Hunting with air rifles is a popular pastime, even among highly seasoned hunters who normally use traditional weaponry like firearms and archery. Yet, just as with any time of hunting, those who participate must do so in accordance with the law.
California: The Controversial Haven for Air Gun Enthusiasts
For those who want to go hunting with pellet pistols and rifles, California law has proven this state to be an excellent destination, despite the fact that those hunters will be limited to hunting small game and non-game animals. The state happens to be one of the most popular hunting venues, predominantly thanks to its thousands of acres of public hunting land.
It is also one of the few states that have clear, well-formed regulations that specifically address hunting with airguns. Those who want to use pellet guns in California must also stay abreast to changes in the state’s weaponry regulations, as additional legislation for the regulation of air guns continues to be proposed.
For example, California Senate Bill 199 proposed that manufacturers be required to paint all toy guns, air guns, and bb guns a bright color. That bill was passed on September 30, 2014.
Therefore, please note that the following information was collected on April 3, 2015 from the California Fish and Game Commission website, which can be found at http://www.fgc.ca.gov/, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website, which can be found at https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/. Before going hunting, be sure to check these resources for the most up-to-date legal information.
California Law Regarding Big Game and Small Game Air Gun Hunting
According to Section 354 of California’s 2014–2015 Mammal Hunting Regulations, hunting big game with an air gun is illegal. Instead, the list of weapons that can legally be used for hunting this type game within the state is limited to specific types of rifles, pistols, revolvers, and archery equipment. This means those hoping to bag big game as California defines it in Section 350 of the regulation, which lists elk, deer, wild pig, black bear, and Nelson bighorn sheep, must either bring on the fire power or miss out in order to stay within the confines of the law.
The concern is that air gun hunting larger animals would only result in an increasing number injured and maimed animals, and that the animals taken would first be subject to unnecessary suffering. Some fans of high powered air guns may find the illegality upsetting, as their choice of weaponry is specially designed to be powerful enough to get the job done, but the good news is that the use of air guns is legal for hunting small game within the state.
Subsection 311(f) identifies small game air gun hunting legal in California. It allows any caliber of pellet to be used for hunting small game, with the exception that one must use a caliber of at least 0.177 when hunting wild turkey. So if turkey hunting is your goal, make sure the air gun you use is 0.177 caliber at a minimum.
What the law really means is that small game hunters who use an air gun need not worry about the legality of the type or caliber of air gun they use. As long as they stick to hunting the tree squirrels and certain rabbit types the State of California has categorized as hunt-permissible small game, whatever caliber of air gun they use is permissible within the confines of the law.
Those who want to go hunting with pellet guns are also allowed to take non-game species, such as pigeons, starlings, coyote, ground squirrels, and jackrabbits. Those interested in California small game or non-game hunting should check for additional regulations regarding allowed hunting times and locations, as the rules varies by species hunted.
Age Restrictions on Pellet Gun Hunting in California
The State of California makes junior hunting licenses available to those under 16 years of age, but passing a hunter safety course is a condition for obtaining these licenses. Any hunter over the age of 16 must obtain either a resident or non-resident hunting license, but all first time resident hunters must first pass the state’s hunter education requirements, regardless of age.
Although there is no lower age limit for hunting in California, young children may find the required safety training too demanding. It’s therefore left up the parent or guardian to decide if their child is ready to attempt the course or not. Children who obtain junior hunting licenses are subject to the same rules as all other air gun hunters.
Where to Find Out More about California Air Gun Hunting Laws
In any state, it’s always a good idea to review the law before going hunting, and to contact the local wildlife agencies if you have any questions. The CDFW has numerous regional offices within the state. Contact information for the offices for each region are as follows:
- Northern Region
Counties Served: Del Norte, Lassen, Humboldt, Mendocino, Shasta, Modoc, Siskiyou, Trinity and Tehama. Main Office
601 Locust Street
Redding, CA 96001
Fax: (530) 225–2055
- North Central Region
Counties Served: Alpine, Butte, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Colusa, Glenn, Nevada, Lake, Placer, Plumas, San Joaquin, Sacramento, Sierra, Yolo, Sutter, and Yuba.
1701 Nimbus Road
Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
Fax: (916) 358–2912
- Bay Delta Region
Counties Served: Alameda, Marin, Contra Costa, Napa, San Mateo, Sacramento, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Solano, San Joaquin, Sonoma, and Yolo.
7329 Silverado Trail
Napa, CA 94558
- Central Region
Counties Served: Fresno, Kings, Kern, Madera, Merced, Mariposa, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Tulare.
1234 E. Shaw Avenue
Fresno, CA 93710
(559) 243–4005 ext. 151
Fax: (559) 243–4022
- South Coast Region
Counties Served: Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara.
3883 Ruffin Road
San Diego, CA 92123
Fax: (858) 467–4299
- Inland Deserts Region
Counties Served: Imperial, Mono, Inyo, San Bernardino and Riverside.
3602 Inland Empire Blvd, Suite C–220
Ontario, CA 91764
Fax: (909) 941–7364
- Marine Region
Counties Served: None. The Marine Region office serves the entire California coastline from the northern border to the southern border as well as three nautical miles out to sea.
20 Lower Ragsdale Drive, Suite 100
Monterey, CA 93940
Contact Information for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Headquarters
1416 9th Street, 12th Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814
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