Think Ahead: Find a Reputable, Licensed Guide to Help Ensure a Safe, Fun and Successful Hunting Season

Now is a great time for hunters to start pre-planning for the 2016-2017 season. If this is the year that you’d like to hunt an unfamiliar area or learn more about an outdoor pursuit you’ve never tried, you may want to consider hiring a professional guide.

Hiring a licensed guide can greatly increase the chances of hunter success.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is responsible for licensing hunting and inland/freshwater fishing guides in the state.

As defined by the Fish and Game Code, a “guide” means any person who is engaged in the business of packing or guiding, or who, for compensation, assists another person in taking or attempting to take any bird, mammal, fish, amphibian or reptile. “Guide” also includes any person who, for profit, transports other persons, their equipment, or both to or from hunting or fishing areas.

A good guide can greatly increase the chances of success for a hunter who is stalking a new species or unfamiliar with an area. Your guide isn’t just a mentor, but also a navigator, driver, shooting coach, tracker, and maybe even butcher and cook.

“Hiring a guide can be a worthwhile investment of both time and money,” said Lt. Alan Gregory, CDFW’s Advanced Hunter Education director. “You have to approach it as though you’re hiring a contractor to work on your house. Do your due diligence well before the season starts. Research the options that are available to you and get three bids before any money changes hands.”

Finding a Guide

Spending time in the woods during the preseason is a trait of consistently successful hunters. Licensed guides spend their time scouting during the preseason so they can provide information on recent game sightings, travel patterns and feeding routines. That knowledge can be worth its weight in gold.

A California guide license is “one size fits all,” in that it covers both hunting and freshwater fishing, so it might seem a little daunting to find a true expert in the hunt you want. However, it’s definitely possible if you do a little homework in the months before your hunt.

  • Look through the searchable CDFW licensed guide database to identify a few possibilities. Each guide can be found by name, permit number, services offered, species and counties of operation.
  • Look up guide websites (if they have them) and check out online hunting forums and message boards to read testimonials and reviews.
  • Ask around at sporting goods stores. Some may keep a list of guides, and employees or other hunters in the store may be able to give personal references.
  • Interview several guides over the phone. Request references. Ask how many years they’ve been in business, what their success rate is and whether they are bonded, licensed and insured.
  • Ask about cancellation policies. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and to know if you’ll be expected to pay should something unexpected happen.
  • Budget! Prices vary depending on species, length of trip, whether processing is included, etc. Remember to factor in travel, food and lodging costs for the trip. Be sure you understand the package offered, and what’s included vs. what is not.

Tipping is also the standard for good service, and positive feedback in the form of a good review, in writing, is always appreciated.

Becoming a Guide

Experienced hunters who enjoy mentoring others in the field may find that becoming a professional guide is the perfect way to turn a hobby into a career.

In order to become a licensed hunting guide in California, you have to submit an application and pay a fee. The cost of a resident guide license is $215.73 annually (Feb. 1 through Jan. 31 of the following year). A nonresident guide license is $495.75. Employees of a guide who assist in the service and who meet certain criteria are charged $47.38 for a license.

Guides must not have any CDFW violations in the two years preceding their application. A prospective guide with CDFW-related violations may have his or her application denied and licensed guides with violations may have their licenses revoked.

A guide must also purchase and maintain a “performance bond.” The bond is to protect the clients and assure that any deposit a guide receives from a client to reserve a future trip will be returned to the client if the guide cancels and tries to keep the deposit.

For more information on acquiring a guide license, please go to and see Fish and Game Code, sections 2535-2546 and California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 745.

# # #

Media Contacts:
Lt. Alan Gregory, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (209) 274-9923

Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988