Waterfowl hunting is one of the most popular pastimes in the US, and many die hard waterfowl hunters would never guess that the state of California can offer some world class fowl hunting.
From the Northern tip of the state all the way down to the southern border of the country, there are plenty of places to pursue many different species of birds. Similar to hunting deer in the golden state, bird species are thriving and can be easily hunted at times.
Waterfowl hunting is a little different from other game species in that it is managed at two different levels. The first is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, which sets science-based guidelines based on the animal populations and other important data from the area’s flyway, and then the California Fish and Game Commission will set regulations that are based on these specific frameworks.
California does an excellent job at providing plenty of opportunities while managing the waterfowl in their state, and many hunters are unaware of this hidden gem. Let’s talk about the different species, seasons, and areas so that you can plan your next waterfowl hunting trip!
Species of Waterfowl in California
The three main types of waterfowl that you will find in California are ducks, swans, and geese, and there are many different species of each that will appear throughout the state.
Swans cannot be hunted in the state of California like the ducks and geese. Ducks are the most populous, and the warmer climate of the state attracts many different species. Some of the most common duck species that you will see in the state include:
- Wood duck
- Northern Pintail
- American Wigeon
- Northern Shoveler
- Blue-winged Teal
In addition to ducks, California is also home to a healthy population of geese as well. While not as numerous as the ducks, these geese can be found throughout many parts of the state. The species of geese found in California include:
- Canada Goose
- Snow Goose
- Ross’s Goose
- Cackling Goose
- Greater White-fronted Goose
Of course, there are more species of ducks that can be found in this giant state, but these species (along with the geese) are the ones that you will generally see the most of. And as we mentioned before, California is also home to a few different species of swan, although none of them can be legally hunted at the current time.
California Waterfowl Management Zones and Seasons
You cannot simply show up to California and expect to hunt waterfowl wherever you want or at whatever time of year. There are strict seasons and bag limits on waterfowl species set in place by the Fish and Game Commission. The state is broken up into five different management zones, each with its own set of rules and regulations.
Each of these zones is effectively managed by biologists that oversee the waterfowl numbers and, as such, have slightly different seasons and bag limits. There is a daily bag limit, which refers to how many animals you can kill in a single day, and a possession limit, which is how many animals you can have overall in your possession. Let’s take a look at all of the different zones and a few of the different seasons and bag limits they each have!
The Northeastern zone is found in the top right hand corner of the state. It is the second smallest zone but holds good populations of waterfowl. Duck season in this zone runs from Oct. 2nd to Jan. 12th, with Canada goose season from Oct. 2nd to Jan. 9th. White geese and white-fronts have seasons of Oct. 2 to Nov. 28 and Jan. 1 to Jan. 14.
In this zone, the daily bag limit for ducks is 7, of which only 2 can be female mallards, 2 canvasback, 2 redheads, or 2 scaups. Geese have a daily bag limit of 30, which may include up to 20 white geese. The possession limit for both ducks and geese is triple the daily bag limit.
Balance of the State Zone
The largest waterfowl zone in the state, the Balance of the State Zone, runs from the northern part of California to a little further than two thirds of the entire state. Duck seasons here run from Oct. 23 to Jan. 31, while goose season runs almost identical at Oct. 23 to Jan. 30. There is an early Canada goose season from Oct. 2 to Oct. 6, and a late white-fronts and white goose season on Feb. 19 to Feb. 23.
In this zone, ducks have a daily bag limit of 7, of which only 2 can be mallard females and 1 pintail. Geese have a daily bag limit of 30, which can include up to 20 white geese and 10 dark geese. The possession limit for both ducks and geese is triple the daily bag limit.
Southern San Joaquin Valley Zone
This zone is another smaller zone found in the south-central section of California. The seasons here are very basic, with both ducks and geese having the same basic season of Oct. 23 to Jan. 31. Ducks have a daily bag limit of 7, which can include 7 mallards as long as no more than 2 are female, 2 canvasbacks, and 1 pintail. Geese have a daily limit of 30, and both have possession limits of triple the daily bag limit.
Southern California Zone
This zone is the second largest zone and like its name suggests, is found in the southern part of the state. Ducks and geese both have seasons from Oct. 23 to Jan. 31. Ducks have a daily bag limit of 7 that can contain 7 mallards, as long as no more than 2 are female, 2 redheads, and 2 canvasbacks. Geese have a daily bag limit of 23, of which only 20 may be white geese and only 3 dark geese. The possession limits are triple the daily bag limits.
Colorado River Zone
This is the smallest zone and is found in the southeastern corner of the state. Ducks and geese can be hunted here from Oct. 23 to Jan. 31, and the daily bag limit for ducks is 7. This can have 7 mallards, as long as no more than 2 are female, 1 pintail, and 2 canvasback. Geese have a daily bag limit of 24, which can have 20 white geese and up to 4 dark geese. The possession limit for both ducks and geese is triple the daily bag limit.
Other Regulations and Rules
When hunting waterfowl in California, you must follow and adhere to all of the state’s rules and regulations. These may differ slightly from region to region, but there are a few general rules that apply no matter what part of the state you are in. For example, if you are in the possession of any untagged ducks or geese, it is assumed that they are yours, and you are subject to the area’s possession limits. If they were taken by another person, like a hunting buddy or family member, they must be properly tagged so that this can be identified.
All birds that are taken or possessed within the state must also have a fully feathered wing or head attached until they are at either your place of residence or commercial facility (like a taxidermist.) You must also be in possession of a valid hunting license, as well as a California duck validation permit. Lastly, you will need a federal duck stamp in order to legally hunt any waterfowl in the state of California.
Legal Methods of Take
Most waterfowl hunting in this state is done with your usual hunting shotguns, but there is one thing to be aware of. In the state of California, only material such as tin, steel, copper-plated steel, nickel-plated steel, zinc-plated steel, iron-tungsten, tungsten-bronze, or some other nontoxic shot that is approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can be used.
Under no circumstances can lead shot be used in order to avoid negative environmental impacts.
Both 12 and 20 gauge shotguns can be used to hunt both ducks and geese, as long as you are abiding by the non-lead ammunition stipulation. Shooting hours for waterfowl is considered to be one half hour before sunrise and one half hour after sunset.
Setting a duck blind is a very popular way of hunting in California. You can buy a blind or make a duct blind yourself.
Final Thoughts On California’s Waterfowl Hunting
Hunting for waterfowl in California can be a hunter’s hidden gem that many are unaware of. This beautiful state has much more than amazing coastlines and big game hunting, it has plenty of birds in the sky to pursue as well. If you truly want to explore and see everything that the state of California has to offer, you should set off on a waterfowl hunting expedition to enjoy it!