheep are true odds; however, where non-residents are limited to drawing only up to one permit for elk and antelope annually, these are not true odds and are simply a reference to the number of overall applicants.
Hunters must be under 18 years of age on July 1, 2023 in order to be eligible for a 2023-2024 junior hunting license.
In the junior or apprentice hunts, 50% of the permits will go to the applicants with the most points and 50% will be awarded in the random draw. Junior hunting licenses for resident and non-resident hunters are $15.38 for 2023. However, non-resident juniors don’t get a discount on any permit fees.
No lead ammunition can be used for any wildlife with a firearm across the state of California. This law builds on a previously enacted ban on the use of lead ammunition for big game hunting within the range of the California Condor.
Muzzleloaders must be loaded from the muzzle and be at least .40 caliber. Scopes are not allowed on muzzleloaders. Use of a one power scope may be awarded if you are visually disabled. The application can be found on California’s website by searching “disabled permit.” Crossbows cannot be used during the archery seasons unless you possess a disabled archer permit. Rifles using centerfire cartridges with soft nose or expanding projectiles, bow and arrow, or muzzleloading rifles may be used to take big game.
If there are any premium deer hunt permits remaining after the big game drawing, first deer permit applicants may apply for any leftover premium deer hunt permits starting at 8 a.m. on July 2, 2023. For second deer permits, leftover permits go on sale at 8 a.m. on August 2, 2023. For the bighorn sheep, elk, and antelope drawings, there are alternates drawn in addition to the successful applicants. California has a Private Lands Wildlife Enhancement and Management Program where landowners can receive transferable permits for elk, deer, and antelope. For more information, go to www.wildlife. ca.gov/Hunting/PLM.
There are no permit refunds once you obtain a big game permit. Premium deer permits may not be exchanged. Non-premium deer permits may be exchanged if certain criteria are met. See the 2023 Hunting Digest on page 12 for a list of the criteria. A $12.36 fee will be charged on your request for an exchange.
All permit holders for Desert bighorn sheep, elk, deer, and antelope must fill out a report, whether they harvest or not. There is a non-reporting penalty fee of $21.60 that will be assessed to 2023 deer permit holders who fail to submit a harvest report by January 31, 2024. Hunters can log into their internet sales profile to “harvest reporting” or they can mail in the physical harvest report card to CDFW Wildlife Branch, PO Box 944209, Sacramento, CA 94244-2090. For more information on reporting and tag countersigning requirements, as well as a list of those authorized to validate or countersign tags, see pages 20 and 21 of the 2023 hunting digest.
For general maps detailing individual zone or additional deer hunt boundaries, go to www.wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/Deer#54774-zones--hunts. BLM maps are available by calling 916-978-4400 or by visiting www.blm.gov/media-center/public-room/california/public-room-maps-sale.
The SHARE Program will offer elk, wild hog, deer, and turkey hunts allocated on multiple different private properties throughout different counties. There is no separation between non-residents and residents. A chance may be purchased for $12.70 (2022 fee), and a hunter can purchase up to one chance per hunt. Permits are issued by a random draw. For more information on these hunts, visit California’s website at www.wildlife. ca.gov/Hunting/SHARE or our California opportunity section in the July issue.
The CDFW closely monitors known resident wolves to conserve and manage California’s wolf population. Since Oregon wolf OR-7 entered California in late 2011, several radio collared wolves have dispersed into the state, there is an unknown number of uncollared wolves, and three breeding packs have formed. The Shasta pack was last detected in November 2015. The Lassen pack has produced litters each year since 2017. The Whaleback pack produced its first litter in 2021. For more information about wolves in California, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Gray-Wolf.