Waterfowl Hunting Seasons Opening Soon — Drought Conditions May Limit Opportunities

As California’s 2015-2016 waterfowl hunting season approaches, hunters may find that wildlife areas may have limited space, particularly early in the season.

Mallard drake about to land at a grassy refuge
Mallard drake comes in for a landing at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. Mike Peters photo

Most years, quality public hunting access can be found on more than two dozen national wildlife refuges and wildlife areas managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). With the ongoing drought, some areas will have significantly reduced amounts of water available while others will have normal to near normal water conditions.
Some wildlife areas and refuges may be closed, while others may open later in the season or have a reduced hunter quota. State-operated waterfowl hunting areas that will be affected for the opener include Sutter National Wildlife Refuge and Kern National Wildlife Refuge, both of which will likely open late in the season.

Opening and closing dates vary by zone. This information is included in the 2015-2016 Waterfowl Regulations booklet.
Please note that as of July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition is required when hunting upland game birds on all state wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition webpage.

CDFW is striving to only offer reservation applications for areas that will be open for hunting. However, last-minute closures may occur due to uncertain water availability and refunds cannot be issued for applications submitted to areas that close due to a lack of water.

Waterfowl hunters should keep informed about current reservation and quota numbers, which are expected to fluctuate frequently. Hunters can also follow the Twitter tag #cawildlifeareaclosures for updates on state-operated wildlife area closures.

In an ongoing effort to expand public access, CDFW is offering waterfowl hunting opportunities through the Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement Program (SHARE) at the Merced Wildlife Management Area in Merced County. For a description of the hunts offered and application instructions, please visit CDFW’s SHARE webpage.

A valid California hunting license, appropriate validations and a signed federal waterfowl conservation stamp must be obtained before entering the field. In addition, a wildlife area pass is required to hunt on many state-operated wildlife areas. Licenses, validations and passes are not sold at wildlife areas, so hunters must purchase these items in advance.

California hunters are required to complete a hunter education training course before purchasing a hunting license for the first time in California. Approximately 30,000 students complete this requirement annually.