California Deer Hunting Laws and Regulations

2023 Deer Tag Classification Updates

Deer tag classifications have been updated for the 2023 hunting season. Detailed information on these changes can be found in the "2023 Deer Hunts" section starting on page 28 of the hunting regulations. The changes are as follows:

  • From Restricted to Premium Deer Tag:

    • D6 tag's quota was reached on June 16, 2022.
  • From Unrestricted to Premium Deer Tag:

    • D16 tag's quota was met on June 25, 2022.
  • From Unrestricted to Restricted Deer Tags:

    • A32 tag's quota was filled by July 15, 2022.

California Hunting License Information

First-time applicants seeking a California hunting license via the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's (CDFW) Automated License Data System (ALDS) must submit proof of hunter education. Acceptable documentation includes:

  • A past annual California hunting license.
  • A California Two-Day Nonresident Hunting License from the 1999/2000 season onwards.
  • A California hunter education certificate with a unique number or an unnumbered certificate along with a validation stamp.
  • Completion certificates from California-approved hunter education programs from any state or province.
  • A current or recent (up to two years old) hunting license from any state, province, EU country, or South Africa.

Returning hunters with prior ALDS license purchases will have their hunter education proof on file. It's advisable for hunters to provide a previous ALDS-issued license to license agents to ensure accurate profile retrieval.

Hunter License Validation Specifications

A valid California hunting license must:

  • Bear the licensee's signature.
  • Be acquired alongside presentation of proof of identification during the initial purchase.
  • Include the licensee's full name, residential address, birth date, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and gender.

Approved Identification for California Hunting License

When applying for a California hunting license, applicants must provide one of the following forms of identification for verification:

  • A previously issued license document or GO ID number from ALDS.
  • A valid driver’s license or an ID card from the licensee's home state's motor vehicle department.
  • A US Birth Certificate.
  • A US Certificate or Report of Birth Abroad.
  • A Tribal Identification Card recognized by a sovereign tribal nation.
  • A Birth Certificate or passport from a US Territory.
  • A US Passport.
  • US Military Identification Cards for active or reserve members, dependents, retirees, those discharged from service, or medical/religious personnel.
  • A Certificate of Naturalization or Citizenship.
  • Photo identification issued by a foreign government.

Minors under 18 years of age can present any of the IDs mentioned above or a guardian's acceptable identification.

Specifics on California Hunting License Usage

To legally hunt birds or mammals in California, an appropriate hunting license is essential. The license must be in the hunter's possession during the activity and shown to any peace officer on request, along with firearms or other equipment used for hunting.

Additionally, the terms of the 2-Day Nonresident California Hunting License are as follows:

  • The license permits the holder to hunt resident and migratory game birds, small game mammals, fur-bearing mammals, wild pigs, and non-game mammals.
  • However, the 2-Day license does not authorize the taking of bighorn sheep, bear, deer, elk, or pronghorn.

Criteria for Junior Hunting License

Eligibility for a junior hunting license requires that the applicant be under 16 years old on or before July 1 of the license year in question.

Disabled Veteran and Recovering Service Member Reduced Fee Hunting Licenses

Disabled Veterans

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) provides discounted hunting licenses for Disabled Veterans, applicable to both residents and non-residents. Qualifying criteria include:

  • An honorable discharge.
  • A service-connected disability rated at 50 percent or greater.

Required documentation for application comprises a letter from the Veterans’ Administration confirming these stipulations.

Recovering Service Members

Recovering Service Members are also eligible for reduced hunting license fees. Eligibility requirements involve:

  • Current outpatient status during medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy.
  • Injury or illness relatedness to military service.

An application necessitates a letter from a commanding officer or military medical doctor including verification of recuperating status and an anticipated recovery date.

Prequalification and Application Process

To prequalify, required documents must be sent alongside a copy of personal identification and GO ID. Submissions can be made by:

  • Fax to (916) 419-7585.
  • Secure document upload by emailing for a link.
  • Mail or in-person at any CDFW license sales office.

For further details, please reach out to a local CDFW license sales office or refer to the CDFW website at Note that hunting tags and validations are not subject to the reduced fee and must be purchased at their full cost.

Procedure for Obtaining Duplicate Hunting Licenses

License Replacement Process

In the event a hunter loses their original hunting license or any additional validations, the CDFW has retained a complete purchasing history in the individual's customer record. To obtain replacements, the following options are available:

  • Visiting any CDFW license sales office in person.
  • Locating a licensed agent.
  • Accessing the CDFW online licensing service.
  • Utilizing the CDFW telephone sales system.

By using any of these methods, a hunter can secure a duplicate of their lost license and validations.

Upland Game Bird and California Duck Validation Requirements

Upland Game Bird Validation

For the hunting of specific bird species, including pheasant, dove, turkey, quail, grouse, ptarmigan, snipe, band-tailed pigeon, partridge, or chukar, all hunters (excluding junior hunters) must obtain an Upland Game Bird Validation.

California Duck Validation

To legally hunt waterfowl within the state, hunters must possess a California Duck Validation, in addition to the Federal Duck Stamp and a free Harvest Information Program (HIP) Validation.

Collectible Stamps

Acknowledging the value many hunters place on collecting physical stamps, CDFW provides an option for hunters with validations to obtain collectible stamps:

  • After purchasing validations, hunters can claim their physical stamp through the website address noted on their 2023 hunting licenses.
  • The collectible stamps will be dispatched after July 1, 2024, marking the end of the license year.


Harvest Information Program (HIP) Validation for Migratory Game Birds

Mandatory HIP Survey

Hunters aiming to pursue migratory game birds during the 2023-24 season, such as ducks, geese, coots, dove, band-tailed pigeon, snipe, gallinules, or black brant, are required to fill out a Harvest Information Program (HIP) survey.

Obtaining HIP Validation

The HIP validation, which is a prerequisite to legally hunt these species, can be acquired through one of the following methods without incurring any fees:

  • In-person at any California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) license sales office.
  • At an authorized license agent.
  • Online through the CDFW licensing system.

Compliance and Penalties

Carrying the HIP validation is compulsory while hunting. Failure to have the HIP validation on hand during hunting activities may result in being cited for non-compliance.

Eligibility and Renewal for Disabled Archer Permit

Permit Qualifications

Hunters with permanent or significant limitations due to a disease, disorder, or injury impeding the ability to draw and hold a bow in a firing position are eligible for a Disabled Archer Permit. This permit permits the use of crossbows or devices that maintain a string and arrow in the firing position.

Medical Certification

  • A licensed physician's certification is mandatory for the permit.
  • For permanent disabilities, hunters can renew the permit annually without a new physician's certification.
  • Temporary disability requires an expiration date on the certification, necessitating annual renewal up until the specified end date.

Renewal Methods

Renewals can be managed through any of the following channels:

  • In-person at CDFW license sales offices.
  • Through authorized license agents.
  • Via the CDFW's online licensing platform.
  • Through telephone sales offered by CDFW.

Once the end date for a temporary disability has passed, re-certification by a physician is necessary to obtain a new permit.

Disabled Muzzleloader Scope Permit for Visually Impaired Hunters

Permit Overview

This permit is specifically for hunters who suffer from a permanent visual impairment which hampers their ability to align the sights on a muzzleloader when hunting deer. The Disabled Muzzleloader Scope Permit grants these individuals the right to use a 1X magnification scope on a muzzleloader rifle.

Qualification Criteria

Eligibility for the permit includes:

  • A permanent, significant limitation or medically diagnosed condition resulting in substantial vision impairment.

Annual Renewal

  • The permit must be renewed each licensing year.
  • For renewal, hunters are allowed to present a copy of their previously issued permit to the CDFW's License and Revenue Branch as proof, negating the need for new certification for subsequent renewals.

Mobility Impaired Disabled Persons Motor Vehicle Hunting License

License Purpose

Designed for hunters with mobility impairments who rely on the use of a motor vehicle to hunt, this license permits the hunter to legally discharge a firearm from a stationary vehicle with the engine off.

Eligibility Requirements

Qualifying conditions for the license include:

  • Permanent confinement to a wheelchair.
  • Above-the-knee amputation of one or both legs.
  • Below-the-knee amputation of both legs.
  • Dependence on a walker, crutches, or similar aids for mobility.

Physician Certification

  • A licensed physician must certify the hunter's mobility impairment.

Obtaining the License

  • The specialized license can only be acquired directly through the CDFW's License and Revenue Branch, not at general license sales offices or agents.

Hunter Education Program Format and Resources

Class Formats

Hunter education classes are comprehensive, covering a variety of topics including:

  • Firearms safety and handling
  • Sportsmanship and ethics
  • Wildlife management and conservation
  • Archery and black powder techniques
  • Wildlife identification
  • Game care
  • First aid and survival skills

Classes are available in two different formats:

  • Traditional classes include at least 10 hours combining classroom study, homework, and field instruction.
  • Online courses that require completion of a follow-up class in person.

For class registration and information, visit CDFW Hunter Education.

Hunter Education Equivalency Exams

  • Available by appointment only at CDFW regional offices for a fee.
  • Applicants should verify if California's equivalency certificate is recognized in the state where they wish to hunt by contacting the nearest CDFW regional office.

Duplicate Hunter Education Certificates

  • Issued to those who passed a hunter education class.
  • For courses completed before 1989, contact the instructor or organization that conducted the course for duplicates, as CDFW does not keep records from before that year.
  • If a duplicate cannot be obtained, retaking the course will be necessary.
  • More information is available on the Hunter Education webpage.

Advanced Hunter Education and Bowhunter Education Classes

Advanced Hunter Education Clinics

These clinics are tailored to specific species or skills, offering instruction on subjects such as:

  • Field dressing deer
  • Duck calling
  • Navigation skills
  • Game processing and preparation

For details on clinic dates and locations, visit Advanced Hunter Education.

Bowhunter Education Class

While not mandated in California, the CDFW Bowhunter Education program complies with the standards of all states that do require such training. To find out more or enroll in a Bowhunter Education class, check the Hunter Education section on the CDFW website.

California Deer Tag Requirements and Regulations

Mandatory Deer Tags

  • A valid hunting license and deer tags are required for deer hunting in California.
  • Hunters are allowed a maximum of two deer tags each license year.

Age Requirement for Deer Tags

  • Applicants for deer tags must be at least 12 years old by July 1 of the license year, or at the time of the application if applied for after July 1.

Purchase Order for Deer Tags

  • A First-Deer Tag Drawing Application or First-Deer Tag has to be acquired before or simultaneously with a Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application or Second-Deer Tag, applicable only to junior hunters.

Revocation of Hunting Privileges

  • Purchasing more than the specified number of deer tags within the same license year is prohibited.
  • Individuals convicted of a deer-related offense in the 2022-23 license year are ineligible to apply for deer tags for the 2023-24 season.
  • The Fish and Game Code states that any person convicted of three hunting law or regulation violations within a five-year timeframe is subject to having their hunting privileges revoked.

California Deer Hunt Tag Types and Regulations

A, B, and D Zone Hunt Tags

  • Valid during archery season using archery equipment.
  • During the general season, allowed with muzzleloading, centerfire rifles, shotguns, authorized handguns, crossbows, or bows.
  • Specific tag validity within designated zones:
    • A tags: valid in both A North and A South.
    • B tags: applicable in any B zone.
    • D3-5 tags: valid in zones D3, D4, and D5.
    • D11, D13, D15 tags: interchangeable among these zones.

C Zone Hunt Tag

  • C tags are valid during the general season in zones C1 through C4.
  • For archery season in C zones, an A1-archery hunt tag is required.

X Zone Hunt Tags

  • Allowed during the general season in designated X zones.

Archery-Only (AO) Hunt Tag

  • Permits archery hunting only during archery and general seasons in A, B, or D zones and Hunt G10 (military only).
  • No firearms or crossbows permitted with AO tags except under specific regulations.

Apprentice Hunt Tags

  • For hunters under 16 years old by July 1 of the license year.
  • Must carry a valid California Junior Hunting License.
  • Juniors with apprentice tags must hunt with an adult at least 18 years old.

Area-Specific Archery Hunt Tags

  • Grants archery hunting rights in specific areas, including X zones.

Military Lands Hunts (J10 and A33)

  • Conducted on military grounds with limited public tags through CDFW's Big Game Drawing.
  • G7, G10, and G11 military land hunts are restricted to military personnel.
  • Cancelled G8 hunt.
  • Contact details provided for Beale AFB and Camp Pendleton information.

Deer Tag Exchanges

  • Non-Premium tags exchangeable under conditions outlined:
    • Before the earliest season starts.
    • If the original tag's quota isn't filled.
    • Availability in requested zone.
    • A fee of $12.36 for processing.
  • Exchanges processed only at CDFW license sales offices.

Deer Tag Refunds

  • Deer tag fees, including those for the drawing application, are nonrefundable.
  • No refunds are issued for closures due to fires, weather, or natural disasters.

Definitions of Deer Types for Hunting Regulations

Antlerless Deer

  • Includes female deer without antlers.
  • Fawns of either sex, excluding those with spots.
  • Males with an antler that's unbranched on either side and no longer than three inches.

Either-sex Deer

  • Encompasses both antlerless deer.
  • Legal bucks with a minimum of two points on either antler within the upper two-thirds.

Forked-horn Buck

  • A male deer with at least one branched antler, the branch located within the upper two-thirds of the antler.
  • Eyeguards or lower antler projections are not regarded as points.

Spike Buck Deer

  • A male deer with two unbranched antlers, both exceeding 3 inches in length.

Classification of Deer Tags for Hunting

Tag Quota and Classification

  • Every specific hunt has an assigned tag quota.
  • Classification as premium, restricted, or unrestricted is determined by the demand for tags in the previous year.

Premium Deer Hunts Criteria

  • Classification applies to hunts with quotas filled by the first business day after July 1 of the preceding year.
  • Hunters are entitled to only one premium hunt tag annually.
  • Applications for premium tags must go through the Big Game Drawing with a First-Deer Tag Drawing Application.
  • Junior hunters have the exception to apply for premium Apprentice Hunts using a Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application.

Designated Premium Hunt Zones

  • General Zone Premium Tags include:

    • C, D6, D9, D12, D14, D16, D17
  • X Zone Premium Tags span across:

    • X1, X2, X3A, X3B, X4, X5A, X5B, X6A, X6B, X7A, X7B, X8, X9A, X9B, X9C, X10, X12
  • General Method Hunts with Premium Tags are:

    • G1, G3, G6, G12, G13, G19, G21, G37, G38, G39
  • Muzzleloader Hunts allocated for Premium Tags feature:

    • M3, M4, M5, M6, M7, M8, M9, M11, MA1, MA3
  • Archery hunters targeting specific areas can apply for:
    • A1, A3-A9, A11-A21, A22, A24-A27, A30, A31, A33
  • Junior hunters eligible for apprentice hunts have the following options:
    • J1, J3, J4, J8, J9, J10, J11-J21

Restricted Hunts

Restricted Hunts Definition

  • Hunts that reached their tag quota by the first business day after August 1 in the previous year are classified as restricted.

Issuance of Restricted Tags

  • Available with the purchase of a First-Deer Tag.
  • Hunters without a pending application, and who haven't received a premium or a restricted First-Deer Tag, can obtain a restricted tag when applying for a Second-Deer Tag.
  • Distribution of restricted tags continues until the designated tag quota is met.

Classification of Unrestricted Hunts

  • Hunts that did not reach their tag quotas by the first business day after August 1 of the previous year are deemed unrestricted.

Availability of Unrestricted Tags

  • Tags associated with unrestricted hunts can be received when a hunter purchases a First-Deer Tag or Second-Deer Tag without any additional requirements.

List of Unrestricted Deer Tags for 2023

  • Archery Only Hunts: AO tag
  • General Hunt Zones include: A, B, D3-5, D7, D8, D10, D11, D13, D15, and D19 zones

Wildfire-Related Public Land Closure Tag Returns

Regulations for Return of Unfilled Tags

  • As of April 18, 2022, regulations permit tag holders affected by public land closures due to wildfires to return their unfilled deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep tags.

Criteria for Eligibility

  • If the hunt zone was inaccessible for 66% or more of the season because of a wildfire-related closure, the tag holder may request a preference point reinstatement and/or a refund.

Process for Requesting Reinstatement or Refund

  • The unfilled tag and written request must be postmarked by February 28 of the license year for which the tag was issued.
  • Requests postmarked after this deadline will not be considered.

For additional details on post-season tag returns, consult the CDFW website at

pplication Process for First-Deer Tag Drawing

Usage of First-Deer Tag Drawing Application

  • It can be applied solely for certain types of deer hunts.

Application Choices

  • First Choice: Utilized for Premium Deer Hunts or Preference Point (PD Code) acquisition to gain a point without entering the first-choice drawing round.
  • Second Choice and Third Choice: These optional choices can include premium, restricted, or unrestricted deer hunts.

Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application for Junior Hunters

Specific Use of Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application

  • Exclusively available to junior hunters for Apprentice Hunts when not selected on their First-Deer Tag Drawing Application.

Choices Within the Application

  • First Choice: Obligatory selection of an Apprentice Deer Hunt or utilize PD (Point Deer) as the code for gaining a preference point without participating in the first choice drawing round.
  • Second and Third Choice: These are voluntary selections for another Apprentice Deer Hunt or an unrestricted deer hunt tag.
  • Restrictions: Junior hunters can only opt for a restricted deer hunt as their second or third choice if they have already been issued an unrestricted deer tag as their First-Deer Tag, or if they do not have a pending application for a First-Deer Tag Drawing.

Utilization of First-Deer Tag for Deer Hunts

First-Deer Tag Allocation

  • A First-Deer Tag can secure various types of deer hunt tags:

    • Restricted Deer Hunt Tags
    • Unrestricted Deer Hunt Tags
    • Leftover Premium Deer Hunt Tags

Access to Leftover Premium Tags

  • In case premium tags remain post-Big Game Drawing, First-Deer Tag holders may apply for these leftovers beginning at 8:00 a.m. on July 2, 2023.

Allocation and Eligibility for Second-Deer Tag

Eligible Tags for Second-Deer Tag Holders

  • Holders of a Second-Deer Tag can apply for:

    • Unrestricted Deer Hunt Tags
    • Restricted Deer Hunt Tags
    • Leftover Premium Deer Hunt Tags

Availability of Leftover Premium Tags

  • Leftover Premium Deer Hunt Tags will be available for holders of Second-Deer Tags starting at 8:00 a.m. on August 2, 2023.

Conditions for Restricted Tags

  • At any time, a Second-Deer Tag can be used for any restricted deer hunt tag unless the hunter has a pending First-Deer Tag Drawing Application or has already been issued a premium or restricted deer tag.
  • From August 2, 2023, at 8:00 a.m., all Second-Deer Tag holders become eligible to apply for any remaining deer tag, irrespective of whether they have already been issued a premium or restricted deer tag.
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The legal advice provided on Wild Advisor Pro is intended as a summary of the hunting, camping, hiking, and fishing laws and regulations and does not constitute legal language or professional advice. We make every effort to ensure the information is accurate and up to date, but it should not be relied upon as legal authority. For the most current and comprehensive explanation of the laws and regulations, please consult the official government websites or a qualified legal professional. Wild Advisor Pro is not responsible for any misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the information presented and shall not be held liable for any losses, damages, or legal disputes arising from the use of this summary information. Always check with the appropriate governmental authorities for the latest information regarding outdoor regulations and compliance.