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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2020: California Deer and Antelope

California's 2020 deer and antelope application overview

Jump to: NEW FOR 2020 State Information Draw System Mule Deer Breakdown Columbia Blacktail Deer Breakdown Antelope Breakdown

When it comes to deer hunting, California should be considered as an opportunity state rather than a trophy hunting destination. This is especially true when it comes to how the state manages their deer herds. When it comes to antelope hunting, there isn’t a high population of antelope, which means that the odds of pulling a tag are extremely tough.

Planning a deer hunt in California can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be. And drawing an antelope permit will take some serious luck — especially if you are a nonresident since there is only one successful nonresident hunter each year. 

California does not have a nonresident quota for deer so residents and nonresidents have exactly the same odds each year.

Note: The application deadline for all species in California is June 2, 2020 at midnight PST. You can apply online here.


New for 2020

Deer tag classification changes

There are a few changes for the 2020 deer season. Below are several tags that have changed classifications.

From restricted deer tags to premium deer tags:

  • D14 – tag quota filled on 6/24/19
  • A18 – tag quota filled on 6/14/19
  • A22 – tag quota filled on 6/15/19

From unrestricted deer tags to premium deer tags:

  • A19 – tag quota filled on 6/10/19

From premium deer tag to unrestricted deer tag:

  • D6 – tag quota filled on 8/4/19

From restricted deer tags to unrestricted deer tags:

  • D16 – tag quota filled on 8/3/19

Change in age for junior hunting licenses

The age for youth to purchase a junior hunting license has changed. A resident or nonresident must now be under 16 years of age on July 1, 2020 in order to be eligible for a 2020/2021 junior hunting license. The previous age was 18.

Archery firearm carry

The following information is taken directly from the 2020 regulations booklet:

CCR T14 354(h) Archers may not use or possess a firearm while in the field engaged in archery hunting during an archery season or while hunting during a general season under the provisions of an archery only tag except as provided in subsections (h)(1) or (h)(2).

  1. An archer may carry a firearm capable of being concealed on his or her person while engaged in the taking of big game other than deer with a bow and arrow in accordance with subdivision (h), but shall not take or attempt to take big game with the firearm.
  2. Nothing in this section shall prohibit the lawful possession of a firearm capable of being concealed on his or her person by an active peace officer listed in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2 of the Penal Code or a retired peace officer in lawful possession of an identification certificate issued pursuant to Penal Code Section 25455 authorizing the retired officer to carry a concealed firearm.

Antlerless mule deer draw odds

Find your resident antlerless mule deer odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless mule deer draw odds here

Antlerless Columbian blacktail draw odds

Find your resident antlerless blacktail draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless blacktail draw odds here


State information

To view important information and an overview of the California rules/regulations, the draw system and bonus points, tag and license fees and an interactive boundary line map, check out our State Profile.

California State Profile Mule Deer Profile Columbian Blacktail Deer Profile Antelope Profile Draw Odds Filtering 2.0

Important dates and information

  • You may begin applying now.
  • The deadline to apply is June 2, 2020 at midnight PST. 
  • You can apply online here.
  • If you just want to pick up points, the deadline is also June 2, 2020 at midnight PST.
  • The state has 10 business days after the drawing to conduct the drawing. Draw results will be posted around June 17, 2020.
  • The deadline to purchase antelope, elk and desert bighorn sheep tags is July 15, 2020.
  • Leftover premium deer tags are available (first deer tag) July 2, 2020.
  • Leftover premium deer tags are available (second deer tag) Aug. 2, 2020.

Harvest reports

Deer tag holders who fail to submit a harvest report for any 2020 deer tag by Jan. 31, 2021 will be assessed a $21.60 non-reporting fee when purchasing a deer tag drawing application or deer tag in the 2021 license year.

All applicants are required to show proof of a hunter’s education course prior to applying. This can be done in a variety of ways. For a full list of these options, check out our California State Profile.

Nonlead ammunition required statewide

As of July 1, 2019, all hunters must use nonlead ammunition when taking any wildlife in California, except when hunting with a pellet rifle for approved species. Check out this recent goHUNT article here for more information.


Drought conditions in California

Currently, as of the latest May 12 report, 58.20% of California is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, 46.67% is experiencing moderate drought and 20.84% of the state is at severe drought levels. In the extreme northwest corner of the state, there is a small section of extreme drought.

2020

California drought monitor 2020Source: May 12, 2020 Source: US Drought Monitor

2019

2019 CA drought monitor

 

Source: May 14, 2019 Source: US Drought Monitor

The California draw system

The state operates on a modified preference point system so whoever has the most points on any given hunt code will draw the tag. There is also a random drawing for any applicant who has less than the maximum number of points. 

The point system in California started in 2002 and, currently, the maximum number of preference points is 18 for any species.

Preference point codes:

  • Deer: PD
  • Antelope: 799

All applicants are required to purchase an annual hunting license prior to applying for any big game hunt. Once you have purchased your license you will also have to pay an application fee of $8.13 for antelope for both residents and nonresidents. You are required to submit the full cost of the deer permit at the time of the application. 

Here is the list of qualifying licenses and their cost:

  • Adult resident: $51.02
  • Adult nonresident: $178.20
  • Junior resident or nonresident: $13.53
  • Disabled veteran and recovering service member: $8.13

Deer tag fees

First deer tag/drawing application

  • Resident: $33.48
  • Nonresident: $299.95

Second deer tag/drawing application

  • Resident: $41.86
  • Nonresident: $299.95

Antelope tag fee

  • Resident: $162.82
  • Nonresident: $498.65

Remember you will not receive your refund if unsuccessful unless you request it from the state. Once processed, you will receive a refund of the difference between a resident and nonresident deer permit, which is approximately $246. You must submit a request for this refund in writing prior to the earliest opening date of the hunt. 


Hunt choices

For the first and second deer tag application, you will get three choices. There is only one hunt choice available for antelope. All applicants’ first choices will be considered prior to anyone’s second or third choice being considered. 


Quota breakdown

For antelope hunts with a tag quota of four or more, 75% of the permits will be distributed to applicants with the most points and the remaining 25% will be issued on a random basis. The random drawing happens before the preference point round; therefore, every applicant has an equal chance in this round.

This does not apply to nonresidents. There will only be one elk and one antelope permit issued to nonresidents through the draw. What this means is if any antelope permit—as well as any elk permit including a cow elk—is drawn and awarded to a nonresident, all other nonresident applications will be rejected for these species. This makes the odds of drawing in California some of the toughest odds in the country for these particular species. 

Here’s a quick summary of the quota breakdown:

  • For hunts with tag quotas of one: the tag will be awarded using a draw-by-choice random drawing.
  • For hunts with tag quotas of two: one tag will be awarded using a preference point drawing and one tag will be awarded using a draw-by-choice random drawing.
  • For hunts with tag quotas of three: two tags will be awarded using a preference point drawing and one tag will be awarded using a draw-by-choice random drawing.
  • For hunts with tag quotas of four or more: 75% of the quota will be awarded using a preference point drawing. The remaining portion of the quota will be awarded using a draw-by-choice random drawing.

There is no nonresident quota for deer hunts in California. Everyone is on the same playing field.

When applying for premium deer, 90% of the tags are allocated to whoever has the most points for any given zones on any given year. If you are in a maximum point status for the hunt that you applied for, then there is no luck required; you will simply be issued the tag. If you are not in the group of maximum point holders, there is still a small chance of drawing as the state sets aside 10% of its permits for a random drawing.


Premium vs restricted deer tags

Premium deer tags are issued by drawing. Restricted and unrestricted deer tags are issued upon request until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

Premium deer tags

Premium deer tags are for any hunt where the quota is filled on or before the first business day after July 1 of the previous year. Hunters may only obtain one premium hunt tag per license year. To apply for a premium deer hunt tag, hunters must apply in the big game drawing using a first-deer tag drawing application, except for junior hunters who may also apply for premium apprentice hunts using a second-deer tag drawing application.

Premium deer tags for 2020 are:

  • General zone hunts: C, D9, D12, D14, and D17;
  • X zone hunts: X1, X2, X3A, X3B, X4, X5A, X5B, X6A, X6B, X7A, X7B, X8, X9A, X9B, X9C, X10 and X12;
  • General method hunts: G1, G3, G6, G8, G12, G13, G19, G21, G37, G38 and G39;
  • Muzzleloader hunts: M3, M4, M5, M6, M7, M8, M9, M11, MA1 and MA3;
  • Area-specific archery hunts: A1, A3, A4, A5, A6, A7, A8, A9, A11, A12, A13, A14, A15, A16, A17, A18, A19, A20, A21, A22, A24, A25, A26, A27, A30, A31 and A33;
  • Apprentice hunts: J1, J3, J4, J8, J9, J10, J11, J12, J13, J14, J15, J16, J17, J18, J19, J20 and J21.

Restricted deer hunts

Restricted deer hunts are any hunt that is filled on or before the first business day after Aug. 1 of the previous year. Restricted deer hunt tags may be issued upon the purchase of a first-deer tag. Second-deer tag applicants may also obtain a restricted deer hunt tag at any time if you do not have a pending drawing application and have not been issued a premium deer hunt tag or restricted deer hunt tag as a first-deer tag. Restricted tags are issued upon request until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

Restricted deer tags:

  • There are no deer tags listed in the restricted deer tag classification for the 2020 license year.

Unrestricted deer hunts

Unrestricted deer hunts are any hunt that did not fill on or before the first business day after Aug. 1 in the previous year. Unrestricted deer hunt tags are issued upon the purchase of either a first-deer tag or second-deer tag.

Unrestricted deer tags for 2020 are:


Deer tag descriptions

A, B and D zone hunt tags

These tags allow hunting during the archery season with archery equipment only and during the general season with a muzzleloader or centerfire rifle, shotgun, authorized pistol or revolver, crossbow or bow. Tags are valid for a specific zone of issuance except:

  • A zone tag is valid in both A North and A South;
  • B Zone deer tags are valid in any B zone;
  • D3-5 deer tags are valid in zones D3, D4, and D5; and
  • D11, D13, or D15 tags may be used in any of these three zones.

C Zone hunt tag

A C zone tag is valid in zones C1, C2, C3 and C4 during the general season only, using a muzzleloader or centerfire rifle, shotgun, authorized pistol or revolver, crossbow or bow. To hunt with archery equipment only during the archery season in any C zone, you must apply in the big game drawing for an A1 area-specific archery hunt tag.

X zone hunt tags

These tags allow hunting during the general season only in a specific zone using a muzzleloader or centerfire rifle, shotgun, authorized pistol or revolver, crossbow or bow.

Archery only (AO) hunt tag

The AO (archery only) tag allows hunting with archery equipment only during the archery and general seasons in A, B, or D zones and Hunt G10 (military only). To hunt during an X zone archery season, you must have an area-specific archery hunt tag for the appropriate zone. You may not possess a firearm or crossbow when hunting under the authority of an archery only deer tag except as otherwise provided in 354(h) (1) and (2).

Area-specific archery hunt tags

These tags allow archery hunting in designated areas throughout the state, including X zones.


First and second deer tags

First deer tag drawing application

A first deer tag drawing application may only be used to apply for the following hunts:

  • First choice: premium deer hunts or a preference point code. Using the preference point code means you will obtain a point without being in the first choice round of the draw.
  • Second and third choice: second and third choices are optional and may be a premium deer, restricted deer or unrestricted deer.

A first deer tag may be used to obtain the following:

  • Restricted deer hunt tags
  • Unrestricted deer hunt tags
  • Leftover premium deer hunt tags issued on July 2, 2020

If any premium deer hunt tags remain after the big game drawing, first deer tag applicants may apply for any leftover premium deer hunt tags starting at 8:00 a.m. on July 2, 2020. 

Second deer tag drawing application

A second deer tag drawing application may ONLY be used by junior hunters to apply for apprentice hunts and only if they have not applied for apprentice deer hunts on their first deer tag drawing application. Second deer tag drawing application hunt choices are limited as follows:

  • First choice: Must be an apprentice deer hunt or PD (point deer – The preference point code may be used as the first choice to obtain a preference point without competing in the first choice round of the drawing).
  • Second and third choice: Second and third choice hunts are optional and maybe another apprentice deer hunt or unrestricted deer hunt tag. Junior hunters may select a restricted deer hunt as their second or third tag choice ONLY if they were issued an unrestricted deer tag as their first deer tag or not pending a first deer tag drawing application.

A second deer tag may be used to obtain the following:

  • Unrestricted deer hunt tags
  • Restricted deer hunt tags
  • Leftover premium deer hunt tags issued on August 2, 2020 

Second deer tag applicants may obtain any restricted deer hunt tag at any time if they do not have a pending first deer tag drawing application or have not been issued a premium or restricted deer tag as a first deer tag. Starting at 8:00 a.m. on Aug. 2, 2020, all second deer tag applicants may apply for any remaining deer tags regardless if you have been issued a premium or restricted deer tag already.


Party applications

You are allowed to apply with up to six party members on a deer application. Only residents can apply for a party for antelope.

However, if your party draws the last available permit, the party leader will be awarded the permit and the other applicants will be placed on an alternate list. This means that no party applications are ever rejected, but California is different than most states because there is potential for one member of your party to draw, but not the other. 

When it comes to party applications, points are averaged. Note: points are not rounded up or down.


California's 2020 mule deer breakdown

Mule deer can be hunted in 38 different zones throughout California with the exception of the northwest corner. 

One of the great qualities about California is that mule deer are found in a wide variety of terrain. Because you can hunt a plethora of zones with a second deer permit, it makes this state one that could be hunted on a regular basis if you just want to hunt.

The key to success is either going to be through diligent scouting on easier to draw tags or trying to draw a tag for later season dates. You will notice that most of the hunts with decent harvest success are all the later season dates.

2017 was the last recorded population estimate for mule deer with a population of 532,621. It should be noted that that is a reduction of 88,461 deer in one year.

California deer population estimates - updated 2018

California deer population estimates by hunt zone - 2018

Top hit list zones to consider for 160” or better mule deer

Zone Trophy
Potential
4pt or
better %
Public land
%
D-6 160"+ 14% 53%
X-2 170"+ 49% 75%
X-5b 160"+ 52% 74%
X-6b 170"+ 28% 76%
X-9a 170"+ 24% 92%
X-9b 160"+ 18% 99%

How to find hidden gems for mule deer zones in California

Hidden gems are all over each state. The key is research, scouting and an effective hunting plan. In California, there are so many options to consider in both the restricted and unrestricted deer zones across the state. If you simply want to ensure that you have at least one deer permit in your pocket this fall, then you need to consider applying your second deer application for an unrestricted area.

Locating a hunt that flies under the radar can be done with Filtering 2.0. — especially if you want to hunt a zone that doesn’t have a lot of public land because that is a factor that can push a lot of hunters away. Or maybe you want to find a hunt that is going undersubscribed in the first draw and could be a great option for a second or third choice. Note: You will only lose points if you draw your first choice.

Using Filtering 2.0, you can search for exactly the type of hunt you are looking for by sorting zones by success rates, percentage of public land and trophy quality to find a quality hunt that most hunters may not be keying into.

Using Filtering 2.0

  • Select California.
  • Select mule deer.
  • Adjust the Trophy Slider to your desired size (e.g. 150”+).
  • Click whether you are a resident or nonresident and indicate how many points you currently possess.
  • Select your minimum percentage of odds for drawing the tag. This can be very good for weeding out zones with unlimited (100%) tags.
  • Select which season(s) you wish to hunt. Have other hunts already scheduled for the fall? You can also set your date parameters and Filtering 2.0 will automatically find what's in season during that time of the year.
  • Choose what harvest percentages you would like to see in the zones.
  • Lastly, click on any of the remaining zones to read in-depth profiles containing valuable information.

Boone & Crockett (B&C) entry trends for California mule deer

Zones listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Zones in this table are included if any part of the zone is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of Boone and Crockett Club.

California's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for typical mule deer

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Modoc 1 X-1X-2X-3aX-3b
Tuolumne 1 D-6

Map of California's Typical mule deer B&C all time entries 2020

Top B&C typical mule deer locations since 2015 - California 2020

California's top B&C producing counties since 2010 for nontypical mule deer

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Plumas 1 X-6a, X-6b, X-7a, C-4, D-3

Map of California's nontypical mule deer B&C all time entries 2020

Top B&C nontypical mule deer locations since 2015 - California 2020


Managing points and expectations

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for mule deer: 18

The California deer draw is set up in a unique way. Both residents and nonresidents are in the same draw and that is why you will see draw odds are exactly the same for both.

If you draw a hunt on your second or third choice, it will not purge your points. This is a great way to hunt California each year.

As stated earlier, California mule deer hunting isn’t a true trophy destination state. As of 2005, there have only been four typical mule deer entries and two nontypical entries.

FIND YOUR RESIDENT MULE DEER DRAW ODDS HERE

FIND YOUR NONRESIDENT MULE DEER DRAW ODDS HERE

Over-the-counter (OTC) options

California offers OTC hunts in many different zones across the state although there is one archery only (AO) permit that allows the hunter to hunt in zones A, B and D. The remaining hunt options covering Zone A as well as most of Zone D allow the hunter to hunt during the early archery season and, if unsuccessful, return for a rifle hunt later in the fall. More information about these hunts can be found here.


California's 2020 Columbian blacktail deer breakdown

Columbian blacktail hunts can be found along the western coast of California and, currently, there are 16 different zones that offer hunts.

When it comes to record book quality Columbian blacktail deer, California dominates the books in all time typical entries at 815 with the second closest state, Oregon, at 479. A similar situation is present when it comes to nontypical entries.

Also, when it comes to B&C entries since 2010, California still ranks number one at 109 entries with Oregon trailing at 34 entries. And all time California is still at the top with 815 typical and 35 nontypical entires.

Top B&C Columbian blacktail deer locations all time - Updated May 2020

The heavy hitters for blacktail deer in Oregon are still the zones along the coast.

Top hit list zones to consider for 120” or better blacktail deer

Zone Trophy
Potential
4pt or
better %
Public land
%
A-North 120"+ 11% 17%
B-1 120"+ 16% 47%
B-2 120"+ 14% 74%
B-4 120"+ 25% 23%
D-5 120"+ 18% 30%

B&C entry trends for California Columbian blacktail deer

 

Zones listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Zones in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.

California’s top B&C producing counties since 2015 for typical blacktail deer

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Mendocino 11 A-NorthB-1B-4
Trinity 9 B-1B-2B-5
Humboldt 10 B-1B-2B-4

Map of California's Typical Columbia blacktail deer B&C all time entries 2020

California’s top B&C producing counties since 2015 for nontypical blacktail deer

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Trinity 4 B-1B-2B-5

Map of California's Nontypical Columbia blacktail deer B&C all time entries 2020


Managing points and expectations

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for blacktail deer: 18

Find your resident blacktail deer odds here

Find your nonresident blacktail deer odds here


California's 2020 antelope breakdown

Currently, there are six zones that hold hunts for antelope in California. All of the zones are located in the northwest corner of the state and, surprisingly, all of them have public land percentages north of 50%.

In 2019, harvest success statewide for the 245 tags issued was 68%.

California’s antelope options

Zone Trophy
Potential
Public land
%
Harvest success
Zone 1 - Mount Dome 75"+ 51% 100% - rifle
Zone 2 - Clear Lake 75"+ 82% 0% - archery
87% - rifle
Zone 3 - Likely Tables 75"+ 65% 60% - archery
84% - rifle (Aug.)
78% - rifle (Sep.)
60% - rifle (youth)
Zone 4 - Lassen 80"+ 59% 40% - archery
89% - rifle
97% - rifle
80% - rifle (youth)
Zone 5 - Big Valley 75"+ 54% 0% - archery
80% - rifle
100% - rifle (youth)
Zone 6 - Surprise Valley 75"+ 58% 0% - archery
90% - rifle
100% - rifle (youth)

How to find hidden gems for antelope in California

There really aren’t any hidden gems when it comes to trying to get an antelope tag in California. The only “hidden gem” is if you have close to maximum points and just want an antelope tag after all these years. In 2019, Zone 3 drew out at 16 points. However, that was only one point behind the maximum.


B&C entry trends for California antelope

 

Zones listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Zones in this table are included if any part of the district is found within the county. Data provided below courtesy of the Boone and Crockett Club.

California's top B&C producing counties since 2015 for antelope

County

No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Lassen 6 3-Likely Tables4-Lassen5-Big Valley6-Surprise Valley
Modoc 3 2-Clear Lake3-Likely Tables5-Big Valley6-Surprise Valley

Map of California's Antelope B&C all time entries 2020

Top B&C antelope locations since 2010 - California 2020 app strategy


Managing points and expectations 

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for antelope: 18

If you are a nonresident and want to pull an antelope tag in California, you are running against an uphill battle. There is only one antelope tag available. This fact is very hard to swallow and still apply for antelope in California as a nonresident.

If you’re a resident, you have single digit draw odds right up to maximum points for archery with Zone 3 being able to possibly be drawn one less than maximum points. And for rifle…well, let’s just say that you have less than 1% odds until you are at the maximum point level; however, Zone 5 could possibly be drawn soon at one under maximum.

FIND YOUR RESIDENT ANTELOPE DRAW ODDS HERE

FIND YOUR NONRESIDENT ANTELOPE DRAW ODDS HERE

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