Beginners Guide to Bowhunting California Deer

Bowhunting deer in California can be tough when compared to other regions in the United States. This is due to multiple factors like low animal population density and large amounts of developed areas coupled with hunting pressure. But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to be successful in California. It simply means you have to put in a lot of time and effort to be successful. Let’s take a look at how to get started and tips on harvesting and hunting a deer in California.

In California, bowhunting opens about a month before general rifle season. This is a huge advantage you don’t want to miss out on. If nothing else, archery hunters will have a better understanding of where the deer are, how they are behaving, migration routes, and other characteristics of deer. The best case scenario is you stage out before rifle season. The worst case scenario is you are better educated for rifle season.

BowHunting Regulations and Licenses

Hunting Regulations and Licensing in some aspects are quite different from other areas in the United States, and if you plan on hunting in state parks or other public lands, there are things you need to be aware of.

Public hunting lands in California are split up into zones, and certain zones need different licenses. These licenses will be either Type A or type B.

You can either purchase deer tags or apply for a deer tag drawing along with the standard hunting license.

Find more California hunting regulations here.

Archery Equipment

The following are just the basics needed for bowhunting deer in California. Each of these sections could be article in itself.


If you don’t have a bow, it would be best if you go to a reputable archery shop to get you set up with a new or used bow instead of buying a bow from a private seller. This is to ensure that the bow you get is a proper fit for you so you can shoot accurately and comfortably.

Crossbows in California are legal during the gun season, but only to hunters with disabilities during bow hunting season, if you are not disabled and are a perfect fit and healthy person, you must use a recurve or compound bow.


Decades ago, aluminum arrows were the mainstay for hunters, but thanks to the advances of technology, carbon or graphite arrows are the new standard, and for a good reason.

Carbon arrows have better flex and just perform better in almost every category.

Like bows, be sure to get the right arrows for your setup and size, a bowyer at an archery shop can get you in the right direction.

bowhunting california deer


The hunting industry in the modern age has no shortage of broadhead producers, and you can feel overwhelmed by the selection of broadheads to choose from, many of which function differently.

When in doubt between the fixed or mechanical type broadheads, choose fixed blade broadheads. They will always work no matter what when penetrating into a deer.

Like everything else when it comes to archery, you need to choose the right weight of broadhead for your setup, whether it’s 65 grains to 100 grains, this again can be found out by asking someone at an archery shop.

Bowhunting California South vs. North

In Southern California and Northern California, there is quite a difference between the two. Finding the best places and times to hunt in each will prove to be challenging, no doubt.


Deer hunting in the southern realm can be pretty tough due to the issues mentioned in the introduction, but it is by no means impossible. The Angeles National Forest features almost 700,000 acres of land and is not far from L.A., so even if you are in the urban jungle of Los Angeles, you can still get out and hunt.

With that said, surveys in the year 2000 indicated that 100,000 hunters frequented this giant tract of land, so you will have to put in the time and effort to go as far off the beaten path as you can, and you also have to add a dash of luck to the equation.

Be prepared to walk through steep and varying terrain for miles in Southern California, searching for deer. Many of the deer you will see will be long-distance from you on opposite ridge lines and valleys, with little to no cover between you and them. Hunting in Socal is the ultimate stalking game as you deal with challenges like wind, fatigue, and other hunters.


Northern California is quite a bit different than Southern California. NorCal has rugged terrain and mountainous topography, but unlike Southern California, it also features a good amount of forests, which will aid with stalking as well as with finding funnels and high traffic areas to ambush deer.

There is an abundance of public land to hunt in Northern California as well, from the Klamath national forest, Six Rivers national forest, and more, giving you ample places to hunt all over the northern half of the state.

California Bowhunting Tips

To be successful while bow hunting deer in California, you should keep a couple of things in mind. Keep the following deer hunting tips in mind when you are bowhunting.

Essential Bowhunting Gear

In addition to your bow and arrows, there is some other additional gear to consider for the California bowhunting season.

  • Pack with Frame
  • GPS Unit
  • Binoculars
  • Spotting Scope with Range Finder
  • Game Bags
  • Paracord
  • Water
  • First Aid Kit

Some of these items may seem obvious to you. Having a GPS unit is ideal for navigating and tracking active areas. There’s nothing wrong, however with a good old fashion map and compass if you possess that skill. If nothing else, it’s important to carry something able to get help in the event of an emergency.

Personally, I use the Garmin In_reach Explorer Mini. Small and lightweight, this little guy can alert first responders to my location with the push of a button. You can learn more in our full review, where we break down the key features this life-saving tool has.

The other two extremely useful tools are binoculars and a spotting scope with a range finder. The rangefinder is the key for bowhunting deer. These tools allow hunters to scout from a distance or see incoming deer, better preparing you for a shot.

Surviving the Heat

In many parts of the country, you need to overcome freezing when it comes to hunting, in the western and southwestern U.S., such as California, heat is a major concern, not bitter cold temperatures in most cases.

You will severely limit your ability to shoot that buck if you can’t last in the hot sun, so be sure you are prepared for it. Wear light and breathable hunting clothing that is specifically made for hot weather, and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and snacks like beef jerky or a sandwich.

Shade may be scarce, and if there is shade and you far off the beaten path, be sure to scout it out first, because the deer might be taking advantage of it as well.

Get Ready for a Workout

Hiking up those steep hills and ridgelines is going to be a physical test for many. Working out and exercising is important, and you will get plenty of that hunting in California.

This also brings us to another important topic, your boots. Be sure you don’t skimp out when buying a pair of hunting boots. No knee-high rubber boots here like Midwest Hunters wear trudging through cedar swamps and marshes. Get a good-quality pair of hiking boots for this situation.

Wind Direction and Speed

That coastal breeze sure is nice, isn’t it? Well, you need to keep tabs on that breeze, and the direction it’s heading. As with hunting deer anywhere, wind direction is a big deal, and you need to know where it’s going regularly to plot your movements or to make sure it isn’t blowing in the direction of the deer your currently stalking.

Get a scent checker like a bottle of wind powder to check the direction, or use materials in the surrounding natural environment like dried-up grass.

Hawk Like Vision

In the open areas of southern Cali in particular, a good pair of binoculars is paramount. On top of that, a rangefinder will help make things easier when using a bow and stalking.

You can’t harvest a deer if you can’t find them, and to find them, you have to see them, and when you can’t see the opposite ridgeline nearly a mile away in detail, you won’t see the deer in your area.


In the Midwest and southern states, a 35-yard shot is about as far as anyone shoots due to the thick forests, with the exception of fields, which many hunters sit on the side of. Many hunters don’t need to shoot farther.

When stalking in the open areas or rugged terrain in California, you might need to extend that a bit further if you are comfortable, and to get comfortable making 40-yard shots or more, you need to practice and practice frequently.

Getting to within 35 yards in southern California is incredibly hard, so if that buck is sitting at 45 yards and you are comfortable with your skills at this range, take the shot.

Take Care of your Kill

If you harvest a deer and it’s a hot California day, be sure you get a move on. Find that deer as soon as you can and field dress it. It won’t take long in the searing heat to make meat go bad, so you need to field dress and get the deer somewhere cool.

Once you get the deer transported out of the wild, be sure to cut up your meat and get it in the freezer as fast as possible.

Stop to Smell the Roses

Many times we get too focused on simply being successful and harvesting a deer, but you have to enjoy the little things as well. The silence, comradery, the sun peeking over the ridgelines early in the morning.

Don’t be too focused on the kill and enjoy the journey it took to get there, it’s all about the thrill of the chase.

Final Thoughts on Bowhunting Deer in California

Bowhunting deer in California, while difficult compared to other areas of the country, is not impossible. And working hard to achieve something makes it that much sweeter. Be sure to follow all regulations and laws so you stay out of trouble, and with enough due diligence and effort, you will get that buck!

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