CA Deer Hunting
Yes, that's right. I said, "California deer hunting."
A lot of folks don't equate California with any kind of hunting. Ask most folks from another state what they associate with California, they'll most likely mention movies, palm trees, and beaches. Some may even mention Yosemite, skiing in Tahoe, or the Sierra Nevada. But I doubt that anyone will mention hunting.
While it's nothing like what I got used to in North Carolina, the deer hunting in California can be pretty decent. Deer numbers are much lower, regulations are a lot different, and the habitat is bewilderingly diverse. You can find yourself hunting everything from desert highlands, to rocky canyons, to coastal old-growth rainforest.
California has huntable populations of both mule deer and blacktails. The muleys are primarily distributed across the Sierra and into the desert regions. Blacktails are found mainly along the central coast region and up along the northwest into Oregon. There are some cross-over areas where the two species have interbred as well.
The mule deer population has been on the decline over the last two decades, due in large part to habitat loss and the extended droughts that have wracked the state. Fire suppression and urban sprawl have combined to reduce mule deer habitat, exacerbating the impact of the drought. A ban on mountain lion hunting has also been blamed for damage to deer herds, since the big cats have been thriving without predation.
It's not a pretty picture, but good muleys are still taken every year in some areas of the state.
Blacktail populations, on the other hand, are slightly growing in some areas, and staying fairly steady elsewhere. The coastal ranges around Mendocino and Humboldt counties are seeing good numbers of deer. These are most likely the top areas for trophy blacktails. The story in the central coast areas is not as bright, although there are pockets of growth there as well.
Despite the challenges to both hunter and hunted, deer hunting can be productive in California.
The state is divided into zones. Each zone has different seasons. The largest zones offer unlimited tags, while many of the smaller ones have limited draws. Almost all of the mule deer zones are in the limited draw areas, while the largest two zones in the state are inhabited by blacktails.
Hunters can apply for these areas through a lottery, or they can buy "over-the-counter" tags for the larger zones. Each hunter may receive two tags per season. Most of the limited entry zones only allow a hunter to harvest one deer, while the no-draw zones allow you to fill both tags in the same zone. A common strategy is to use the first tag application to enter the "lottery" for a limited draw area, and use the second tag for a no-draw zone. If you don't get your first choice, you can still use your first application in one of the no-draw zones.
The state has recently implemented a "preference point" system which allows you to accumulate a "point" for each season in which you don't get your first choice draw. This is a commonly used system in the western states, but it can be confusing to anyone who's never participated in one. To a hunter like myself, coming from North Carolina where you simply buy one license with seven deer tags for the whole state, these rules get a little confusing. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources around to help out.
The California Department of Fish and Game has a fairly comprehensive website. You can surf this site to find information about licenses, tags, and other useful info. I would start here.
A good source of local information can also be found in one of the larger CA outdoors discussion groups. Jesse's Hunting and Outdoors (JHO) is a wealth of information. It was once centered on California sportsmen, but has grown to cover most of the US. The membership is still predominantly California sportsmen, though. California-based hunting magazines are also good resources.
California has more public land available than almost any other state. Millions and millions of acres are available to outdoor recreation, including hunting. A large part of this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) and the US Forest Service. Check their sites out for more information.
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