On this page, you’ll find practically everything you need for hunting and fishing at the Los Banos Wildlife Area. We cover what you can hunt and how you can hunt it. You’ll find driving directions, hunt maps, and info about the check station, passes, permits, reservations, lotteries, waiting lists, re-fill procedures, camping, waterfowl blinds, self-registration, parking lots, fishing, and more. For directions to the check station and units, use our custom map.
- About the Area.
- Authorized Species and Hunting Methods.
- General Hunting Rules.
- Area Hunting Rules.
- Other Activities
About the Area
Location, Phone & Directions
The Los Banos Wildlife Area is four miles northeast of the town of Los Banos in Merced County, California. The phone number is (209) 826-0463.
The CDFW webpage is at https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Lands/Places-to-Visit/Los-Banos-WA. The check station is at the Los Banos Unit, which has restrooms. Use our custom map for directions to the check station and hunting units.
The Los Banos Wildlife Area is a Type A area in CDFW’s Central California Region 4 (Region 4). The area consists of about 6,200 acres of wetland, lakes, sloughs and managed marsh. There are two units: Los Banos and Mud Slough. See our custom map. See 14 CCR 551(b)(59).
Authorized Species & Hunting Methods
The CDFW webpage doesn’t show everything you can hunt or how you can hunt it. It only shows the symbols pictured below. For an explanation of CDFW symbols, see Don’t be misled by CDFW webpage hunting symbols!
From the CDFW symbols, it would appear you can only hunt pheasant and ducks. According to the regulations, you can hunt all of the wildlife listed below. See 14 CCR 551(e)(1). Follow the links for seasons, shooting hours, hunting methods, and other places to hunt. Warning shot!! You cannot hunt quail at the Los Banos Wildlife Area.
From the CDFW symbols, it would appear you can only use or possess shotguns and archery equipment at the Los Banos Wildlife Area. As a Type A wildlife area, you can also hunt with a falcon on certain days of the year. See 14 CCR § 550(dd)(3), California Falconry Laws and Area Hunting Rules: Firearms below.
General Hunting Rules
For hunting in California, you must comply with all federal, State, and local hunting rules. In this Section, we cover those general hunting rules. For hunting on public land, each area can add and/or further restrict the general rules. For local rules, see Area Hunting Rules below.
State Hunting Rules
There are California rules for hunting seasons, bag limits, shooting hours, methods of take, etc. To see those rules, go to our menu for All Hunting and select the bird or mammal you wish to hunt.
Federal Hunting Rules
There are federal hunting rules for all migratory birds, which tend to migrate across State lines. Migratory game birds include ducks, geese, doves (western mourning and white-winged), band-tailed pigeon, and snipe. To see those rules, got to our summary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Topics relate to activities like field dressing, methods of hunting, and shooting hours.
Wildlife Area Hunt Rules
There are general State rules applicable to all Wildlife Areas, including Type A areas, like the Los Banos Wildlife Area. Topics relate t0 things like use bikes, camping, falconry, passes, permits, reservations, shotguns, target shooting, trapping, vehicles, and wood cutting. To find those rules, follow the links above.
Area Hunting Rules
In this Section, you’ll find local rules for visiting the Los Banos Wildlife Area. We cover local rules for hunting and other activities in the next sections.
Warning shot!! We combine major rules from the hunting regulations, the CDFW webpage, the annual CDFW bird hunting manual, hunt maps, info from check station windows, and other resources. However, you might still find additional rules at the check stations (pictured right), registrations booths, and road signs.
As of September 2016, the Los Banos Wildlife Area is the only Type A wildlife area that allows archery equipment. You can also use it during waterfowl and pheasant seasons. See 14 CCR § 551(u)(1) and 14 CCR § 550(cc)(4).
You can cut and use non-woody vegetation may for temporary hunting blinds. You cannot cut an woody-stemmped plants. See 14 CCR § 550(g)(3).
Camping, Campers, Trailers, & Motorhomes
You can camp at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, but there are several conditions. See 14 CCR § 551(m)(18) and Camping Restrictions.
First, you can only camp during waterfowl season. Second, you can only camp in the main office parking area. Third, quiet hours are from 9:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. (no generators, radios, boom boxes or duck calling). Finally, there are about 20 spaces number of long-term spaces, and you can only get one through a Special Drawing (sample). Applications are due around mid-September. To get one, call (209) 826-0463.
The check station is located at the Los Banos Unit of the Los Banos Wildlife Area. During waterfowl and pheasant seasons, you get permits from the check station.
During waterfowl season, you can also camp in the main lot. For all other activities, you get a permit from the self-registration booth, which is in front the check station.
You cannot hunt or carry firearms into the closed areas. Dogs must be leashed when in closed areas. See 14 CCR § 550(cc)(2).
As a Type A wildlife are, the Los Banos Wildlife Area is closed on Christmas Day. The Los Banos Wildlife Area is also closed to all visitors from September 15 until the opening day of waterfowl season. During waterfowl season, the Los Banos Wildlife Area is closed to non-hunting uses on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. See 14 CCR § 551(e)(1) and 14 CCR § 551(0)(34).
You can use hunting dogs at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, but the must be kept on a leash in the check station parking lot, and from April 1 through June 20.
Entry & Exit
You can only enter the Los Banos Wildlife Area through designated points of access, which is a gravel / dirt road leading out from the Check Station. See our custom map and the CDFW Bird Hunting Manual.
As a Type A wildlife area, you cannot use BB guns, rifles, combination rifle-shotguns, pellet guns, pistols or revolvers at the the Los Banos Wildlife Area. See 14 CCR § 551(cc)(4)(B) and Shotguns below.
You cannot make open fires at the Los Banos Wildlife Area. You can use portable gas stoves, charcoal briquette BBQ’s, and any fireplaces developed by the CDFW. You cannot leave your fire unattended and it must be extinguished with water before leaving. See 14 CCR § 550(q).
Los Banos Unit
The Los Banos Unit has about 11 designated parking lots and 74 ponds. Warning shot!! Make sure you stay out of areas marked with red “Closed Zone” signs.
Mud Slough Unit
The Mud Slough Unit is only for waterfowl and pheasant hunting. The Unit is for Juniors, who must be accompanied by adult partners. The Unit can accommodate up to 12 parties.
During waterfowl and pheasant seasons, the hunt days at the Los Banos Wildlife Area are restricted to Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays. The only exceptions are during youth-only waterfowl days. Outside of those seasons, you can hunt authorized species daily during open seasons (e.g. early dove season). See 14 CCR § 551(e)(1).
You can only hunt at the Los Banos Wildlife Area in areas designated for hunting, which in include the Los Banos and Mud Slough Units. Pictured right is the hunt map of the Los Banos Unit, but it’s for general guidance only. Go online for the legal boundaries (pictured below), and click here for instructions.
Pictured below is a flood map for the Mud Slough Unit. Note that part of the legal boundaries are closed to hunting. According to the CDFW webpage, the flood schedule can change at any time due to “changing weather, water availability, and management needs.”
During waterfowl season, you need a Type A Pass to enter the Los Banos Wildlife Area. Warning shots!! You have to buy your pass in advance either online or at a CDFW’s license sales office or license agent. In 2016, a one pass costs $21.09 and a season pass costs $158.76. They aren’t sold at check stations. Juniors are exempt from the requirement. See 14 CCR § 550.5(c)(2) and 14 CCR § 551(e)(1).
During waterfowl season, you need a Type A Pass and Entry Permit to enter the Los Banos Wildlife Area. You get the entry permit from the Check Station. Otherwise, you need a permit from the self-registration booth. See 14 CCR § 550.5(c)(3) and our custom map. Also see Passes above and Reservations and Other Activities below.
Reservations at the Los Banos Wildlife Area are available for all waterfowl and pheasant shoot days. You have to buy your application at least 17 in advance, either online or at a CDFW’s license sales office or license agent. See 14 CCR § 550.5(a)(1) and 14 CCR § 551(e)(1). Also see Waterfowl Hunting Rules: Permits below.
On Type A wildlife areas, you can only:
1. Use 12-gauge shotguns or smaller (e.g. 20-gauge),
2. Use size T shell shot or smaller (e.g “2 shot”),
3. Take 25 shells in the field during waterfowl season,*
4. Use steel or other non-toxic shot,
5. Carry ammo in the field if you have a Permit (see above), or
6. Carry unloaded firearms in parking lots, visitor areas, check stations, or other CDFW facilities.
You can only drive your vehicle on designated roads and park in designated lots. Warning shot!! The speed limit in the Los Banos Wildlife Area check station parking lot is 5 mph. The speed limit in the wildlife area is 25 mph.
Waterfowl Hunting Rule
In this Section, we cover how to get into the Los Banos Wildlife Area during seasons for ducks and geese. You’ll find rules for using boats, bicycles, campers, and vehicles. We also have rules for passes, permits, reservations, lotteries, waiting lines, and re-fill procedures. Finally, we discuss hunt days, hunter quotas, and waterfowl zone.
As a Type A wildlife area, you can ride bikes on the Los Banos Wildlife Area during waterfowl season. You can only ride them on roads or levees for transportation between parking lots and hunting areas. See 14 CCR § 551(j).
Camping, Campers, Trailers & Motorhomes
For long-term parking, there are about 20 spaces. You can only get through a Special Drawing (sample). Applications are due around mid-September. To get one, call (209) 826-0463.
Disabled Blinds Sites
There are at least two waterfowl blinds at the Los Banos Wildlife Area with access for mobility-impaired hunters (MIH) that qualify. Reservations are available in at least 18 locations. If the blind is unassigned, it will be assigned first through an on-site lottery and then a first-come, first-serve waiting line / list. See our summary for California Disabled Hunter Laws and the CDFW Bird Hunting Manual, p. 32.
You can hunt waterfowl at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, but only on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. See 14 CCR § 551(e)(1).
During waterfowl season, the quota at the Los Banos Wildlife Area changes from year to year. Historically, the capacity has been 120 – 150 people. For the 2016-2017 year, open days is expected to be reduced to 70 people.
The Los Banos Wildlife Area posts hunting results for each blind. The results are separated by adults and juniors, and ducks and geese. They also report the average per hunter. Each week, the CDFW also posts hunting results for each wildlife area and adds the tops species.
Permits are issued first to Reservation holders. If the quota has not been filled, permits are then issued to Lottery cardholders, followed by hunters on the first-come, first-serve Waiting List. Warning shots!! After getting an assignment, you must go directly in the field. All applicable federal, State, and local rules are incorporated into your permit and are a condition for use.
Juniors can get a free Entry Permit to hunt on waterfowl and pheasant hunt days. It comes with a kill card that must be returned to the Check
To get a Reservation, you have to apply to the CDFW at least 17 days before hunt day. You can buy the application online or at a CDFW’s license sales office or license agent. In general, the check station begins processing reservation two hours before shoot time. For opening weekend, though, they begin two and a half hours before shoot time. If you get there late, they will still process your reservation until one hour before shoot time. After that, your reservation will expire. See 14 CCR § 551(x)(8). Also see Lotteries and Parties below.
If you don’t have a reservation, a lottery is used to fill any vacancies. On the evening before your desired hunt day, go to the Los Banos Check Station between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Take your hunting license into the check station and register for the drawing. See our custom map.
They’ll write your name and license number on the lottery sheet and give you a registration number. Potential hunting partners don’t have to go with you. You can leave after you register. NOTE: Lotteries for the Merced National Wildlife Refuge and Volta Wildlife Area are also held at the Los Banos check station.
A computerized random drawing is held shortly after 9:00 p.m. Registration numbers are assigned a lottery number and posted on the check station window. They won’t announce the results or give them to you over the phone. To find your position, search for your registration number and look for your corresponding lottery number.
On the morning of the hunt, reservations are processed first. If there’s still room for more hunters, lottery numbers are called in numerical order. If you don’t respond, you’re name is scratched.
Warning shots!! If you register more than once, you’ll be disqualified and not allowed to hunt that day. You cannot transfer your lottery number to another person. If you intent to hunt with a group, see Parties below.
Waiting List / Sweat Line
If you don’t have a reservation and missed the lottery, you can sign up on the waiting list. You can sign up after the lottery, which is held around 9:00 p.m. the evening before the hunt, or after the check station opens the next morning and until 3:00 p.m. If there’s still space after reservations and lottery numbers are processed, they issue permits on a first-come, first-serve basis from the waiting list. Since there’s no guarantee that you’ll get in, hunters commonly refer to this as the “sweat line” or “sweating it in.”
You can sign up on the waiting list either by yourself or as a party. (If you sign up by yourself, you cannot take a partner.) You can sign up for the first available space or select two options. If you select an option(s), you won’t be called unless one of them becomes available. You must be present when called or your name will be scratched. If you intent to hunt with a group, see Parties below.
As space becomes available, any remaining lottery cardholders are called in numerical order. If there’s still space, potential hunters are called first-come, first-serve from the waiting list.
If you get in and, for some reason, return from the field to the main lot, you forfeit your spot. (The only exception is if theres no waiting list.) If there’s a waiting list, you can still sign up at the end of it. Warning shot!! Any time you return to the main lot, you have to bring your personal belonging (e.g. decoys).
If you have a reservation, you can bring other hunters with you.
If you accept a hunting assignment to a waterfowl blind, your party size is limited by the maximum capacity (e.g. two hunters in two-person blind). Warning shot!! Parties must hunt the same assignment and use the same parking lot. Similar rules apply when assigned to ponds, units, and boats with a limited capacity.
The same rules apply to lottery cardholders and potential hunters on the waiting list, except that entry is also limited by the hunter quota. In other words, if only one spot becomes available, only you can enter.
The Los Banos Wildlife Area is in the Balance of State Waterfowl Zone, which determines waterfowl seasons, bag limits, and possession limits.
Pheasant Hunting Rules
Pheasant hunting is open daily for the first nine days of the pheasant season, on waterfowl hunt days for the remainder of the pheasant season, and on the day after Thanksgiving. See 14 CCR § 551(s)(15) and Waterfowl Hunting Rules: Permits above.
Dove Hunting Rules
You can hunt doves at the Los Banos Wildlife Area every day during the early season in September. During the late dove season, you can only hunt them on waterfowl hunt days or youth waterfowl hunt days. See 14 CCR 551(e)(1) and Waterfowl Hunting Rules: Permits above.
Snipe Hunting Rules
You can hunt snipe at the Los Banos Wildlife Area on waterfowl hunt days and youth waterfowl hunt days. See 14 CCR 551(e)(1) and Waterfowl Hunting Rules: Permits above.
Rabbit Hunting Rules
In general, you can hunt rabbits at the Los Banos Wildlife Area any day of the rabbit season. The only exception is that during waterfowl season, you can only hunt rabbits on waterfowl hunt days.
Raccoon Hunting Rules
In addition to hunting at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, you can train your dog and hold dog field trials. You can also go fishing and sightseeing. However, there are a few conditions.
First, you can only do non-hunting activities from the 2nd Saturday in February through September 15. Second, during waterfowl season, the area is closed to non-hunting activities on Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays.
Warning shots!! For non-hunting activities, you must self-register at the permit booth. Unless you’re hunting, you need to purchase and carry a CDFW Lands Pass. Los Banos is one of only five areas that require entry permits and fees for non-hunting uses ($4.32 in 2016). The only exception is if you have a hunting or fishing license.
Dogs, Dog Training, & Field Trials
You can train your hunting dog and have dog trials at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, but there are a few conditions. See 14 CCR § 551(i) and (i)(6).
First, both activities can only be done in designated areas. Look for signs that prohibit dog training (e.g. Pond 2). Second, you can only do the activities (a) from the end of waterfowl season to March 31 and (b) July 1 through September 15. Third, a special use permit is required for field trials. Finally, dog leashes are required from April 1 through June 30.
You can fish for sport at the Los Banos Wildlife Area, but there are a few conditions. First, you can only fish in designated areas. Second, during waterfowl season, you need a Type A Pass and Permit. Third, you need a valid fishing license and must follow State fishing regulations. Finally, you can only fish from shore unless there’s a designated boat launch. See our custom map and 14 CCR § 551(o) and 551(y).