Category Archives: Hunting

California’s General Squirrel Season to Open Sept. 12

As the fall archery and falconry-only squirrel season comes to a close in California, the general squirrel hunting season is set to begin.

The general season will open on Saturday, Sept. 12, and remain open through Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. The daily bag and possession limit is four.squirrel

A map of the state’s squirrel hunt zones can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website, along with the full tree squirrel regulations.

Four types of tree squirrels are typically found in California: the Western gray squirrel and the Douglas squirrel (both native), and the Eastern fox squirrel and the Eastern gray squirrel (both non-native). A fifth species, the Northern Flying Squirrel is not considered a game species but is a small, native, squirrel that is seldom encountered due to its nocturnal nature and preference for mature forest habitats with complex canopy structure.

Tree squirrel population levels vary greatly from year to year based on prevailing weather conditions and the annual production of nuts, acorns and seeds for forage.

“During any given year, tree squirrels in the state likely number in the millions,” said Matt Meshriy, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Upland Game Program. “We have definitely noticed the numbers of invasive Eastern fox squirrels and Eastern gray squirrels increasing as these species have expanded their range in recent years. The native Western gray squirrels and Douglas squirrels are often displaced where they overlap with invasive eastern species, but the native squirrels also generally occupy forest habitats where introduced species are not found.”

In recent years, approximately 10,000 to 15,000 hunters report hunting tree squirrels annually and their combined statewide bag has ranged from 50,000 to 75,000. National forests provide some of the best opportunity to hunt tree squirrels in California. Bureau of Land Management lands and CDFW wildlife areas may also provide opportunity for squirrel hunting. Please note that as of July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition is required when hunting on all state wildlife areas and ecological reserves. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the CDFW nonlead ammunition page.

Squirrel Habitat in California

Squirrel hunting is a good starting point for the new hunter because tree squirrels are widely distributed throughout the California squirrel hunt zone and provide ample opportunities for hunting. Tree squirrels can be taken with small caliber firearms, such as a pellet gun or .22 caliber rifle or small shotgun (although 10 gauge shotguns are the largest shotguns allowed by regulation they are not recommended for squirrel hunting), which may be more comfortable or appropriate for a younger hunter. Tree squirrels are also relatively easy to clean and prepare for consumption, allowing younger hunters to master all aspects of harvesting wild game.

Knowing where to hunt is key to the success of any hunter, regardless of age or experience level. Some species are more prevalent in certain parts of the state than others. 

  • Western gray squirrels are found throughout the state except in Imperial, Contra Costa, San Francisco and King counties. Their typical habitat is in mature stands of conifer, hardwood and mixed hardwood-conifer habitats in the Klamath, Cascade, Transverse, Peninsular and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges as well as in riparian stands in the Central Valley.
  • Douglas squirrels are found in conifer, hardwood-conifer and riparian habitats of the Sierra Nevada, Cascade, Klamath, North Coast and Warner Ranges. They may inhabit altitudes from sea level to 11,000 feet elevation. They live in a majority of California counties including Alpine, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Glenn, Humboldt, Inyo, Kern, Lake, Lassen, Madera, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sonoma, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne and Yuba.
  • Eastern fox squirrels are a non-native species that was first introduced in California more than 100 years ago in Los Angeles County. They have been expanding their range in California’s valley, foothill riparian, redwood and valley foothill hardwood habitats ever since. They are able to out-compete native gray squirrels in many human-altered habitats thanks to their broader dietary preferences, tolerance of open and urbanized areas and the fact that they produce two litters of pups annually compared with only one litter for the native gray squirrel. Today there are many localized populations of Eastern fox squirrels living mostly in and around urban and nearby rural settings including vineyards and orchards that surround coastal metropolitan areas. Eastern fox squirrels are reported to inhabit Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles, Marin, Merced, Mendocino, Orange, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano and Ventura counties.
  • Eastern gray squirrels are a non-native species that was introduced to California. They have continued to expand their range, similar to the Eastern fox squirrel. They prefer heavily wooded areas and thrive in urban parks, and occur today in the San Francisco Bay Area, extending south through Santa Cruz County as well as in urban settings in the Central Valley and adjacent to the Calaveras River. There is little evidence that Eastern gray squirrels have displaced native California gray squirrels to an appreciable degree, however, Eastern gray squirrels are known to compete with and displace Eastern fox squirrels where they co-exist in California.

General Tips for Squirrel Hunting Success

Successful squirrel hunters are stealthy, well-prepared and properly equipped. The following tips are useful for hunting in any habitat.

  • Be stealthy. Squirrels have excellent hearing and vision and are well adapted to detect and evade predators. Squirrels will often see you before you see them, so being quiet and attentive enough to glimpse or hear a tree squirrel that may move or change its position in reaction to your presence is essential to a successful hunt. Practice walking as quietly as possible and be especially alert when entering into new habitat, such as when you first exit your vehicle or when you top a rise in the trail.
  • Practice patience. Once a squirrel has become alerted to your presence, it will often cease whatever activity it was engaged in and will wait motionless for a half hour or more for you to leave their area. A good strategy is to look for signs of tree squirrels (piles of stripped pine cone scales under conifers) and sit tight and wait for a while. Use binoculars or a scope to scan tree branches; tree squirrels will often sit or lie down prostrate on a branch while resting or avoiding detection by a predator. Knowing when to take the time to sit and wait can lead to a more successful, more efficient and ultimately more enjoyable hunt!
  • Use a hunting dog when possible. A dog can improve your success and minimize the potential for a wounding loss. If a tree squirrel is injured but not killed by your shot, they will likely flee rapidly and attempt to find cover. A dog may be the most effective way to ensure that a squirrel that falls to the ground will not be lost. Dogs may also aid in pointing or chasing a squirrel around to you from the opposite side of a tree. If you are not hunting with a dog, be sure to be prepared for a fast follow up shot to avoid a wounding loss.
  • Choose your firearm wisely. The best choice of gun and shot size will depend on both the hunter and local habitat. The gun should be comfortable enough to carry all day and easy to “swing” to take a shot. For youth hunters or those hunting in high-quality habitat, a pellet gun is light and compact and can allow for follow-up shots to take additional tree squirrels in some situations because of its relatively quiet operation. Experienced hunters or those hunting in more open habitats may prefer a shotgun with size 5 or 6 shot. For early season hunts when deciduous trees still hold most of their leaves, a number 4 shot may be a better choice. Small shotguns such as a .410 or 20 gauge are another excellent choice for hunting tree squirrels.

Regulations, Requirements and Safety Concerns

Tree squirrels can be hunted in the open zone during the open season under authority of a hunting license in California. No other validations are required.

Hunters should never shoot into dense vegetation to take a tree squirrel because of the risk of another hunter being on the other side. Never shoot toward rocks or water to avoid the possibility of a projectile bouncing toward you or someone else. Positioning yourself below a tree squirrel allows for a safe shot. While not required, blaze orange should be worn for safety, along with proper safety glasses.

Important laws and regulations to consider include the following:

  • Tree squirrels may be taken in the open zone during the open season from between one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.
  • All hunters, including youths with a junior hunting license, are required to carry their hunting license with them.
  • Bag limits apply to each hunter and no one can take more than one legal limit.
  • It is illegal to shoot within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling.
  • It is illegal to shoot from or across a public roadway.

It is the responsibility of every hunter to know and follow all laws.

CDFW urges hunters to drink plenty of fluids, wear sun protection and have a plan in case of an emergency.

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Media Contacts:
Matt Meshriy, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 322-6709

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

CDFW Offers Upland Game Hunting Clinic in Los Angeles County

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is offering an upland game hunting clinic on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) in Los Angeles County.

Participants from beginner to advanced are welcome to attend. The clinic will cover the basics of hunting with the goal of developing ethical, conservation-minded hunters.

Topics include the history of upland game hunting in California, bird habitat, food and range, maps, equipment and hunting with or without a dog. Staff will also review how to apply for special hunts offered by CDFW and public land opportunities. There will also be a demonstration with hunting dogs.

The cost for each clinic is $45. The clinic hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Space is limited to 25 people, so please register early. To register or for more information, please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/huntered/advanced/ or contact Lt. Alan Gregory at (916) 653-1235.

Hungry Valley SVRA is located along Interstate 5, approximately 30 miles south of Bakersfield and 60 miles north of Los Angeles.

First Dove Season Opener Approaches

mourning doveThe first of two opening days of California’s dove hunting season is fast approaching. This year’s season for mourning dove, white-winged dove, spotted dove and ringed turtle dove will run from Tuesday, Sept. 1 through Tuesday, Sept. 15 statewide, followed by a second hunt period, Saturday, Nov. 14 through Monday, Dec. 28.

Mourning dove and white-winged dove have a daily bag limit if 15, up to 10 of which may be white-winged dove. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit. There are no limits on spotted dove and ringed turtle dove. Hunting for Eurasian collared dove is legal year-round and there is no limit.

Please note that as of July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition is required when hunting upland game birds on all CDFW lands. Please plan accordingly. For more information please see the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) nonlead ammunition page.

A dove identification guide can be found on the CDFW website, along with a map of upland game fields in Imperial County, the state’s hub for dove hunting.

Although California is suffering a serious drought, mourning doves are dry environment birds and are capable of exploiting many food types and sources. Most of the state lands that are generally planted with forage crops for doves have not been planted this year in order to conserve water, so doves may be more dispersed and less concentrated in areas that have historically been planted. The lack of water resources has also resulted in a higher-than-normal concentration of many wildlife species together in places where there is water. Both mourning dove and band-tailed pigeon have shown symptoms of avian trichimonas and avian pox in the population this year.

While the final results of the 2015 statewide dove banding effort are not yet available, initial numbers indicate no shortage of mourning doves for the opener. Hunters who encounter a banded bird are asked to report it to the USGS Bird Banding Lab (www.reportband.gov). Banded birds are part of important biological monitoring and reporting completes the process.

“The Imperial Valley dove fields are the best they have ever been and will provide great hunting through both early and late seasons,” said Leon Lesicka of Desert Wildlife Unlimited.

Dove hunting is considered a great starting point for new hunters. There is very little equipment required and just about any place open for hunting will have mourning doves. Minimum requirements are a valid hunting license with an upland game bird stamp (if the hunter is 18 or older) and Harvest Information Program (HIP) validation, good footwear, a shotgun, shotgun shells and plenty of water. Hunters should be careful not to underestimate the amount of fluids needed, especially during the first half of the season.

Most successful dove hunters position themselves in a known flyway for doves. These can be to and from roost sites, water, food sources or gravel. Doves are usually taken by pass shooting these flyways, but hunters may also be successful jump shooting. Dove movement is most frequent in the early mornings and late evenings when they are flying from and to their roost sites (this is when the majority of hunters go into the field). Late morning to early afternoon can be better for jump shooting. Hunters should scout out dove activity in the area a few times just prior to hunting.

Important laws and regulations to consider include the following:

  • Shoot time for doves is one half hour before sunrise to sunset.
  • All hunters — including junior hunters — are required to carry their hunting license with them.
  • Hunters must have written permission from the landowner prior to hunting on private land.
  • Bag limits apply to each hunter and no one can take more than one legal limit.
  • It is illegal to shoot within 150 yards of an occupied dwelling.
  • It is illegal to shoot from or across a public roadway.
  • It is illegal to hunt within 200 yards of an artificial water source for wildlife.

It is the responsibility of every hunter to know and follow all laws.

Safety is the most important part of any hunting adventure. Although wearing hunter orange (blaze) is not required by law, it may be required in specific areas. Wearing a minimum of a hunter orange hat is recommended, especially when sitting or when hunting in deep vegetation. Safety glasses are a simple way to protect the eyes and are available in many shades for hunting in all types of lighting situations.

The weather throughout the state on Sept. 1 is expected to be hot and dry. CDFW urges hunters to drink plenty of fluids, wear sun protection and have a plan in case of an accident.

A summary of the 2015-16 dove hunting regulations can be found on CDFW’s website.

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Media Contacts:
Karen Fothergill, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 716-1461
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

USFS Closure Order in Sequoia National Forest Now Lifted

No Restrictions on Hunters in D-9 Deer Hunt Zone

Law enforcement’s multi-week search for fugitive Benjamin Peter Ashley has concluded, and the previous U.S. Forest Service public safety closure order for portions of the Sequoia National Forest, including the Piutes Mountains, has been lifted.

The restrictions, which limited public access to lands and roadways in the Kern River District within the Sequoia National Forest, are no longer in place and activities may resume in these areas, including in the D-9 deer hunt zone.

CDFW thanks the public for their patience and cooperation.

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Media Contacts:
Lt. Chris Stoots, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-9982

Cpt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692

SHARE Program Offers Hunts and Birdwatching this Fall

Rush Ranch, a SHARE property
Rush Ranch, a SHARE property

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) program will provide public access for wild pig, waterfowl and upland game hunts, and birdwatching this fall.

SHARE will offer eight wild pig hunts from November to February at Rush Ranch, in southern Solano County. Rush Ranch is a 2,070-acre open space area bordered by the Suisun Marsh. Two permits (each good for two hunters) will be randomly drawn for each period. SHARE hunters will have access to 1,000 acres of the ranch for this two-night, two-and-a-half day hunt and will also be allowed to camp in a designated area for no extra fee.

The wildlife management area at Merced’s Wastewater Treatment Plant will offer waterfowl, dove and pheasant hunting. The property is located five miles south of the city of Merced and offers 300 acres for hunting. Tucked between sloughs and agricultural fields, the seasonal pond and wetland provide cover and forage for waterfowl, dove and pheasant.

Turkey hunters will have an opportunity to access 3,200 acres of rolling blue oak woodlands on Bobcat Ranch located in Yolo County’s Vaca Mountain foothills.

Bobcat Ranch will also offer birdwatching opportunities this fall. Successful applicants will receive a SHARE access permit valid for two people. Instructions on how to apply and a bird list for the property can be found on the SHARE webpage. Birdwatching opportunities will not require a hunting license.

Hunters with a valid California hunting license may apply online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/online-sales. A non-refundable application fee of $11.37 will be charged for each hunt choice. Successful applicants for each property will be allowed to bring a hunting partner or a non-hunting partner depending on the hunt.

These opportunities were made possible by the SHARE Program, which offers incentives to private landowners who allow wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities on their property. Participating landowners receive liability protection and compensation for providing public access to, or through, their land for wildlife-dependent recreational activities. The goal of the SHARE Program is to provide hunting, fishing and other recreational access on private lands in California. For more information about SHARE opportunities please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/hunting/share.

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Media Contacts:
Victoria Barr, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 445-4034
Clark Blanchard, CDFW Communications, (916) 651-7824

Waterfowl Hunting Regulations Set for 2015-2016 Season

The California Fish and Game Commission adopted the 2015-16 waterfowl hunting regulations on Aug. 5. The season length for brant in the Northern Brant and Balance of State Brant special management areas was increased to 37 days and the canvasback daily bag limit was increased to two per day.

ducks and geese at Gray Lodge
Ducks and geese at Gray Lodge. CDFW photo by Lori Deiter.

Duck Seasons

  • Balance of State, Southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California zones will be open from Oct. 24, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016. Scaup season will be open from Nov. 7, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016.
  • Northeastern Zone will be open from Oct. 10, 2015 through Jan. 22, 2016. Scaup season will be open from Oct. 10, 2015 through Dec. 6, 2015, and from Dec. 26, 2015 through Jan. 22, 2016.
  • Colorado River Zone will be open from Oct. 16, 2015 through Jan. 24, 2016. Scaup season will be open from Oct. 31, 2015 through Jan. 24, 2016.

Bag Limits

  • Seven ducks per day, which includes no more than two hen mallards (or Mexican-like ducks in the Colorado River Zone), two pintail, two canvasback, two redheads and three scaup (which may only be taken during the 86-day scaup season).

Geese Seasons

  • Balance of State, Southern San Joaquin Valley and Southern California zones will be open from Oct. 24, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016.
    • Balance of State Zone will also be open for Late Season white-fronted and white geese from Feb. 13-17, 2016.
    • Balance of State Zone will also be open for Early Large Canada geese from Oct. 3-7, 2015.
  • Northeastern Zone will be open for dark geese from Oct. 10, 2015 through Jan. 17, 2016 and for white geese from Nov. 7, 2015 through Jan. 17, 2016.
    • Northeastern Zone will also be open for Late Season white geese from Feb. 7, 2016 through Mar. 10, 2016.
    • Northeastern Zone will also be open for Late Season white-fronted geese from Mar. 6-10, 2016.
  • Colorado River Zone will be open from Oct. 16, 2015 through Jan. 24, 2016.

Bag Limits

  • 25 total geese per day, which may include 15 white geese.
  • 10 dark geese, including no more than two large Canada geese in the Northeastern Zone, no more than three dark geese in the Southern California Zone and no more than four dark geese in the Colorado River Zone.

The complete regulations can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Hunting/Waterfowl.

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Media Contacts:
Melanie Weaver, CDFW Waterfowl Program, (916) 445-3717

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

Knoxville Wildlife Area Reopened

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced today that Knoxville Wildlife Area will reopen for public use Sunday, Aug. 9 at 5:00 a.m. Because of successful efforts by fire personnel from multiple agencies on the Rocky Fire, CDFW considers conditions to be safe for public access. The public is reminded that campfires are not allowed on the wildlife area at any time.

Because of the Rocky Fire in neighboring Lake County, Knoxville Wildlife Area was closed to all public use on Aug. 3. The general deer season opener began today, and Knoxville is a popular hunting area.

The public can monitor the status of the Rocky Fire at www.fire.ca.gov/general/firemaps.php.

Media Contacts:
Conrad Jones, Knoxville Wildlife Area, (707) 944-5544
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Fish and Game Commission Votes to Ban Bobcat Trapping Statewide

The California Fish and Game Commission voted 3-2 to ban bobcat trapping statewide. Commission President Jack Baylis and Commissioners Anthony Williams and Eric Sklar voted in favor of a statewide ban. Commission Vice President Jim Kellogg and Commissioner Jacqueline Hostler-Carmesin voted against it.

The decision today completely bans bobcat trapping in California, with the exception of depredation trapping.

The ban will become effective after approval by the state Office of Administrative Law and submission to the Secretary of State. The regulations may be effective before the start of the 2015-2016 bobcat trapping season.

Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Knoxville Wildlife Area Closed Due to Rocky Fire

Because of the Rocky Fire in neighboring Lake County, Knoxville Wildlife Area is closed to all public use until further notice to allow safe access for emergency vehicles. The closure affects Knoxville-Berryessa Road north of Pope Canyon Road.

It is unknown when the wildlife area will be safe to reopen.

“We are hopeful that the wildlife area will reopen before the Saturday deer opener, but it’s impossible to say at this time,” said Conrad Jones, a senior environmental scientist at Knoxville. “Safety is our first priority, and we are cooperating with emergency responders who are working hard to get this fire under control.”

Interested members of the public can call (707) 944-5547 for updates on the closure. The message will be revised as more information becomes available.

The public can also monitor the status of the fire at www.fire.ca.gov/general/firemaps.php. Please note that on the webpage, Knoxville-Berryessa Road is referred to as Morgan Valley Road in the road closure section.

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Media Contacts:
Conrad Jones, Knoxville Wildlife Area, (707) 944-5544

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

CDFW Offers Upland Game Hunting and Waterfowl Clinics in Solano County

Duck hunting with dogThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Advanced Hunter Education program is offering two advanced hunting clinics in Solano County in August.

“These clinics are designed to educate both new and experienced hunters in specific types of hunting and to provide the experience necessary to be an ethical and more successful hunter. You will learn about hunting techniques and how to apply them to become that successful hunter,” said Lt. Alan Gregory, CDFW Advanced Hunter Education Program Coordinator.

Upland Game Hunting Clinic: The Upland Game Hunting Clinic will be held on Saturday, Aug. 15 at the Hastings Island Hunting Preserve in Rio Vista. The clinic will include information about the history of pheasant, quail and chukar hunting in California, bird habitat, food and range, maps, equipment and hunting with or without a dog. There will be dog demonstrations with both pointers and flushers.

Waterfowl Hunting Clinic: The Waterfowl Hunting Clinic will be held on Saturday, Aug. 22 at Grizzly Island near Suisun. Topics will include hunter safety, decoy placement, blind design, ballistics, calling, duck identification and game care, as well as information about hunting on State and Federal Waterfowl Management Areas. The clinic is co-sponsored by the California Waterfowl Association and the Pacific Coast Hunter Education Association.

Registration Information: The cost for each clinic is $45. The clinic hours are: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Space is limited to 25 people, so please register early. To register or get more information, please go to www.dfg.ca.gov/huntered/advanced or contact Lt. Alan Gregory at (916) 653-1235.

Although the clinics are sponsored by the Advanced Hunter Education program, participants of all skill levels (from beginner to advanced) are welcome. Clinics focus on the basics of hunting with the goal of developing ethical, conservation-minded, successful hunters.

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Media Contacts:
Lt. Alan Gregory, CDFW Advanced Hunter Education, (916) 653-1235
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988
Kristi Matal, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-9811