Category Archives: Big Game

When Cattle Run Feral …

Feral cattle (photo from  Wikimedia Commons)

Feral cattle do not exist in Fish and Game regulations. To harvest them may constitute cattle rustling and land a person in jail with a hefty fine! (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Question: I know of people seeing feral cattle in a wilderness area where I hunt. The area is miles from the nearest maintained trail at elevations where bighorns are found. Rangers also confirm the cattle are feral, as in left behind by the ranchers who used to run cattle in the area. What are the laws regarding taking feral cattle in California? I know other states, such as Colorado, allow it year round, unregulated. (Stephen M.)

Answer: “Feral cows” do not exist in Fish and Game regulations because all cattle are considered domestic (not wild or feral) livestock and are someone’s property. California may have feral pigs but there is no such thing as a feral cow. Cattle all belong to someone until that right of ownership is relinquished, and ranchers do lease cattle grazing rights on public property.

It would be a felony to kill another’s cow without their permission (grand theft) and therefore unlawful for you to “harvest” cattle from the wilderness area, or any other place for that matter, without written permission. When cattle do gain access to a wildlife area, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has the authority to relocate them under the provisions of the California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 550(b)(16).

Bottom line … if you try to do this yourself, you may be arrested for cattle rustling and find yourself in jail for up to six months along with facing a hefty fine.


Colorado River stamp no longer required?
Question: I hear that the Colorado River Stamp was discontinued for 2014. If so, what license or stamps do I need to fish in the Colorado River now? (Glenn U.)

Answer: Yes, the Colorado River Special Use Validation has been discontinued. California and Arizona have entered into an agreement for the reciprocal recognition of licenses to fish any portion of the Colorado River that is the boundary between California and Arizona. With a California sport fishing license or an Arizona sport fishing license, you can fish from either shore, or from a boat, in the portion of the Colorado River that makes up the California-Arizona boundary and connected adjacent water that is the boundary between Arizona and California. Anglers holding California sport fishing licenses abide by California regulations, and anglers holding Arizona sport fishing licenses abide by Arizona regulations. This agreement does not apply to canals, drains or ditches used to transport water for irrigation, municipal or domestic purposes.


When is it legal to shoot across water?
Question: In one of your Cal Outdoors answers you laid out the parameters of hunting from a boat. How can this be legal if you are not allowed to shoot across water? (Keith and Julie B.)

Answer: While it is illegal to shoot across a roadway, it is not illegal to shoot across water as long as the shooter is able to clearly see their target and can do so safely. Shooting from any “platform” which is not stable is unsafe, and discharging a rifle across a body of water is extremely dangerous due to the likelihood of the bullet ricocheting in an unintended direction. Shot shells do not present this danger to the same degree.


Taking non-licensed passengers along as observers while fishing?
Question: As an avid fisherman with a private vessel, I often take friends out hoop netting or fishing. Often these friends are perfectly happy to operate my boat while I tend the fishing line(s) or hoop nets. Do these companions need to have a fishing license as long as we follow the bag limits and limits on nets and lines in the water for a single fisherman? It is often a spur of the moment decision to go out, and sending my guest off to get a license for one or two hours of fishing is inconvenient at best. (Jack Z.)

Answer: You are welcome to take non-licensed passengers along to observe you while fishing or hoop netting as long they do not engage at all in any of the actual sport fishing activities. It is only in the commercial fishing industry where those who assist with the boat handling and other tasks need to have their own commercial fishing license.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Can Friends Pay for a Friend to Fish for Them?

Travis Tanaka with a giant yellowfin tuna, 243 lb

Travis Tanaka with a giant 243 lb yellowfin tuna caught on a long range boat out of San Diego (Photo by Travis Tanaka)

Question: What if four people got together and all paid the boat fare so that one person in the group could take a long range fishing trip? Three of the people are not anglers. After the trip, all of the fish caught by the one angler would then be split evenly between the four people. Would this be alright or somehow considered selling of fish? (Doug S., Montebello)

Answer: Fish caught under the authority of a sport fishing license may not be bought, sold, traded or bartered (Fish and Game Code, Section 7121). This means if these people all helped pay the fare for another person to take a fishing trip with the expectation of receiving some of the fish caught back in return, that would be illegal. Anglers who lawfully catch fish may always give fish away to whomever they wish, but it is not legal for non-anglers to pay for another person’s trip with the understanding or expectation of receiving fish in return for that money.


Why can’t California hunters deer hunt during the rut?
Question: While watching hunting shows on TV, I see that most of them are hunting during the rut. Why can’t deer and elk hunters in California also hunt during the rut? (Terry C.)

Answer: It’s all about providing more hunting opportunities to more people. According to Game Species Conservation Program Manager Craig Stowers, seasons are set with certain harvest objectives in mind. Later in the season as the animals go into the rut (breeding period) they become more bold in their attempts to find a mate, and are thus easier to hunt. If the season was held during the rut, the hunter harvest success rate would be higher, and fewer hunters would be able to hunt before the harvest objectives were reached.

Hunter survey data shows most hunters simply want an opportunity to hunt. The archery and gun seasons begin in different zones around the state in July and August, respectively. By starting the season early and allowing it to run until late fall when the animals are just going into the rut, more hunters have more opportunities to participate.

In addition to regular season hunts, there are also several special late season hunts offered that are timed to take place during the rut. These are highly sought-after tags, though, and they are distributed only through the big-game drawing. Most of California’s deer hunting takes place well before the rut begins (general seasons are timed to close about a month before the rut gets started) for two reasons:

1)    Hunting during the rut greatly reduces hunter opportunity (hunting success rate is higher and so fewer tags can be issued to achieve the harvest objectives).

2)    To create the least amount of disturbance possible during this critical phase of their life cycle.

The bottom line is deer managers try to strike a balance between providing hunter opportunity and success while not exceeding harvest objectives.


Photo I.D. required when hunting or fishing?
Question: While hunting or fishing, besides carrying the appropriate license(s), do I also need to have photo identification in possession or can I leave it in my vehicle? (Gino A.)

Answer: You will need to verify you are the person holding your own fishing or hunting license. Though photo identification is not mandated by law, being able to identify yourself properly is. If you cannot appropriately identify who you are, you may see yourself in an extended contact with the game warden. If you’re getting cited for something, the game warden may have to take you to jail until you can be properly identified. The bottom line is even though the law doesn’t state you must have photo identification in possession, it would benefit you greatly to carry photo identification, so you may properly identify who you are to the game warden. One exception, commercial fishermen do have to carry photo identification.


Catching lobsters and crabs in crab traps?
Question: Is it legal to fish for both lobsters and crab at the same time using hoop nets for the lobster and a crab pot for the crabs? My concern is that when we return to harbor, a game warden may question which method was used to take which species. The crab pot is a Northern California type that is “soaked” for days and has escape ports. The hoop net is a basic hoop net. (Joel S.)

Answer: You may fish for lobsters and crabs at the same time but only with hoop nets or by hand. Crab traps are legal to use in the north but are illegal for sport fishermen to use south of Point Arguello (California Code Regulations Title 14, Section 29.80(e)). While most lobsters occur in Southern California below Point Arguello, for any that do occur north of this point, crab traps may not be used.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.

Elk Range in California

Rocky Mt Elk_Yellowstone_USFWS_Bauer_11440_102.3.18

Rocky Mt. elk from Yellowstone National Park were imported into California in 1966 and released in Kern County (U.S.F.W.S. photo)

Question: Why are there no elk in the central or southern Sierra Nevadas? It seems like ideal habitat comparable to that found in Colorado, but the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation doesn’t even show it as a historic range for elk. Is there some reason they could not and do not thrive in the high Sierras, or at least the foothills? (Nick C.)

Answer: It’s true that the historic range of elk in California did not include the Sierra Nevada range. According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Statewide Elk and Antelope Coordinator Joe Hobbs, historically tule elk were found in the Central Valley, coast range and the Sierra foothills, but did not occupy the higher elevation regions of the Sierra Nevada.

Previous studies suggest that the Great Basin, combined with the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges, served as a western barrier to the natural movement of Rocky Mountain elk (typically found in Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana).

Hobbs also says elk are slowly expanding in California and we have received reports of elk in various parts of the Sierra (Plumas, Sierra and even Tuolumne counties). Currently, California has three subspecies of elk. In addition to the tule elk of the Central Valley and foothills, Roosevelt elk are found in the north coast area and the coastal interior regions, and Rocky Mountain elk reside in northeastern California.

Although the Sierra does seem to be composed of habitat capable of supporting elk, historically this was not the case due to the topography of California. Tule elk were found in the Central Valley and coast range and evolved for utilization of these habitat types and not those found in the higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada. The Great Basin and various mountain ranges prevented the Rocky Mountain elk from dispersing into the western portion of the Sierra Nevada range.


Can female Dungeness crabs be harvested?
Question: May I keep female Dungeness crabs if they are of minimum size? (Larry A.)

Answer: Yes. Recreational crabbers may actually take either male or female Dungeness crab. Males reach a larger size, and thus often contain more meat. Many recreational crabbers let females go as a matter of conservation etiquette to help the population replenish itself. During the first half of the season, the females are often carrying eggs and are often under the size limit as well; they simply don’t reach the larger sizes males do. Only commercial crabbers are restricted from taking female crab.


Can non-hunters carry extra shells for waterfowl hunters?
Question: I have a question about the number of shells a waterfowl hunter may possess while hunting. Is it clarified in the regulations that only hunters are limited to no more than 25 shells in the field during the waterfowl season? If not, a non-hunter could then carry another 25 shells into the field for the hunter to use. (Rick S., Pleasanton)

Answer: Current Fish and Game Commission regulations restrict the number of shot shells that are permitted in the field on some refuges or wildlife areas. The ammunition restriction does not apply to all areas, but in the areas/refuges listed in California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 551(a), the restrictions are twofold:

1) Hunters may not possess more than 25 shot shells while in the field (CCR Title 14, Section 551[q]); and,

2) Only persons with a valid hunting permit for that day are permitted to possess ammunition in the field (CCR Title14, Section 551[b][4]).

Therefore, a non-hunter cannot pack in extra shells for the hunter.


Hunting and fishing at the same time?
Question: Is it legal for me to hunt and fish at the same time? I would like to be on the boat or shore fishing with a shotgun beside me in case a duck or goose comes into range, and vice versa. If I am more serious about hunting that day, can I have a line in the water? Is this legal as long as I follow all the associated rules/laws? (Mike K.)

Answer: Yes

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Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.