32 California Deer Hunting Laws Every Hunter Should Know Before Hunting

California deer hunting laws
California deer hunting laws

Here, we fetch up California deer hunting laws every hunter should know before hunting. We retrieve them from the Fish and Game Code, as well as Title 14 of the Code of Regulations. We bring them back to the Menu below with brief summaries and links to the text, as well as links to our pages with related topics (e.g. firearm laws).

Warning shot!! The laws on this page either add to or further restrict general hunting regulations for broader categories applicable to “wildlife,” “mammals,” and “big game mammals” (click here to see those regulations). Finally, for hunter-friendly summaries of California deer hunting rules—without the legal mumbo jumbo—see our page for deer seasons, hunting laws, and locations.


Introduction to California Deer Hunting Laws

California deer hunting laws.
California deer hunting laws.

Our Menu of California deer hunting laws include definitions and hunt zones, as well as special hunts for archers, juniors, and muzzleloaders. You’ll also find rules relating to seasons, bag limits, and tag quotas. For practically everything else you need to know about deer hunting, also see our summary for deer seasons, hunting laws, and locations.  Warning shots!! While we include many California deer hunting laws, always check with the Fish & Game Commission for additional and current regulations.


Selection of California Deer Hunting Laws

Our menu includes major California deer hunting laws and some broader categories, including some for mammals, game mammals, and big game mammals, in general. In alphabetical order, topics include: ammoarchery (hunts), computer-assist remotescrossbowsdefinition of big gamedefinition of game mammalsdepredation permits (procedures and restrictions), dog for mammalsdogs for deerequipment (e.g. tracking devices), herdinghunting methods, hunts (general)licensepossession, sale of skin or hideshooting hours, tags (applications, exchangesfirst and second, drawing system, drawings, head retention, fundraisers, procedures, quotas, replacements, and validations), and violations.

California deer hunting laws.
California deer hunting laws.
    1. FGC § 3004.5 requires use of nonlead centerfire ammo for taking big game with pistols or rifles in the Condor Range.
    2. FGC § 4303 generally allows deer skin and hide (a) purchase, (b) sale, (c) tanning, (d) manufacturing into article for sale, (e) donation to veterans’ organization or service committee for use by veterans for rehabilitation.
    3. FGC § 3950 defines game mammals to include certain species of deer.
    4. FGC § 3960 prohibits use of dogs to hunt big game mammals during the mammals closed season or in an ecological reserve or game refuge where hunting is illegal.
    5. FGC § 4181.5 allows landowners and tenants to apply for depredation permits after deer cause property damage, but allows restrictions by the CDFW on the use of weapons and ammo; and requires proper tagging and reports by the permit holder.
    6. 14 CCR § 251 prohibits use of (a) location devicesat any time–attached to big game (e.g. tracking devices); (b) devices capable of flight or orbit (e.g. drones)–from between 48 hours before and after the hunting season; and (c) motor vehicles to hunt mammals (e.g. shooting from a moving truck), but includes exemptions for unpowered boatsdepredation permits, and mobility-impaired hunters.
    7. 14 CCR § 251.1 prohibits mammal harassment, as it defines, and generally prohibits herding and driving.
    8. 14 CCR § 251.5 requires hunters to immediately kill game mammals taken into their possession, and add the to his or her daily bag limits.
    9. 14 CCR § 251.9 prohibits computer-assist remotes and sites, as it defines, for hunting mammals.
    10. 14 CCR § 265 prohibits use of dogs (a) during archery seasons for deer and bear; (b) to pursue mammals or dog training in dog control zones, as it defines, during certain times of the year; (c) in excess of the number of dogs it allows per hunter; or (d) with global positioning equipment.
    11. 14 CCR § 350 defines big game to include certain species of deer.
    12. 14 CCR § 351 defines Forked-Horn Buck, Antlerless and Either-Sex Deer
    13. 14 CCR § 352 establishes shooting hours for big game, including deer.
    14. 14 CCR § 353 allows hunting (a) big game with bow and arrows, rifles, and muzzleloading rifles, subject to restrictions for ammo, sights, tags, artificial lights, vehicles, the Condor RangeVisually Disabled Muzzleloader Scope Permits, and Disabled Archer’s Permits, (b) deer with pistols, revolvers, and shotguns, subject to restrictions for shell capacity and ammo, and crossbows during the deer regular season, and (c) crossbows during the regular deer season or with a Disabled Archer’s Permit.
    15. 14 CCR § 354 prohibits (1) crossbows, as it defines, during the any archery season except with a Disabled Archer’s Permit; (2) small broad head-type blades; (3) arrows and crossbow bolts using (a) lighted nocks with directional beam of light, (b) explosive heads, (c) tranquilizers, and (d) poison; (4) shooting across roads and highways; (5) possession of firearm while hunting during any archery season or with an archer-only tag; and (6) bow or crossbows in a ready-to-fire position in or on vehicles; and requires minimum casting distance of 13o yards.
    16. 14 CCR § 360 Hunt zones (A, B, C, D, and X), additional hunts (G, J, M, MA), seasons, bag limits, possession limits, and tag quotas.
    17. 14 CCR § 361 Archery hunts with general deer zone tags, area-specific archery tags, and archery-only tags, crossbow prohibition, and hunt area limitations.
    18. 14 CCR § 401 allows landowners to apply for depredation permits from the CDFW to kill deer causing or or treating to cause immediate property damage, but only in compliance with permit (a) restrictions relating to methods of take, use of the carcass, and local firearm regulations and (b) requirements relating to reports and tags.
    19. 14 CCR § 702 (external link) identifies fees for (a) applications to hunt big game on private wildlife management areas, (b) reservations to hunt on wildlife areas, and (c) hunts tags and drawing.
    20. 14 CCR § 700 requires hunters to carry a hunting license in his or her immediate possession while hunting.
    21. 14 CCR § 708.1 establishes deer hunting procedures and requirements relating to tag applications, procedures, and requirements.
    22. 14 CCR § 708.2 establishes procedures for entering the deer tag drawing at the CDFW, including age restrictions and fees.
    23. 14 CCR § 708.3 establishes deer tag applications restrictions relating to first- and second-tag applications.
    24. 14 CCR § 708.4 prohibits the exchange of deer tags by the CDFW for a different zone or hunt after the tag quota or hunt fills for the season; otherwise, the CDFW can charge a non-refundable processing fees.
    25. 14 CCR § 708.5 establishes deer tag procedures relating to tagging the deer, reporting the kill, and retaining the head.
    26. 14 CCR § 708.6 requires deer tag validation and establishes countersigning procedures.
    27. 14 CCR § 708.7 establishes the deer head retention period.
    28. 14 CCR § 708.8 requires hunters convicted of violating a deer hunting regulation to return current tags and prohibits him or her from receiving (a) additional tags for the current and (b) tags or preferences points for the following license year (July 1 – June 30).
    29. 14 CCR § 708.14 generally requires the CDFW to award premium deer tags using the Modified-Preference Point drawing system, as it provides, including restrictions relating to party applications, residency.
    30. 14 CCR § 708.15 establishes premium deer hunt procedures relating to applications, hunting parties, and quotas.
    31. 14 CCR § 708.16 generally allows the CDFW to issue fundraising deer tags using a random drawing system.
    32. 14 CCR § 708.17 limits the number of replacement deer tags to one tag per year, but only in compliance with the procedures.

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California Deer Hunting Laws

FGC § 4303

ARTICLE 1. Taking Deer [4301 – 4304]

The skin or hide of any deer lawfully taken may be sold, purchased, tanned, or manufactured into articles for sale.

Skins or hides of deer lawfully taken may be donated at any time to veterans’ organizations or veterans’ service committees for use by veterans for rehabilitation purposes.

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14 CCR § 351 (California deer hunting laws)

Forked-Horn Buck, Antlerless and Either-Sex Deer Defined.

Definitions from California deer hunting laws.(a) Forked-Horn Buck Defined. For the purpose of these regulations a forked-horn buck is defined as a male deer having a branched antler on either side with the branch in the upper two-thirds of the antler. Eyeguards or other bony projections on the lower one-third of the antler shall not be considered as points or branches.

(b) Antlerless Deer Defined. For the purpose of these regulations, antlerless deer are defined as female deer, fawns of either sex other than spotted fawns, and male deer with an unbranched antler on one or both sides which is not more than three inches in length.

(c) Either-Sex Deer Defined. For the purpose of these regulations, either-sex deer are defined as antlerless deer as described in Section 351 (b), or legal bucks that have two or more points in the upper two-thirds of either antler. Spike bucks may not be taken.

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14 CCR § 360 (California deer hunting laws)

See 14 CCR § 360 for hunt zones (A, B, C, D, and X), additional hunts (G, J, M, MA), seasons, bag limits, possession limits, and tag quotas.

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14 CCR § 361 (California deer hunting laws)

See 14 CCR § 361 for archery hunts with general deer zone tags, area-specific archery tags, and archery-only tags, crossbow prohibition, and hunt area limitations.

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14 CCR § 708.1 (California deer hunting laws)

(a) Deer License Tag Procedures and Requirements

(1) Deer License Tags. No person shall hunt deer without a valid deer license tag in possession for that particular area as defined in sections 360 and 361. Deer shall be tagged only with a valid deer license tag for the area (as defined in sections 360 and 361) in which the deer is killed. Except as otherwise provided in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall take more than two deer during any license year.

(2) Deer License Tag Application and Distribution Procedures.

(A) Distribution of Deer License Tags:
1. Deer Tag Classification

a. Premium Deer Hunt Tags shall include all deer hunt tags where the tag quota filled on or before the first business day after July 1 in the immediately preceding license year.

b. Restricted Deer Hunt Tags shall include all non-Premium deer hunt tags where the tag quota filled on or before the first business day after August 1 in the immediately preceding license year.

c. Unrestricted Deer Hunt Tags shall include all deer hunt tags where the tag quota did not fill on or before the first business day after August 1 in the immediately preceding license year.

d. The department may designate the deer tag classification for any deer hunt that was not held in the previous year.

2. Premium deer hunt tags shall be distributed by drawing, as described in Section 708.14, unless otherwise authorized. Applicants may apply through the department’s Automated License Data System terminals at any department license agent or department license sales office. Applications must be received by the department by June 2. Successful applicants will be selected by drawing within 10 business days following the application deadline date. If the drawing is delayed due to circumstances beyond the department’s control, the department shall conduct the drawing at the earliest date possible. Successful and unsuccessful applicants will be notified by mail.

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14 CCR § 708.2 (California deer hunting laws)

(a) Deer Tag Issuance and Deer Tag Drawing Application Procedures:

(1) Except for permits and deer tags issued pursuant to sections 4181.5, 4188, and 4334 of the Fish and Game Code, individuals may request deer tags and submit deer tag drawing applications at department license agents and department license sales offices.

(2) Applicants shall be at least 12 years of age on or before July 1 of the license year for which they are applying or at the time of application if they are applying after July 1 and possess an annual California hunting license valid for the deer hunting season for which they are applying. Applicants for apprentice hunts shall possess an annual junior hunting license for the deer hunting season for which they are applying.

(3) Incomplete, incorrect, late or ineligible applications will not be accepted.

(b) Application Fee:

The department shall require that the specified fee for a deer tag, as specified in Section 4332 of the Fish and Game Code, be paid as a prerequisite to obtaining a deer tag or tag drawing application. In addition to the tag fee, the department shall also charge a processing fee, as specified in Section 702, for each deer license tag application. Deer license tag processing fees are not refundable. Deer license tag fees are not refundable once a deer tag application has been entered into the big game drawing or a deer tag has been issued regardless of closures of any zone or hunt due to fire, weather or other natural disasters. The department may only refund deer tag license fees under the following provisions:

(1) The difference between the fee paid for a nonresident deer license tag application and a resident deer license tag application may be refunded for any nonresident deer tag application for which a deer tag was not issued.

(2) The department may refund the difference between the fee paid for a nonresident deer tag license application and a resident deer tag license application for any nonresident tag issued if all of the following conditions are met:

(A) The deer license tag is not a premium tag.

(B) The deer license tag is returned prior to the earliest opening date for the hunt.

(C) The tag quota has not been filled for the hunt.

(D) Request for refunds shall be submitted on or before March 1 of the license year to the department’s License and Revenue Branch,1740 N. Market Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95834 If the deadline to submit the request for refund falls on a weekend or holiday requests will be accepted until the close of business on the first state business day following the deadline to submit the request.

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14 CCR § 708.3 (California deer hunting laws)

(a) Application Restrictions:

(1) First-Deer Tag Applicant or First-Deer Tag Drawing Applicants:

(A) Any person may use a first-deer tag drawing application to apply for any premium deer hunt tag issued by drawing as specified in section 708.1. Applicants shall not submit more than three choices for deer hunts per deer tag drawing application per license year.

(B) First-deer license tag applicants may apply for any unrestricted deer hunt tag. Tags shall be issued upon request to first-deer tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(C) First-deer license tag applicants may apply for any restricted deer hunt tag provided they have not been issued a premium or restricted hunt as a second deer license tag. Tags shall be issued upon request to first deer license tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(D) First-deer license tag applicants may apply for any premium deer hunt tag remaining on July 2 provided they have not been issued a premium or restricted hunt as a second deer license tag. Applicants may apply through the department’s Automated License Data System terminals at any department license agent or department license sales office beginning at 8:00 AM on July 2 each year. Premium deer hunt tags remaining on July 2 shall be issued upon request to first deer license tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(E) First-deer license tag applicants may apply for any premium or restricted deer hunt tag remaining on August 2 regardless of whether or not they have been issued a premium or restricted hunt as a second-deer license tag. Applicants may apply through the department’s Automated License Data System terminals at any department license agent or department license sales office beginning at 8:00 a.m. on August 2 each year. Premium deer hunt tags remaining on August 2 shall be issued upon request until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(2) Second-Deer License Tag Applicant or Second-Deer License Tag Drawing Applicants:

(a) Second-deer license tag applicants may apply for any unrestricted deer hunt tag. Tags shall be issued upon request to second-deer license tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(b) Second-deer license tag applicants may apply for any restricted deer hunt tag provided they have not been issued a premium or restricted hunt as a first-deer license tag and they do not have a pending drawing application. Tags shall be issued upon request to second-deer license tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(c) Any second-deer license tag applicant may apply for any premium or restricted deer hunt tag remaining on August 2 each year. Applicants may apply through the department’s Automated License Data System terminals at any department license agent or department license sales office beginning at 8:00 a.m. on August 2 each year. Restricted deer hunt tags remaining on August 2 each year shall be issued upon request to second-deer license tag applicants until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

(d) Any applicant less than 16 years of age as of July 1 of the license year for which they are applying, who has not used a first-deer license tag drawing application to apply for an additional apprentice hun2t, may use a second-deer license tag drawing application to apply for an additional apprentice hunt tag issued by drawing as specified in sections 708.1 and 708.14. An apprentice hunter may not submit more than one application for additional apprentice hunts.

(e) No person shall submit more than one first-deer license tag application and one second-deer license tag application to the department during any one license year. Any person in violation of this subsection may be denied deer license tags for the current and following license year.

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14 CCR § 708.4 (California deer hunting laws)

The department shall not exchange any deer license tag for a different zone or hunt after the tag quota for the original tag zone or hunt fills for the season. The department shall not exchange a tag if the earliest season (either archery or general) for the tag being exchanged has opened. The department shall charge a nonrefundable processing fee, as specified in Section 702, for exchanging a deer license tag for a different zone or hunt. Applicants may apply at any department license sales office to exchange a deer license tag.

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14 CCR § 708.5 (California deer hunting laws)

(a) Upon the killing of any deer the tag holder shall immediately fill out all portions of the tag including the report card completely, legibly, and permanently, and cut out or punch out and completely remove notches or punch holes for the month and date of the kill. The deer license tag shall be attached to the antlers of an antlered deer or to the ear of any other deer and kept attached during the open season and for 15 days thereafter. Except as otherwise provided, possession of any untagged deer shall be a violation. (Refer to Fish and Game Code, Section 4336).

(b) Every person to whom a deer license tag is issued shall return the completed report card portion to the department within thirty days of taking a deer.

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14 CCR § 708.6 (California deer hunting laws)

(a) Any person legally killing a deer in this state shall have the deer license tag validated and countersigned by a person authorized by the commission as described below before transporting such deer, except for the purpose of taking the deer to the nearest person authorized to countersign the license tag, on the route being followed from the point where the deer was taken (refer to Fish and Game Code, Section 4341).

(b) No person may validate or countersign his/her own deer tag or tag.

(c) Deer and Elk Tags, Persons Authorized to Validate.

(1) The following persons are authorized to validate or countersign deer and elk tags:

(A) State:

1. Fish and Game Commissioners

2. Employees of the Department of Fish and Game, including Certified Hunter Education Instructors

3. Employees of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection

4. Supervising Plant Quarantine Inspectors

5. Junior, Intermediate and Senior Plant Quarantine Inspectors

(B) Federal:

1. Employees of the Bureau of Land Management

2. Employees of the United States Forest Service

3. Employees of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service

4. All Uniformed Personnel of the National Park Service

5. Commanding Officers of any United States military installation or their designated personnel for deer taken on their reservation.

6. Postmasters & Post Office Station or Branch Manager for deer brought to their post office.

(C) Miscellaneous:

1. County firemen at and above the class of foreman for deer brought into their station.

2. Judges or Justices of all state and United States courts.

3. Notaries Public

4. Peace Officers (salaried & non-salaried)

5. Officers authorized to administer oaths

6. Owners, corporate officers, managers or operators of lockers or cold storage plants for deer brought to their place of business.

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14 CCR § 708.7 (California deer hunting laws)

Any person taking any deer in this state shall retain in their possession during the open season thereon and for 15 days thereafter, that portion of the head which in adult males normally bears the antlers, and shall produce the designated portion of the head upon the demand of any officer authorized to enforce the provisions of this regulation (refer to Fish and Game Code, Section 4302).

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14 CCR § 708.8 (California deer hunting laws)

Any person who is convicted of a violation involving deer shall forfeit their current year deer license tags and no new deer license tags may be issued to that person during the then current hunting license year, and that person may not apply for a deer license tag or deer preference points for the following license year (refer to Fish and Game Code, Section 4340).

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Warning shot!! While we try to fetch up all major California deer hunting laws, we might miss a few or make a typo. If so, please leave a comment or question in the reply box below.

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