On this page, you’ll find info about California bird hunting methods. Under the law, they’re called “methods of take” because, in addition to shooting, Take involves the pursuit, retrieval, and more. You’ll also find limits related to specific birds, people, places, situations, and times of the year.
- General Rules.
- Specific Birds.
- Specific Categories.
- Specific People.
- Specific Places.
- Specific Situations.
- Specific Times.
The law refers to California bird hunting methods as “methods of take.” The definition of Take includes more than just hunting. It also includes things like using bait, decoys, and taps. We’re going to refer to them all as “hunting methods.” Here are a few general rules to keep in mind:
Rule #1: You can’t hunt birds unless there’s a season.
Rule #2: You can only use California bird hunting methods approved for the category of bird (e.g. waterfowl).
Rule #3: Approved methods may be restricted for specific birds, place, situations, and time of the year.
Rule #4: There are special methods reserved for specific people like juniors, disabled hunters, and current and former members of the U.S. armed forces.
The Sections below cover as many restrictions and privileges as possible. Topics cover air rifles, airplane, baits, BB guns, boats, bow and arrows, calls, computers, crossbows, decoys, dogs, explosives, falcons, lights, motorized vehicles, muzzleloaders, pistols, poison, rifles, shotguns, tranquilizers, and traps. We also include links to supporting federal and State law. Warning shot!!! Check city and county ordinances for any exceptions. If you need help, contact our in-house attorney.
Specific Bird Categories
There are California bird hunting methods for each category of Bird. The categories are based on whether the bird resides here or migrates into the State. Other categories depend on whether the bird is mainly hunted over land or water. Warning shot!!! There are specific methods for some birds that trump those (see Specific Birds below).
The largest category of game birds is called Upland Game Birds. Those birds tend to be hunted over land. There are two subcategories of Upland Game Birds. Those that tend to live in California are called Resident Game Birds. Those that tend to fly into the state (i.e. migrate) are called Migratory Game Birds.
There’s also a major subcategory for Migratory Game Birds called Waterfowl. They include ducks and geese, which tend to be hunted over water. There are two other Migratory Game Birds that tend to be hunted over water (coots and moorhens).
All other birds are called Nongame Birds and include American crow, starlings and English sparrows.
There are California bird hunting methods for specific birds. These methods override methods for Specific Bird Categories (see above). Here are a few examples, but you can find them all by following the links to specific birds in the bottom of this Section.
Birds in General
For most birds, you can use lead shot for shotgun shells. For ducks and geese, however, you can only use non-toxic shot. Warning shot!!! By July 1, 2016, non-toxic shot will be required for all birds.
Resident Game Birds
For Resident Small Game Birds, you can use us an air rifle. For all of them except turkey, you can use any size pellet. For turkey, the pellet has to be at least 0.177 caliber. For most Resident Small Game Birds, you cannot use pistols and rifles. You can use them for ruffed and sooty grouse. For most Resident Small Game Birds, you can use a bow and arrow. For pheasant, you have to use a special arrow or crossbow bolt with flu-flu fletching.
Migratory Game Birds
For most Migratory Game Birds, you usually have to use flu-flu fletching arrows. For waterfowl, you can use conventional arrows when shooting waterfowl from a boat while they are sitting on the water. For Migratory Game Birds, shell shot usually can’t be larger than No. BB. For waterfowl, you can use up to size “T” or smaller.
For Nongame Birds, you can usually use traps. You cannot use traps for American crow. For most birds, you can’t use electronic calls. You can use them for Nongame Birds, like American crow.
Follow the links below for a more complete list of California bird hunting methods for each species of bird.
- Grouse (ruffed, sage and sooty / blue).
There are limits on California bird hunting methods at specific places. These methods override the general rules noted above. Here are a few examples, but you can find them all by following the links in the General Rules above.
In general, you can shoot birds with a bow and arrow. At Type A and Type B Wildlife Areas, archery usually isn’t allowed. One exception is the Los Banos Wildlife Area. In general, you can use any shotgun that is a 10-gauge or smaller (e.g. 12-gauge). At Type A and Type B Wildlife Areas, you can’t use anything larger than a 12-gauge. In general, you can still use lead shot for hunting Upland Game Birds. Only non-toxic shot may be used at State Wildlife Areas. Warning shot!!! By July 1, 2016, you’ll only be able to use non-toxic shot for any bird. In general, you can carry an unlimited supply of shotgun shells. On certain public hunting areas, you can’t take any more than 25 shells into the field.
Licensed Game Bird Clubs
At Licensed Game Bird Clubs, In general, you can’t use bait for Resident Game Birds. There’s an exception, though, for certain places like licensed game bird clubs.
In general, you can use any shotgun that is a 10-gauge or smaller (e.g. 12-gauge). In Morro Bay, though, you can’t use anything larger than a 12-gauge.
In general, you can still use lead shot for hunting Upland Game Birds. There are exceptions, though, in the California Condor Range. at Wildlife Areas. Warning shot!!! By July 1, 2016, you’ll only be able to use non-toxic shot for any bird.
There are special California bird hunting methods exclusive to specific people like juniors and disabled hunters. These methods supplement other hunting methods. Here are a few examples, but you can find them all by following links above Specific Birds.
In general, you cannot carry more than 25 shells at Wildlife Areas. However, there are exceptions for some junior-only hunts.
In general, you cannot use a crossbow to hunt birds during any archery season. There’s an exception for hunters with a Disabled Archer Permit. In general, you cannot hunt birds from a motor vehicle. There is an exception for disabled hunters that get a Mobility Impaired Disabled Persons Motor Vehicle License from the CDFW.
In general, you can hunt birds with a bow and arrow. These methods override general methods noted above. Here are a few examples, but you can find them all by following the links in the General Rules above. For birds that allow hunting with a bow and arrow, you cannot use lighted nocks with a beam of light, explosive heads, tranquilizers, or poison. There are also restrictions against shooting them across a highway. It also has to have a casting distance of at least 130 yards. You typically cannot carry a firearm when hunting birds during an archery season.
In general, you cannot use a motor boat to hunt birds. However, there are exceptions for when your boat is drifting or being moved with a paddle.
It’s usually illegal to use lights to hunt game birds at night. There is an exception for killing birds causing property damage. In fact, you can usually kill them by any legal manner, day or night. Warning shot!!! You may need to get what’s called a “depredation permit” from the CDFW before killing them.
There are restrictions on California bird hunting methods based on the time of year. For a more complete listed, follow links above to Specific Birds. When hunting waterfowl, for example, you can’t use electric decoys with rotating wings until December 1st.