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APPLICATION STRATEGY 2020: California Elk and Sheep

California elk and sheep application strategy 2020

California's 2020 elk and bighorn sheep application overview

Jump to: NEW FOR 2020 State Information Draw System Tule Elk Breakdown Rocky Elk Breakdown Roosevelt Elk Breakdown Desert Bighorn Sheep Breakdown

When building out your application strategy—unless you’re a California resident—applying in the Golden State should be a long ways down your list as there are many better options for these species out West. However, if your ultimate goal is a Tule elk or maybe you are the type of hunter who applies anywhere there is a bighorn sheep permit available, then toss your name into the pile of applicants and hope for the best. 

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


New for 2020

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 Rocky Mountain elk draw odds

Find your resident antlerless Rocky Mountain elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless Rocky Mountain elk draw odds here

Antlerless Tule elk draw odds

Find your resident antlerless Tule elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless Tule elk draw odds here

Antlerless Roosevelt elk draw odds

Find your resident antlerless Roosevelt elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident antlerless Roosevelt elk 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 Rocky Elk Profile Tule Elk Profile Roosevelt Elk Profile Desert Bighorn 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.

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 for more information.

Drought and snowpack in California

Currently, 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 drought status

California drought monitor 2020

Image date: May 12, 2020 Source: US Drought Monitor

2019 drought status

2019 CA drought monitor

Image date: May 14, 2019 Source: US Drought Monitor

2018 drought status

  California drought monitor status as of May 22 2018
Image date: May 22, 2018 Source: US Drought Monitor

Wolves in California

Approximate area of gray wolf activity (April 2020)

There is currently only one recognized wolf pack living in California. The Lassen Pack remains in the western and northern portions of Plumas County. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), there were at least six wolves in the Lassen pack during the last reporting period (January to March 2020). The satellite collar on the female pup collared in September 2019 stopped functioning in late January after only about four months of operation. Currently, there are no functioning radio collars in the pack.


The California draw system

Understanding the draw

California’s draw system has several twists and turns depending on the species you are focusing on. 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:

  • Elk: 499
  • Bighorn sheep: 599
  • 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 an application fee of $8.13 per species for residents and nonresidents.

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

Elk tag fees:

  • Resident: $484.20
  • Nonresident: $1,481.70
  • Resident Junior: $22.17

Bighorn sheep tag fee:

  • Resident: $443.25
  • Nonresident: $1,641.00

There is only one hunt choice available for bighorn sheep, elk and antelope. 

For elk, antelope and bighorn sheep 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. 

No more than 10% of the bighorn sheep tags statewide are given to nonresidents each year.

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.

Party applications

Resident applicants may apply with one other applicant for elk; 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.

No party applications are allowed for elk or desert bighorn sheep for residents or nonresidents. 

With only one permit available, there are no party applications allowed for either species for nonresidents.


California's 2020 Tule elk breakdown

If you are a nonresident interested in applying in California, the Tule elk is probably the reason you started. California only allows one nonresident elk hunter per year, making the odds of drawing one of these elusive permits very difficult. 

If you happen to be a resident—especially for the public land DIY options—the odds are also steep and, while you may have more opportunity to draw than nonresidents, you still need some serious luck. The random drawing happens before the preference point round; therefore, every applicant has an equal chance in this round. If you are a resident applying for a permit, apply with caution and read each hunt description carefully as there are a few cow elk as well as spike only options available. 

There are two options in the apprentice category for the youth hunter to have a chance at taking a bull Tule elk on Cache Creek and Fort Hunter Liggett. The rest of the Tule youth options are antlerless or spike bull only.

Hit list units for California tule elk in 2020

Top Tule elk units in California
(not in order of quality)

Zone Trophy
Potential
6pt or
better %
Public land
%
10 - Grizzly Island 300"+ 100% 100%
5 - Mendocino* 280"+ 100% 20%
14 - La Panza 280"+ 60% 22%
7 - East Park Reservoir 270"+ 100% 43%

*All the elk in this unit reside on private property. It is strongly advised to have arrangements made prior to applying for this hunt. Elk east of Hwy 101 are considered Tule elk. If found on the west side of Hwy 101, they will not qualify for either the Roosevelt or Tule elk category for Boone & Crockett (B&C). 

How to uncover hidden gem Tule elk units

With Tule elk, there really aren't any hidden gems. As with most hunts across the West, it could be very useful to study how many applicants are applying for each hunt and the trends. There could be some slightly overlooked options or even some units that fluctuate from year to year based on how people apply. This especially happens when you see draw odds looking great for a hunt; people might tend to flock there, which then drops the draw odds and has the potential to slightly raise another unit’s odds.

If you are a nonresident, given that only one permit is available, there is no reason to chase any sort of odds. Apply for the best hunt in the state because you have just as good a chance at being successful as the worst hunt in the state. Look for a hunt using Filtering 2.0 that lines up with your goals and get your name in the hat.


B&C entry trends for California Tule elk

 

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units 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 Tule elk

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
MendocinoSolano 5 14-La Panza 10-Grizzly Island
Monterey 4 14-La Panza15-Fort Hunter Liggett
Solano 4 10-Grizzly Island
Colusa 4 7-East Park Reservoir8-Bear Valley9-Cache Creek

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


Managing points and expectations

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for elk: 18

Residents

The random draw happens prior to the maximum point drawing in California so if you happen to have maximum points your name is actually in two different buckets of raffle tickets each year and you have a chance to draw during each pass. 

If you are a youth hunter, then 50% of the available apprentice tags will be available in this random drawing and, if you are an adult, then 25% of the tags will be available in this random drawing. Because this happens prior to the preference point draw, it means that maximum point holders have another chance to be successful as they could be the lucky recipient during the random drawing as well. Your points carry no value in this random drawing so, essentially, everyone has one ticket in the bucket for the hunt that they have applied for. Some of the hunt codes offer less than four permits and, if this happens, then here is a breakdown of how the tags will be allocated.

  • For quotas of one: the tag will be awarded at random.
  • For quotas of two: one tag will be awarded using a preference point drawing and one tag will be awarded at random.
  • For quotas of three: two tags will be awarded using a preference point drawing and one tag will be awarded at random.
  • For 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 at random.

Nonresidents

With only one permit up for grabs in California for nonresidents, apply in the best unit and hope you get drawn.

Based upon public land and the caliber of bulls, Zone 10—Grizzly Island continues to be a front runner.

Find your resident Tule elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident Tule elk draw odds here


California's 2020 Rocky Mountain elk breakdown

Rocky Mountain elk hunts in California are only offered in Zone-4 Northeastern, which is located in the extreme northeastern portion of the state and is home to fantastic elk hunting! Multiple B&C caliber bulls are taken on this hunt most years. 100% of the bulls taken in Zone 4 are 6 point or better and harvest success is above 60% for the rifle hunts.

The state offers one archery either-sex hunt in early September with 10 permits as well as one rifle hunt in mid-September that has 15 bull tags.

Rocky Mountain elk choices in California

Zone Trophy
Potential
6pt or
better %
Archery maximum
point odds
Rifle maximum
point odds
4-Northeastern 360"+ 100% 30% at 17 points (resident)
6.0% at 17 points (nonresident)
2.6% at 17 points (resident)
0.50% at 17 points (nonresident)

B&C entry trends for California Rocky Mountain elk

 

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units 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 Rocky Mountain elk

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Kern 1 NA
Lassen 1 4-Northeastern
Shasta 1 4-Northeastern

Map of California's Typical Rocky Mountain elk B&C all time entries 2020

The last B&C nontypical Rocky Mountain elk taken in California was in 2005 at 393 4/8”. It is worth noting that in 2004, a giant 404 2/8” bull was taken. So the trophy potential is there!


Managing points and expectations for Rocky Mountain elk

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for elk: 18

With only one option and only very few tags issued (10 archery and 15 rifle), your best bet is to just shoot for the stars and drop your name in if you want a chance at hunting an elk in California.

Find your resident Rocky Mountain elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident Rocky Mountain elk draw odds here


California's 2020 Roosevelt elk breakdown

There are three different hunt zones in California that contain Roosevelt elk in the northwestern portion of the Golden State. Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3 all hold populations of Roosevelt elk. Zone 5 has a Roosevelt/Tule mix and all the elk are entirely on private land. It is also worth noting that if you shoot a bull west of Hwy 101, they will not qualify for either the Roosevelt category for B&C.

With all that said, the elk hunting in these areas can be incredible. If archery hunting is your passion, you will need to look at Zone 2—Marble Mountain, which, when you draw, is actually both an archery permit as well a muzzleloader/archery so this is the only hunt to consider. A good proportion of the bulls can be found on public land.

If taking a qualifying B&C caliber animal is what you are after, then you will need to look towards Del Norte, Humboldt or Trinity Counties as well as the western side of Interstate 5 in Siskiyou County, which are within the established B&C boundary.


Roosevelt elk choices in California
(not in order of quality)

Zone Trophy
Potential
6pt or
better %
Public land
%
Success rate
Zone 1 - Northwestern 320"+ 100% 40% 100% - bull only
100% - either-sex
Zone 2 - Marble Mountains 310"+ 60% 66% 40% - muzzy/archery
66% - rifle
100% - rifle youth
Zone 3 - Siskiyou 310"+ 69% 48% 75% - rifle
Zone 5 - Mendocino* 300"+ 100% 20% 100% - rifle
*All the elk in this unit reside on private property. It is strongly advised to have arrangements made prior to applying for this hunt. Elk east of Hwy 101 are considered Tule elk. If found on the west side of Hwy 101 they will not qualify for either the Roosevelt category for B&C.

B&C entry trends for California Roosevelt elk

 

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units 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 Roosevelt elk

County No. of
entries
Zones found within county
Humboldt 23 1-Northwestern2-Marble Mountains
Del Norte 11 1-Northwestern
Siskiyou 6 2-Marble Mountains3-Siskiyou

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

Top B&C Roosevelt elk locations all time - California 2020 app strategy


Managing points and expectations for Roosevelt elk

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for elk: 18

Find your resident Roosevelt elk draw odds here

Find your nonresident Roosevelt elk draw odds here


California's 2020 desert bighorn sheep breakdown

For 2020, there are a total of 27 bighorn sheep permits, which is one more than 2019. This makes it possible for two potential nonresident permits. This does not guarantee that there will be even one nonresident as the odds are long, but nonresidents are allowed up to 10% of the total number of permits for bighorn sheep. Anytime there is an additional chance to draw a bighorn sheep tag is a step in the right direction. 

There are 10 different hunting zones in the state that have herds of desert bighorn sheep. Out of those ten, there are currently eight of these zones offering hunts.

Once again, there won’t be any permits offered for Zone 5 or Zone 6 for 2020. But Zone 2 will have a bighorn sheep hunt in 2020.

Top desert bighorn sheep hunts in California
(not in order of quality)

Zone Trophy
Potential
Tag quota Preference point quota Random quota Total applicants (2019) % public land
Zone 1 - Marble/Clipper Mountains 160"+ 5 4 1 2,573 95%
Zone 2 - Kelso Peak/Old Dad Mountains 155"+ 1 0 1 New in 2020 98%
Zone 3 - Clark/Kingston Mountain Ranges 165"+ 4 3 1 1,582 96%
Zone 4 - Orocopia Mountains 170"+ 1 0 1 1,123 54%
Zone 7 - White Mountains 165"+ 6 5 1 2,026 96%
Zone 8 - South Bristol Mountains 160"+ 2 1 1 650 96%
Zone 9 - Cady Mountains 160"+ 2 1 1 1,136 77%
Zone 10 - Newberry, Rodman and Ord Mountains 160"+ 6 5 1 2,537 70%

Hidden gems for California desert bighorn sheep

Hidden gems are always hard to find when it comes to bighorn sheep tags in any state and, given that there are very few options to consider in California, to begin with, it's even harder. If you are a resident using Filtering 2.0, study the number of applicants in each hunt and then use this information to put yourself on an application that has, on average, lower application numbers than the other units. This is one way to slightly increase your chances. However, a nonresident isn’t even guaranteed a permit and, if one is drawn, that would be the first permit awarded to a nonresident in many years. Therefore, it wouldn’t make sense to apply for anything less than what you consider to be the best hunt in the state. Use Filtering 2.0 to help you easily narrow it down. 


B&C entry trends for California desert bighorn sheep

 

Units listed below may not have a current hunt for this species. Units 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 desert bighorn sheep

County

No. of
entries
Zones found within county
San Bernardino 11 1-Marble/Clipper Mountains, 2-Kelso Peak/Old Dad Mountains
3-Clark/Kingston Mountains5-San Gorgonio Mountains, 6-Sheep Hole Mountains,
8-South Bristol Mountains, 9-Cady Mountains
Riverside 1 4-Orocopia Mountains, 5-San Gorgonio Mountains
San Benito 1 NA

Map of California's Desert bighorn sheep B&C all time entries 2020

TOP B&C DESERT BIGHORN SHEEP LOCATIONS SINCE 2015 - California 2020


Managing points and expectations for Desert bighorn sheep

The preference point race

2020 maximum bonus points for Desert bighorn sheep: 18

Find your draw odds

Resident

Odds are stacked against you, but you’ll never draw if you don’t apply. If you happen to be one of the lucky few who has the maximum number of points in California, you essentially have two chances to draw. The first pass will be the random drawing where an applicant’s number of points carry no value and every applicant has an equal chance at drawing. If unsuccessful in the random pass, then you will have an additional chance at drawing among all of the other maximum point holders who selected the same zone to hunt as you did. 

Studying the number of applicants in each unit over the last number of years may produce a unit that tends to fluctuate on the number of applicants choosing to apply there. Get consistent in applying for units like this even though during any given year the odds could be as bad as anywhere else. At least you will know your name is in the hat on the odd years when its popularity dips again and creates the best odds you will get. Consistently trying to outguess the other applicants as to which unit will have the best odds any given year tends to lend itself to having the worst odds because you have the same strategy as many other applicants. With limited information, you and the other hunters will often come to the same conclusions.

Nonresidents

The odds of drawing a bighorn sheep tag as a nonresident in California are slim. For quick reference, over the past five years, zero nonresidents drew a bighorn sheep tag. What might get you a little more excited is there is a chance for two nonresident permits in California for 2020. With a total of 27 bighorn sheep permits up for grabs in the state draw, this allows for the possibility of two nonresidents thanks to the up to 10% quota.

Find your resident desert bighorn sheep draw odds here

Find your nonresident desert bighorn sheep draw odds here

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