Monthly Archives: December 2009

Hunting coyotes at night with lights?

Question: Can you clarify the regulation on hunting coyote with a light? I interpret it to be that it’s OK to hunt at night with a light except during a designated deer season, and that it must be a handheld light. Can you use a scope-mounted light? Thanks. (Tom B.)

Answer: Coyotes may be taken at any time of the year, in any number (unless prohibited by local ordinance or otherwise) and in any manner except poison (California Code of Regulations, Title 14, sections 472 and 475). You are correct that lights cannot be used for night hunting in any area where the general deer season is open.

According to Lt. Todd Tognazzini, before you set out to hunt coyotes, you will need to research two main areas of the law. The first deals with the use of lights while night hunting. The state is divided into three distinct zones and under the CCR, Title 14, section 264, there are some counties defined in Zone 1 and Zone 2 that allow spotlight use from a vehicle as long as the engine is off and spotlighting does not occur from a public roadway. In the Balance of the State Zone (all other counties), hunters may only use lights to take furbearing and nongame mammals if the hunter is on foot and away from a vehicle. Lights must be a maximum 9-volt light source with self-contained batteries, and must be either hand-held or worn on your head (CCR, Title 14, section 264.5).

According to the Fish and Game Code, section 2005, “It is unlawful to use or possess at any time any infrared or similar light used in connection with an electronic viewing device or any night vision equipment, optical devices, including, but not limited to, binoculars or scopes that use light-amplifying circuits that are electrical or battery powered, to assist in the taking of birds, mammals, amphibians or fish.”

In Zones 1 and 2, a weapon-mounted light of any size could be used so long as it was not a prohibited device (as described under the FGC, section 2005[c]). A weapon-mounted light would not be lawful in the Balance of the State Zone.  In the Balance of the State, lights must be a maximum of 9-volts with self-contained batteries, and must be either hand-held or worn on your head (CCR, Title 14, section 264.5).

There are also quite a few areas in the state where night hunting is prohibited completely, such as parts of San Benito and Monterey counties (CCR, Title14, section 263). There are also different areas with complete closure zones, so be sure to check for those as well (CCR, Title14, section 474).

Harvesting mussels with tools
Question: We would like to harvest some mussels from the rocks and pier pilings around Monterey and are wondering if we can use an abalone iron or small shovel to get the mussels. Thanks. (Ronald V.)

Answer: No, most saltwater mollusks, including mussels, may be taken only on hook and line or with the hands (CCR, Title 14, section 29.10). Since there are no additional provisions for taking mussels with any other sort of tool, taking them by hand is your only viable option.

Is it legal to capture and hold wild pigs?
Question: Is it legal to capture and keep wild boars (feral pigs) in California? Is it legal to keep them in a pit to train dogs for hunting boars? Thanks. (Barb S.)

Answer: No, it is unlawful to capture and keep live wildlife in California, with rare exceptions for rehabilitation and educational purposes. According to Lt. Todd Tognazzini, it is unlawful to capture any game mammal, game bird, nongame bird, nongame mammal or furbearer, or to possess or confine any live game mammal, game bird, nongame bird, nongame mammal or furbearer taken from the wild (FGC, section 3005.5). The law also directs DFG to seize any bird or mammal possessed or confined in violation of this section.

License displays and Bay-Delta stamps no longer required
Question: I know that the law requiring anglers to display their licenses when fishing was recently repealed and the law requiring the purchase of a Bay-Delta Enhancement Stamp to fish in inland waters was also recently changed. Can you tell me when these will officially go into effect? I assumed Jan. 1, 2010, but then I saw something saying the “no display” law would not begin until March. What are the exact dates? Thanks much. (Bill K.)

Answer: The regulation repealing the need to display your license while fishing will not go into effect before March 1, 2010, the first day the general inland regulations start. The Bay Delta stamp is no longer required as of Jan. 1, 2010.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at

Do we toss our dead fish back to stay legal?


Weather must always be considered and monitored when going to sea on multiple day fishing trips (Anacapa Island photo by Robert Schwemmer).

Question: We often take three-day fishing trips on a private boat and always get the multi-day fishing trip permits to cover us. The multi-day permits require the trip to be continuous and to extend for a period of 12 hours or more on the first and last days of the trip, and berthing or docking within five miles of the mainland shore is prohibited. Since we do a lot of fishing within five miles of the shore, can we anchor and fish or sleep within five miles of the mainland as long as we don’t berth our boat or touch land or a dock? What do we do if we get our limit and a storm comes in before noon on the last day? Do we throw our dead catch over so we can get to shore safely and still be legal or do we keep them even if technically we’ll then be over the limit? Thank you. (Don F.)

Answer: Anglers can fish within five miles of the mainland, but berthing (anchoring) or docking is prohibited and anglers must disembark at the place of return as stated on the declaration form (California Code of Regulations Title14, section 27.15[b]). These permits were originally designed more to cover people who are fishing many miles offshore for multiple days (like for tuna and the more long range species) who cannot easily get back to the dock each night.

According to Game Warden Jason Chance, every mariner and boat operator is  responsible for planning out their trips in advance – especially trips that will encompass multiple days at sea. If you plan your trip according to weather forecasts, it’s relatively unlikely that you’ll be caught off-guard by a sudden storm. By continuously monitoring your marine radio for ongoing NOAA weather forecasts and hazardous conditions updates, and then Channel 16 for any emergency U.S. Coast Guard announcements, you should not be surprised by changing weather conditions.

Of course, if poor weather conditions appear to be imminent, use your best judgment as to whether to continue or to immediately end your trip. Remember that safety should always come first, and attempting to avoid a ticket is not worth risking lives nor creating what becomes an emergency rescue situation. But be aware that wasting fish (in this case dumping dead fish overboard) is a violation of the law (CCR Title 14, section 1.87), so do not consider this an option.

Is it legal to shoot birds on the water or on the ground?
Question: Regarding waterfowl hunting, I am curious if it is lawful to shoot a bird that is on the water or, if I’m field hunting, to shoot a bird that is standing on the ground. I do not consider it sporting, but I was party to a group of hunters that took part in the above actions. (Nick V.)

Answer: It’s not illegal, but it’s certainly not sporting as it violates the Fair Chase Principle. “Fair chase” is the ethical, sportsman-like, lawful pursuit and taking of any free-ranging animal in a manner that does not give the hunter an unfair advantage over such animals. In addition, it can also be unsafe to shoot birds on the ground or on the water because nearby hunters might be in your line of fire.

Is it legal to keep legal-sized fish caught in hoopnets?
Question: If I catch fish in a hoop net while lobster fishing, are they legal to keep provided they meet any size requirements? I have been throwing them back because I’m not sure it is legal to catch them that way. Someone told me they must be caught on fishing line only. What about sea snails and octopus that are caught in my hoops? Can other line-caught sportfish, such as tuna, be used as bait in lobster hoops? Please advise. Thanks. (Steve G.)

Answer: You were correct to return fish caught in your hoop nets because hoop nets are not a legal method of take. Finfish may only be caught by hook-and-line except in very specific circumstances listed under “Finfish – Gear Restrictions” (pgs. 51-52) in the Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet (CCR Title 14, section 28.65).

Taking sea snails and octopus caught incidentally in your lobster hoop net is not allowed (section 29.10(a), on pg. 52 of the booklet).

Any finfish that is legal to take or possess in California may be used as bait in your lobster hoop net.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at

Hunting and camping around wildlife watering holes

Generally, it is illegal to hunt within 200 yards of wildlife watering places while on public lands (Photo © Carrie Wilson)

Question: I have a question about hunting big game around watering holes or guzzlers in northeastern California. I see tree stands and even camps around many of them, but some of my friends say these are illegal. Are there any restrictions as to how close you can be? Thanks for the info. (Ken)

Answer: Yes, there are restrictions.  Under the provision of CCR T14 Section 730(c) the following prohibitions are established:

(1) Camping/Occupying is prohibited within 200 yards of the following:

(A) Any guzzler or horizontal well for wildlife on public land within the State of California.

(B) Any of the wildlife watering places on public land within the boundary of the California Desert Conservation Area as depicted on the Bureau of Land Management maps of “Calif. Federal Public Lands Responsibility,” “Calif. Desert Conservation Area” and the new “Desert District, B.L.M.”

(2) Camping/Occupying is prohibited within one-quarter mile of the following wildlife watering places:

(A) Butte Well -T31N, R14E, Section 28, NE1/4, M.D.B.M., Lassen County.

(B) Schaffer Well -T31N R14E, Section 25, Center, M.D.B.M., Lassen County.

(C) Tableland Well -T31N, R14E, Section 17, SE1/4, M.D.B.M., Lassen County.

(D) Table Mountain Well -T31N, R14E, Section 32, SE1/4, M.D.B.M., Lassen County.

(E) Timber Mountain Well -T44N, R6E, Section 33, M.D.B.M., Modoc National Forest, Modoc County.

(F) Belfast Well -T31N, R14E, Section 31, NE1/4, M.D.B.M., Lassen County

Camping/Occupying Defined. For purposes of this Section, camping/occupying is defined as establishing or inhabiting a camp; resting; picnicking; sleeping; parking or inhabiting any motor vehicle or trailer; hunting; or engaging in any other recreational activity for a period of more than thirty (30) minutes at a given location.

In addition, section 730 defines “Wildlife watering places” as waterholes, springs, seeps and man-made watering devices for wildlife such as guzzlers (self-filling, in-the-ground water storage tanks), horizontal wells and small impoundments of less than one surface acre in size.

According to Game Warden Jason Chance, an ethical hunter should treat watering holes the same as bait piles. Like bait piles, watering holes attract game, especially in arid areas. Ethical hunters know there is no fair chase or challenge in hunting animals around waterholes or guzzlers because this provides the hunter with an unfair advantage over wild game.

Legal to take female Dungeness crab?
Question: Is it legal to take female Dungeness crab in California during the season? I was sure it was illegal but could not find anything in the regulations confirming this. Can you help? (Walt D.)

Answer: Sport fishermen may keep female Dungeness crabs; it’s only the commercial crabbers who are required to discard them. Although females may be retained by sport fishermen, the crabs are often smaller in size and have smaller pincers (and less meat altogether) so many fishermen choose to let them go. The larger females that meet or exceed the minimum size limit may also produce the most young, so many people feel it is a good investment in the fishery for the future to retain only the males and to let the females go.

If license is forgotten, will a photo copy of  license do?
Question: My son and I fish from our private boat almost exclusively and keep our sport fishing licenses aboard so they are always present. On rare occasions we will attempt to fish without the boat and a few times have forgotten to bring our licenses. To prevent us from mistakenly being without our fishing licenses, can we show a photo copy of our licenses or can the DFG issue more than one copy to a sport fisherman? Thanks. (Murray C.)

Answer: Good questions, but the answers to both are no. You must have a valid fishing license in your possession when fishing or attempting to take fish, and you must present it to a game warden upon request. Additionally, only one license may be issued to a person per year.

Is it legal to import buffalo hides and products?
Question: Are there any restrictions on importing buffalo hides or buffalo art productions into California?

Answer: American buffalo (Bison bison) are considered a domestic breed of bovine (like cattle, goats and sheep) and thus no Fish and Game laws regulate them. American buffalo hides are not restricted by DFG and so they may be imported or possessed as long as they were obtained legally. However, the live importation of other species of true buffalo (e.g. African Cape Buffalo, etc.) or their hides is restricted by law (CCR T-14 Section 671).

Legal to carry a .22 pistol while deer hunting?
Question: If I hunt deer with a 30-30 cal., can I carry a .22 pistol at the same time (not to shoot deer)? And if I wound a deer with the .30-30 cal., can I finish off the wounded deer with the .22 cal.? Thanks. (John D., Ramona)

Answer: Yes and no. Although it may be legal to carry a .22 pistol while hunting deer during an open rifle season, a .22 caliber rim fire rifle is not legal for the take of deer. Being in possession of an illegal method of take will certainly cause a great deal of suspicion if you are contacted by a game warden. Since you are not allowed to use it to “finish off” the deer, it would be best to not carry it at all.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at

Can waterfowl hunters get a little help?

Waterfowl at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in November. (Photo © Carrie Wilson)

Question: I have a question about the number of shells a hunter may possess while waterfowl hunting. Is it clarified in the regulations that only hunters cannot possess 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 CCR 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.

Legal to catch 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. Thanks. (Joel S.)

Answer: You may fish for lobsters and crabs at the same time but only with hoop nets or by hand. According to Game Warden Jason Chance, crab traps are legal to use in the north but are illegal for sport fishermen to use south of Point Arguello (CCR 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.

What is a loaded gun?
Question: In a recent column you discussed loaded guns in a vehicle. Can you clarify what a “loaded gun” is? I know that having cartridges/shotgun shells in the chamber is illegal, but what if the cartridges/shotgun shells are just in the magazine of the rifle or shotgun? Do the restrictions also apply while in or upon a vehicle on a public roadway? (Anonymous, Redding)

Answer: Under the Fish and Game Code, a rifle or shotgun is deemed loaded when there is an unexpended cartridge or shell in the firing chamber, but not when the only cartridges or shells are in the magazine. It is “unlawful to possess a loaded rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or its attachments which is standing on or along or is being driven on or along any public highway or other way open to the public (FGC Section 2006).”

The California Penal Code is more restrictive, however, and defines “loaded” as being when ammunition is attached to the weapon (even if all shells or cartridges are only in the magazine portion of the weapon and not in the chamber).

According to Assistant Chief Mike McBride, the consequences may be dependent on circumstances such as location and type of roadway. In other words, a loaded weapon in a vehicle on a dirt road in the boondocks might be viewed differently than one in a vehicle on a paved road that has a lot of traffic. Also, a county sheriff may tend to enforce the Penal Code rather than the Fish and Game Code. A warden could do the same if the circumstances seem to justify that course of action (if this occurs on a major paved road, etc.).

So, it is up to the law enforcement officer to make that call. However, the very safest and most prudent course of action is to have the weapon entirely unloaded.

For more information on loaded guns and to review the California Summary of Firearms Law, contact the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Firearms at

Is it legal to catch carp and trout by hand?
Question: I recently read a post from people saying they had caught carp by hand in a lake. Is this legal in California? I have caught trout by hand in streams when I was younger, but wasn’t sure if that was legal either. Thanks. (Nick)

Answer: No, there are no freshwater finfish species that can be legally taken by hand from any California lake waters within the state (only exception: a few fish species are allowed to be caught by hand during specific times in a few non-lake areas, as per CCR Title 14 Sections 1.76 and 2.30.)

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at

Why no hunting during the rut?

Mule deer 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 Deer 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 that deer managers try to strike a balance between providing hunter opportunity and success while not exceeding harvest objectives.

Catching lobsters on a baited hook?
Question: While fishing off the jetty the other day, I caught a large lobster on a baited hook but released it because I think I remember reading that spiny lobsters could not be taken on hook and line. Where can I find this in the regulations? (Gary K.)

Answer: You did the right thing in releasing the lobster, as the only legal methods of take for lobsters are by baited hoop net or by hand. Baited hoop nets are the only appliance that may be used for people fishing from a boat, pier, jetty or shore. Skin and SCUBA divers may only take crustaceans by hand and may not possess any hooked device while diving or attempting to dive for lobsters (Section 29.05.) In addition, spiny lobster report cards are required by everyone fishing for and/or taking lobsters.

Hunting on property that is fenced but not posted with “No Hunting” signs?
Question: Can I hunt on property that is fenced but not posted with “No Hunting” signs without specific permission from the landowner? (Anonymous)

Answer: No, it is unlawful to trespass onto property for the purpose of discharging any firearm or taking birds or mammals without the written permission of the landowner or other authorized person. In cases involving publicly owned property (game refuges, state wildlife areas, etc.), specific written permission may or may not be required.

The law does not require that signs be posted on the property in all cases. For instance, unfenced property that is under cultivation would be excluded (FGC Section 2016). A simple guideline is to respect crops, fences and signs, and in any other circumstance that makes you wonder about hunter access, seek out the landowner and ask for permission.

According to Game Warden DeWayne Little, there is case law that states that a bullet or an arrow may be considered to be an extension of a person; therefore, a person shooting into private property could be committing a trespass even without physically entering the property. And, if you wound an animal where it is legal for you to hunt and the animal then goes onto property where you do not have legal access, you cannot enter the land to retrieve the animal until you obtain permission from the landowner or his designee.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but will select a few to answer in this column each week. Contact her at