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October Brings More Openers for Upland Game Birds Throughout the State

While some upland game bird hunting opportunities started in September, the fall hunting season gains momentum in the coming weeks, with the early pheasant archery season opening on Oct. 10 and quail, chukar and snipe opening statewide on Oct. 17.

“The hot summers of California’s mediterranean climate finally give way to fall temperatures in October, which is a welcome relief for hunters,” said Levi Souza, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Upland Game Program. “It’s shaping up to be a pretty good season for most species.”

The early archery-only pheasant season will be open from Oct. 10 to Nov. 1 (the late season will run from Dec. 28 to Jan. 24). The daily bag limit is two pheasants for the first two days of the season and three pheasants per day afterward. A hunter’s daily archery bag limit may not include more than one female pheasant. The possession limit is triple the daily bag limit.

Oct. 17 marks the much-anticipated opening of the general quail statewide. All zones will remain open until Jan. 31, 2016. The daily bag limit for quail is 10 and the possession limit is triple the daily bag.

Souza noted that quail hunters in particular may find the fall hunting season to be a good one. “While the ongoing drought has likely impacted some quail populations, our regional quail surveys showed decent reproduction this year. Anecdotally, spring and summer rains were particularly good for mountain quail reproduction at higher elevations. So despite the dry conditions, the quail hunting season should be a good one in most places this year,” he said.

Also opening on Oct. 17 are the general statewide seasons for chukar and snipe. For chukar, the daily bag limit is six and for snipe the daily bag limit is eight. The possession limit is triple the daily bag for both species.

More information on hunting quail, chukar and snipe can be found on CDFW’s website.

Upland game bird hunters must carry a current California hunting license and, if the hunter is 18 years or older, an upland game bird validation.

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.

Snipe Season Opener Approaches: It’s Not Just a Practical Joke

If you always thought snipe hunting was just a rite-of-passage prank for adolescents around the campfire, you may be surprised to learn that there is a real hunting season coming up for this tasty game bird. The general hunting season for snipe will be open statewide from Oct. 17, 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016. The daily bag limit is eight and the possession limit is triple the bag limit.

“Snipe hunting is a great pastime for hunters who are up for a challenge,” said Karen Fothergill, a senior environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Upland Game Program. “They are easily the state’s most overlooked game bird, in part because they’re extremely difficult to hunt. Being successful requires knowledge of their habitat and quick identification followed up with a fast and accurate shot.”

In fact, the word “sniper” originally meant a hunter that was skilled at shooting the notoriously wily bird.

Wilson’s snipe is a plump brown-and-buff migratory shorebird with short, stocky legs and a long bill. They can be found throughout the state, but are elusive and hard to spot when on the ground (thus the likely origin of the campfire game). Snipe are ground-foraging birds, frequently found probing muddy grounds for earthworms and invertebrates. They fly in a fast zig-zag pattern and in the spring they make a distinctive whistling sound (called “winnowing”) with their tails.

Snipe are most frequently found along the muddy edges of ponds, damp fields and other wet, open habitats. Areas with low vegetation provide adequate camouflage and cover for snipe, but they can often be spotted by glassing the water’s edge with binoculars.

Because of their habitat, waterfowl hunters are most likely to encounter snipe in the field and may find the bird to be a nice addition to their daily take.

In marshy bogs or wet meadows, hunters can use a pointing dog to stalk snipe, or can use the walk-up or pass shooting methods. A light upland gun with an open choke is recommended, with #7 shot. Snipe tend to flush into the wind, so hunters may have more luck if they walk with the wind at their back. Though they are flocking birds, snipe tend to flush as singles or pairs. They almost never fly in a straight line, making excellent hand-eye coordination a must for a successful hunt.

“One thing that’s especially important to realize is that snipe keep company with many other shorebird species that are not legal game,” Fothergill noted. “Be able to quickly identify your target to ensure you’re not firing on a plover or other non-game species.”

While snipe have a wide wingspan, they are smaller than quail and it may take several to make a single meal. They are often roasted whole or breasted out and cooked with butter or bacon. Hunters who enjoy eating dove or duck will likely love the taste of snipe.

Although finding a snipe hunting guide at summer camp is easy, it might be tough for a new hunter to find one during the season without getting served a side dish of puns and jokes.

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 page.


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

Recreational Spiny Lobster Season to Open Oct. 3

Thousands of lobster fishermen are eagerly awaiting the start of the sport season for California’s spiny lobster, which opens Saturday, Oct. 3 and continues through March 16, 2016.

There is currently a strong El Niño event occurring in the eastern Pacific, with above-average water temperatures expected to continue into the months ahead in Southern California.

“Lobster catches have historically been considerable during El Niño events, so it’s looking to be a plentiful season,” said Travis Buck, a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW).

The California spiny lobster is common from Point Conception, California to Magdalena Bay on the west coast of Baja California, Mexico. A typical legal-size lobster will average over one pound in weight. Recreational divers and hoop netters will occasionally find lobsters over five pounds (considered trophy size) in California waters.

Regulations governing the sport take of spiny lobster have helped to preserve the tradition of lobster diving and hoop netting in Southern California. The 2015-16 spiny lobster season regulations include:

  • All persons age 16 or older who are taking or attempting to take lobster must possess a valid sport fishing license, ocean enhancement stamp and a lobster report card in order to take lobster south of Point Arguello. Children who are under 16 and fishing for lobster do not need a license, but must possess a lobster report card.
  • The daily bag and possession limit is seven lobsters.
  • Spiny lobster taken must measure at least 3 1/4 inches in length, and are measured in a straight line on the mid-line of the back from the rear edge of the eye socket to the rear edge of the body shell (carapace).
  • Any lobster may be brought to the surface for the purpose of measuring, but undersized lobsters may not be held in a game bag or brought aboard a boat and must be immediately released.
  • Harvesters may use hoop nets or bare (gloved) hands when skin or scuba diving for lobster. No appliance (such as fish spears or poles) may be used to assist.
  • No more than five hoop nets may be possessed by a person when taking spiny lobster or crab (or two hoop nets on piers, jetties and other shore-based structures). No more than 10 hoop nets may be possessed aboard a vessel, regardless of how many fishermen or persons are onboard.

Spiny lobster are nocturnal scavengers that feed on fishes, sea urchins and a variety of other marine life. During the day, they shelter in caves and crevices. Rocky reefs and other hard-bottom substrates are their preferred habitat, but they may also favor manmade habitats such as jetties, piers, breakwaters and artificial reefs. Surfgrass and eelgrass beds can also be productive lobster hunting grounds. At night, when they are out foraging, lobsters can sometimes be found on exposed sand or mud bottoms.

For hoopnetters, CDFW marine biologists suggest using an oily or aromatic bait to dispense a scent trail that nearby lobsters will follow back to the net. Squid, Pacific mackerel, bonito, anchovies and sardines may serve as good bait. A wire mesh bait container will help prevent the loss of bait to fish or other large predators such as seals and sea lions.

Because lobsters are strong and have hair-trigger responses when they sense predators, the best strategy for divers is usually to pin the lobster to the bottom instead of grabbing legs or antennae which could be ripped off, particularly since the lobster will have to be released if it undersized. Although lobsters can regenerate lost limbs, research has found that these lobsters ultimately produce fewer offspring because of the energy requirements for limb regeneration.

Prior to beginning fishing activity, the date, location and gear code must be recorded on the lobster report card. When finished fishing or changing locations or gear types, persons taking or attempting to take lobster must immediately record the number of lobster taken from that location, even if no lobster were retained. Lobster report cards must be returned to CDFW by April 30 following the end of the fishing season, regardless of whether the card was used or any lobster were caught. Persons who fill up a report card can turn in their card and purchase another.

Lobster report card data is very important for CDFW’s marine biologists to manage California’s lobster fishery. More than 19,000 report cards were received by the April 30 deadline last year. Pursuant to the California Code of Regulations, a $20 non-return fee will be levied for unreturned report cards or those that are returned after the deadline. Anglers may sit out one lobster season in lieu of paying the fee. CDFW reminds lobster report card holders to report every card — including cards that were lost — to avoid the fee, and also recommends reporting online and saving your confirmation number.

The complete set of spiny lobster regulations are contained in the 2015-16 Ocean Sport Fishing regulations booklet, found on CDFW’s website and wherever fishing licenses are sold. More information specific to California’s spiny lobster can also be found on the website.


Media Contacts:
Travis Buck, CDFW Marine Region, (858) 467-4214
Tom Mason, CDFW Marine Region, (562) 342-7107
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

Quail, Grouse, Ptarmigan and Pigeon General Seasons to Open Soon

The 2015 general hunting season will open in mid-September for various upland game bird species in specific zones around the state, providing hunters with many opportunities to bring home some delicious table fare for the upcoming holiday seasons.quail

September openers include quail (Zone Q1 opens for mountain quail only from Sept. 12 through Oct. 16, and Zone Q2 will be open for all quail from Sept. 26 through Jan. 31); sooty and ruffed grouse (general season will be open in various northern and eastern counties from Sept. 12 through Oct. 12); white-tailed ptarmigan (general and archery seasons will be open from Sept. 12-20); and band-tailed pigeon (the northern hunt zone only will be open from Sept. 19-27).

Specific information about each of these opportunities, including zone maps and information about daily bag limits and possession limits for each species can be found on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Upland Game Bird Hunting webpage. Additional information about each species can be found below.


Quail are one of the state’s most popular native game birds. There are three species of quail found in California: California quail, mountain quail and Gambel’s quail. California quail (the state bird) are common and widespread throughout the state in brushy areas with good cover and abundant food. Mountain quail are also widespread, and live in steep and rugged mid to high elevation terrain. Gambel’s quail are California’s most desert adapted species and can be found in the arid lands of southeastern California.

The early mountain quail season starts on Sept. 12 and continues through Oct. 16 and covers much of the mountainous region of northern and eastern California (the zone map can be found on the CDFW website). On Sept. 26, the early general quail season opens in several coastal counties between San Francisco and Mendocino. The remainder of the state will open to quail hunting Oct. 17. Finally, an additional two-day early hunt season will be open on Oct. 3-4 for young hunters with junior hunting licenses in Mojave National Preserve.

For all quail species, the daily bag limit is 10 and the possession limit is triple the daily bag.

All three native species of quail have high reproductive potential with large hatches following good years of late-winter and early-spring precipitation. Despite the ongoing drought, the winter and spring conditions of 2015 were moist at times, providing some beneficial conditions and encouraging reproduction in wetter areas. Grass and forb production was better than the previous year and summer broods averaged seven chicks in drier areas, and eight chicks in wetter areas.

Like most upland birds, quail are most active in the early morning and later afternoon. Successful quail hunters know to look for freshly turned soil depressions in a circular shape, which can indicate where the birds have been taking dust baths. Quail have distinctive calls that can provide clues to the birds’ roosting spot or direction. Once they are away from cover and foraging, quail tend to stay on the move throughout the day.

Quail are most commonly hunted with 20, 16 or 12 gauge shotguns. A modified or improved cylinder choke is recommended to avoid excessively damaging the bird. Because of their ability to blend in and the brushy habitats, hit quail can be a challenge to find, and dogs can be useful for both locating and retrieving birds. CDFW reminds hunters that wasting game is both unethical and illegal.

CDFW estimates that in the 2014/15 season, approximately 470,000 quail were bagged across all three species by 69,000 hunters over the course of 550,000 hunter-days. Not surprisingly, California quail is the most frequently bagged of the three species.


California has two species of native forest-dwelling grouse: the sooty (or blue) grouse and the ruffed grouse. Sooty grouse occur in the mountainous regions in the northern and eastern parts of the state, while the ruffed grouse is restricted to the extreme northwestern part of the state. The general hunting season for both species extends from Sept. 12 to Oct. 12 this year. For sooty and ruffed grouse, the bag limit is two (all of one species or mixed) and possession limit is triple the daily bag. A map of the hunt zones for sooty and ruffed grouse can be found on the CDFW website. A third species, the greater sage-grouse, can be hunted by permit only.

Although they are fairly large birds, grouse camouflage themselves very well. Dogs are useful companions for grouse hunters, due in part to the grouse’s tendency toward a fast, explosive flush. Grouse are easily frightened and will sometimes fly in a zigzag pattern when flushed. A light gun is helpful because a fast swing is often necessary.


The white-tailed ptarmigan is a non-native grouse that was introduced by CDFW to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1970s. This is the smallest species of ptarmigan and the only one found in California. They live in high elevation alpine habitats at low densities from the Sonora Pass south to Sequoia National Park. The ptarmigan hunt zone includes Alpine County and portions of Mono County (for specifics, please contact CDFW’s Upland Game Program).

Hunting these birds can be challenging because of the barren and inhospitable terrain. Hunting is permitted from Sept. 12 -20 within the designated zone. The daily bag limit is two per day and the possession limit is two per season. Many hunters prefer using a 20-gauge shotgun and a hunting dog to pursue ptarmigan.


The band-tailed pigeon is California’s only native pigeon and is a close relative of the extinct passenger pigeon. They look similar to domestic (feral) pigeons that are common in urban areas. Band-tailed pigeons are found in mountainous terrain throughout the state, using coniferous forests as well as oak woodlands.

The band-tailed pigeon is locally abundant at times but populations are nomadic and movements can be unpredictable. The federal Harvest Information Program (HIP) estimates that in 2014, 10,700 pigeons were harvested in California, nearly 90 percent of the total Pacific Flyway harvest.

The northern California hunt zone season runs from Sept 19-27. The daily bag limit is two and the possession limit is triple the daily bag. The southern hunt zone does not open until December.

CDFW reminds hunters that an upland game bird stamp is required for licensed adult hunters (18 years and older) but not hunters with a valid junior hunting license. A HIP validation is also required to hunt band-tailed pigeons.

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 page.


Media Contacts:
Levi Souza, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 445-3709
Scott Gardner, CDFW Upland Game Program, (916) 801-6257
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

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.


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

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