Hunting in California? A lot of people will be surprised at the very notion that the Golden State, famous for Hollywood, hippies, the Gold Rush and Silicon Valley, could be a hunting ground. However, even though a large part of Californians support gun control, and some are highly vocal about animal rights, it’s wrong to assume that every resident of the state is a firearm-phobic vegan. In fact, California is home to many passionate hunters and competent outfitters.
There’s one thing that unites almost all outfitters and hunting guides all over the world: their passion for what they do. You can easily run into a car mechanic who has zero enthusiasm about cars, or a restaurant owner who couldn’t tell beef Stroganoff from Big Mac and couldn’t care less. But you’ll have to look far and wide before you can find an outfitter or hunting guide who is not a passionate hunter him- or herself!
Here is one: John Cravens of JPC Guide Services, California, with his personal trophy from the hunting season of 2020: a kind of a black-tailed deer known as a California coastal buck. John killed it on Quail Oak Ranch, the property just north of Santa Maria, about 150 miles from Los Angeles, in California’s “A” zone, where he also offers hunts for small game, turkey, predators and hogs. The deer tags are over-the-counter, and a hunter can harvest two bucks a year. The rack may not impress you much if you compare it to an Arizona mule deer, but it is perfectly representative of the class of deer a hunter can expect to harvest on the California coast. So are the deer you see below: John’s previous season buck and images of a few more California black-tailed deer, that are still out there.
The coastal black-tailed deer, often overshadowed by its bigger and wider distributed cousins, the mule deer and the white-tailed deer, is arguably the most interesting trophy in California in terms of hunting tourism. But it is by far not the only game species that you can hunt within a couple of hours drive from Los Angeles or San Francisco. With fertile soils and lots of sunshine, the Golden State has an efficient agricultural industry, that provides food and nourishing not only to humans, but to a variety of game birds and animals, native and introduced.
Perhaps the king of introduced species is wild turkey. Unlike most states, California did not have a native wild turkey population at the time when Spanish, Russian and American settlers arrived at its coasts. The core of the current population of the all-American game bird was created in the late 1950s and early 1960s with Rio Grande turkeys captured in Texas and relocated to the Golden State. At present, wild turkey is considered a nuisance in the densely populated areas, and a potential threat to endangered indigenous plants and animals. All the more reasons to hunt this iconic bird!
Feral hogs are as much of a problem in California as in any other state, and hunting them is both good and highly affordable. So is predator hunting, which, after the notorious California legislation bodies protected the bobcat, is mostly limited to the coyote. Last but not the least, the agricultural regions of California offer excellent opportunities for hunting small game, such as California Valley quail, mourning and Eurasian dove, band-tailed pigeon, squirrels and rabbits.
California is located on the Pacific Flyway, and boasts of numerous lakes, both natural and artificial. Some of the biggest and better known of the latter are Trinity and Shasta lakes, artificial bodies of water created to control the floods on Trinity and Sacramento rivers. While they don’t have the legendary status of the duck hunting clubs that lease rice fields in the south of the state, they also attract thousands of migrating ducks and geese. In short, California can offer excellent hunting to the most demanding waterfowl connoisseur.
North-west from the coast you can find amazing wilderness areas, such as Sequoia National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Trinity Alps Wilderness. The Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the biggest National Forest in California, and is located in the mountainous North of the state. This is a landscape far removed from the stereotypical image of California as a long palm-lined beach. Here you will find snow-covered peaks, fir trees, and whitewater streams. This is a wilderness treasure that is cherished by all Californians for the opportunity of outdoor recreation, including but not limited to hunting and fishing, it provides. To operate in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, an outfitter needs to be licensed and obtain a Special Use Permit (John does).
The only place in California that you can now find a wild grizzly bear is, proverbially, the state flag. But black bears are numerous – in fact, numerous enough that campers and visitors of the state’s National Forests are warned specifically about the danger. Black bear hunting is legal and very good. And last but not least, the mountainous areas of California are home to considerable herds of Roosevelt and Rocky Mountain elk. Should you be lucky enough to draw a tag (there are no OTC elk tags in California, all archery, muzzleloader, or rifle elk tags are limited draw only), you may consider hiring a licensed guide to make the most of a rare opportunity.
California was and is famous for many things, from the gold rush of the 1840s, to the Hollywood ‘celluloid dreams’. These days, the influence of the Golden State rests with Silicon Valley, the world’s biggest technohub where most of the technology I used to write this post and you used to read it comes from. Small wonder that the concept of BookYourHunt.com online marketplace appeals to California hunters, and the outfitters who do their business in California report they’re having a lot of business through our site. Isn’t it great when the most modern technology and the most ancient tradition work together?