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Application strategy 2022: California deer, elk, antelope and sheep


If you are looking towards the Golden State for a chance to go hunting this year, you are most likely a resident or you’ve had some seriously bad luck in the other states out West. Regardless, if your goal is simply to go hunting, there are many options to choose from in California and there is lots of public land you can target for this goal. The trophy quality and success rates leave a lot to be desired though. There is no tag split between residents and nonresidents when it comes to applying for deer tags. For elk and antelope, there is only one nonresident tag available and only two nonresident tags for bighorn sheep. As you can imagine, the odds associated with those tags are not the greatest. However, if you are going to apply for deer or any other species that requires you to purchase the hunting license, you may as well throw your name into the hat for all species of interest as it's only an additional $8.13 to apply.

Note: The application deadline for all species in California is June 2, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. PST. You can apply online here.

New for 2022


There are a few changes for the 2022 deer season. Below are several tags that have changed classifications.


  • D6 - tag quota filled on 7/3/2021


  • D19 – tag quota filled on 7/25/2021 


  • A32 - tag quota filled on 8/4/2021
  • D16 - tag quota filled on 8/3/2021

State information

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


  • You may begin applying now.
  • The deadline to apply is June 2, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. PST.
  • You can apply online here.
  • If you just want to pick up points, the deadline is also June 2, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. PST.
  • The state has 10 business days after the application period to conduct the drawing. Draw results will be posted around June 17, 2022.
  • The deadline to purchase antelope, elk and desert bighorn sheep tags is July 15, 2022.
  • Leftover premium deer tags are available (first deer tag) on July 2, 2022.
  • Leftover premium deer tags are available (second deer tag) on Aug. 2, 2022.


Deer tag holders who fail to submit a harvest report for any 2022 deer tag by Jan. 31, 2023 will be assessed a $21.60 non-reporting fee when purchasing a deer tag drawing application or deer tag in the 2023 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.


As of July 1, 2019, all hunters must use non lead ammunition when taking any wildlife in California, except when hunting with a pellet rifle for approved species. 

Nonresidents will need to bring ammunition with them. California will not sell ammunition to nonresident hunters.

Drought conditions in California

Although California has been in a severe moisture slump for quite a few years now, there has been some improvement from 2021. Most of the Sierra Nevada’s have moved from an extreme drought, back to severe. I know it still sounds bad, but it’s an improvement. The coastal side of the state has also seen big improvements, which should really help your local blacktail herds. The central valley and far southeast regions are still looking for any moisture they can get.


Source: US Drought Monitor


Source: US Drought Monitor

The California draw system

California uses a preference point system in the draw process. Applicants that are unsuccessful in drawing a permit will earn a preference point for that species. Applicants may select three hunt choices when applying for premium deer permits. Applicants may only select one hunt choice for antelope, elk and bighorn sheep. The state considers everyone's first choice before considering any applicant's 2nd choice.

  • For premium deer permits, 90% of the tags are reserved for those applicants with the most points. 10% are drawn randomly.
  • For deer permits, resident and nonresidents are combined in the draw - treated exactly the same (no advantage to one or the other).
  • For antelope, elk and bighorn sheep, where there is a quota of 4 or more permits, 75% of the permits are drawn to those applicants with the most bonus points and the remaining 25% will be drawn randomly. Where there is a quota of 3 or fewer permits, 1 permit will be drawn randomly.
  • Nonresidents are limited up to 10% of total tags statewide for bighorn sheep.
  • Nonresidents are limited to 1 permit statewide for elk and antelope.
  • Maximum point level for 2022 is 20 points.
  • There is a Preference Point only option when applying - See Preference Point Codes


  • Deer: PD
  • Antelope: 799
  • Elk: 499
  • Bighorn sheep: 599

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 elk, antelope and bighorn sheep for both residents and nonresidents. You are required to submit the full cost of the deer permit at the time of the application. 


SpeciesResidentNonresidentResident Youth
Nonresident Youth
Hunting License$54.00$188.74$14.30$14.30
First Deer$35.38$317.00$35.38$317.00
Second Deer$44.28$317.00$44.28$317.00
Bighorn Sheep$468.75$1,736.75$468.75$1,736.75
Application Fee (Antelope, Elk, Bighorn Sheep)$8.13$8.13$8.13$8.13

Unsuccessful nonresidents may request a refund of the difference between the fees paid for a nonresident and a resident deer tag drawing application if the application was submitted and a deer tag was not issued or if a nonresident deer tag is issued and all of the following conditions are met: 

  1. The deer license tag is not a premium tag. 
  2. The deer license tag is returned prior to the earliest opening date for the hunt. 
  3. The tag quota has not been filled for the hunt. Refund requests shall be submitted on or before March 1 each year to: CDFW’s License and Revenue Branch - 1740 N. Market Blvd. Sacramento, CA 95834.


  • Deer - up to six applicants.
  • Elk and Antelope - residents only and only as a party of two. No nonresident party apps.
  • Bighorn Sheep - no party apps allowed.

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; however, California is different from most states because there is potential for one member of your party to draw, but not the other. 

Points are averaged. Note: points are not rounded up or down.


  • 47 Bull elk tags
  • 41 antlerless elk tags
  • One junior any elk tags
  • Four junior antlerless elk tags
  • Santa Barbara County: deer (D-13 and A zone), bear, wild pig, turkey, dove and quail 
  • Siskiyou County: B6 deer hunt

Hunt choices

Type of Application# of hunt choices
First Deer3
Second Deer3
Bighorn Sheep1

Premium vs restricted/unrestricted 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 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.

  • General zone hunts: C, D6, 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 are any hunt that is filled on or before the first business day after Aug. 1 of the previous year. Restricted tags are issued upon request until the tag quota for the hunt is filled.

  • General hunt zones: D6 and D19


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..

  • Archery only hunts: AO 
  • Area-specific archery hunts: A32
  • General hunt zones: A, B, D3-5, D7, D8, D10, D11, D13, D15, and D16;

Deer tag descriptions


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.


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.


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.


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).


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

First and Second deer tags

For first deer tags, typically, most hunters will apply for a hard to draw premium tag as their first choice, followed by lesser desired restricted or unrestricted tags for their second and third choice. If you don't have max points, then this gives you a random shot at a great hunt and you get a tag in your pocket for the season. Not to mention, you gain another preference point for not drawing your first choice.  If you chose 3 premium hunt choices and you struck out all around, then that's where the second deer tag comes in handy.

For second deer tags, hunters will normally buy a second tag if they were unsuccessful on their first or if they just feel like getting a second tag.  Some seasons are earlier/later or shorter/longer than others, so this gives you the opportunity for multiple hunts in the same year.

California's 2022 mule deer breakdown

There are currently 38 zones in California that offer a chance to hunt mule deer. They can be found in just about any unit in the state except for the far northwest corner. If you are looking for a chance to hunt each year, California offers lots of opportunities whether it’s over-the-counter (OTC) tags or different draw areas. If you are looking for higher success rates you will find them in the draw hunts that happen later in the year after the snow has fallen in the upper elevations of the state, pushing deer down into easier to access areas. These later hunts are much more difficult to draw if you aren’t at a higher point level, but there’s still that random chance.

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

4pt or better %Public land %


It’s no secret that the deer herds in California have been on a serious decline for quite a few years now, so finding units loaded with deer and multiple big bucks is just not a reality. However, the potential for finding good mature mule deer is still very present in most, if not all units. Focusing on a specific unit year after year, will allow you to learn and help you produce the best results. A hidden gem in California could come from just about anywhere. The truth is that in states that offer so much opportunity to go hunting, all hunting areas can often produce the desired result we are looking for when it comes to more success or upper age class.

Managing points and expectations


2022 maximum preference points for mule deer: 20

Without any nonresident quotas, all deer applicants in California have the same odds of drawing whether you are a resident or not. Your points are only lost if you draw your first choice. This means that you can use your second and third choice much more aggressively to ensure you have a tag in your pocket for the fall without losing the points. Even then, California is not typically considered a destination for big deer. Yet, with a little planning and some time invested you never know; there are always a few great deer that come out of odd areas of the state each year.

See your draw odds here


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. 

California's 2022 Columbian blacktail deer breakdown

There are 16 zones that offer hunts for Columbian blacktail deer in California. If your goal is to hunt the best this species has to offer then a trip to the Golden State is likely what you are after. California has absolutely dominated the record books for many years when it comes to Columbian blacktails. Whether you want a private land experience on the coast or would like to try your luck on the public land further to the east, there is something for everyone and the age class and trophy potential are some of the best in the world.

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

4pt or better %Public land %

Managing points and expectations


2022 maximum preference points for blacktail deer: 20

The truth is that there really are not any standout units or hunts in California that are worth building points for when, for zero points or even as a second or third choice, you could be hunting some of the very best California has to offer. However, depending on what your goal is, you could consider applying for one of the hardest mule deer hunts in the state as your first choice, apply for whatever hunt you are dreaming of for blacktails as a second choice and either way you have the best of both worlds no matter how the cards fall. 

See your draw odds here

California's 2022 Tule elk breakdown

Tule elk are considered the holy grail of elk hunting. As a nonresident, there are only three ways to check the box on this species. The first is that you simply pay for a hunt that includes some sort of landowner permit. This is very expensive ($25k-$40k), but the only surefire way to ensure a chance at these elk. The second is that you are the one and only nonresident to draw in the annual state drawing, beating all other nonresident applications to the punch across all species of elk. The last way is to draw one of the SHARE permits that are located in a county that has tule elk. The long story short is that no matter how you find yourself on a tule elk hunt, it was either the result of some insane luck or you cut a check that likely made your knees weak. 

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.

2022 Top Tule elk units in California

(not in order of quality)

6pt or better %Public land %
10 - Grizzly Island300''+100%100%
5 - Mendocino*280''+100%20%
14 - La Panza280''+60%22%
7 - East Park Reservoir270''+100%43%
Zone 15 - Fort Hunter Liggett280''+100%0.3%
Zone 9 - Cache Creek270''+50%64%
*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 so few options to consider when looking to hunt tule elk, there are not any real hidden gems. However, if you were to study the number of applications submitted, you can sometimes pick up a trend where one unit or the other tends to fluctuate up and down more than the other units. If you were to apply for a unit like this religiously then at least your name will be in the right hat on the years when the trend goes down and you will have much fewer applicants to compete with.

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.

Managing points and expectations


2022 maximum preference points for elk: 20


If you happen to be at maximum points, you may as well keep applying for what you believe to be the best hunt in the state. At this point, it would be a shame to draw a less than elite hunt after all the years you have waited. For all other applicants, your points carry no value and you, essentially, have one ticket in the bucket for whichever hunt you submit your application for and are waiting for lightning to strike. Remember that the random drawing happens first so all applicants have an equal chance on this pass. If you do have the maximum number of points for the hunt code you applied for, then you actually have two chances to draw: one in 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. 

If you are a max point holder, or close to it and you’re not completely dead set on taking a Tule bull elk, then I’d suggest using Filtering 2.0 to see what cow elk opportunities you have.


Remember, only one nonresident will have the privilege of hunting Tule elk in California each year. If you are actually going to submit an application for this, don’t waste it on applying for some mediocre tag because you are up against every other nonresident who applies. You may as well swing for the fence and apply for what you believe to be the best hunt in the state.

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

See your draw odds here

California's 2022 Rocky Mountain elk breakdown

There is only one hunt area in California that offers Rocky Mountain elk hunting: Zone-4 Northeastern. However, this unit could present the opportunity of killing an absolute giant bull. It’s hard to imagine that this unit produces like it does, but if your goal is a record book caliber of bull, it is as likely to happen here compared to anywhere in the country. In 2021, tag holders reported 100% success in harvesting bulls with at least 6 points on one side. 

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

6pt or better %Archery maximum point oddsRifle maximum point odds

63% at 19 points (resident)

6.2% at 19 points (nonresident)

3.1% at 19 points (resident)

0.30% at 19 points (nonresident)

Managing points and expectations for Rocky Mountain elk


2022 maximum preference points for elk: 20

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.

See your draw odds here

California's 2022 Roosevelt elk breakdown

There are three different zones that offer Roosevelt elk exclusively: Zone 1, Zone 2 and Zone 3. While Zone 5 has a mixture of both Roosevelt and tule elk, unfortunately, the elk in this zone are entirely on private land and, if you were to harvest a bull on the west side of Hwy 101, then it would not qualify for either species in the record book.

However, 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. Del Norte, Humboldt and Trinity counties have long been the top producers for age class, so if you are looking for the best bull you can find, it’s best to stick within these areas and hunt west of Interstate 5. 

Roosevelt elk choices in California

(not in order of quality)

6pt or better %Public land %Success rate
Zone 1 - Northwestern320''+100%40%67% - bull only
100% - either-sex
Zone 2 - Marble Mountains310''+60%66%50% - muzzy/archery
67% - rifle
50% - rifle youth
Zone 3 - Siskiyou310''+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.

Managing points and expectations for Roosevelt elk


2022 maximum preference points for elk: 20


Some of the best Roosevelt elk hunting in the world is happening in California. However, with a large amount of the area they call home on private property, it is best to have a plan in place prior to drawing the permit in order to get the most out of a tag you have likely waited a long time to get. All this considered: without an excessive amount of points, it is difficult to draw a mature bull permit. 


Again, you are up against every nonresident elk applicant in the state, including the cow elk applicants. Swing for the fence and only apply for the best hunts in the state as you are as likely to draw that as you are any other hunt.

See your draw odds here

California's 2022 antelope breakdown

Currently, there are six zones that hold hunts for antelope in California. All of the zones are located in the northeast corner of the state and all of them have public land percentages north of 50%. Antelope is a hard pill to swallow in California, but if you love hunting antelope and you are going to be purchasing the hunting license for one reason or the other, for an additional $8.13, you might as well roll the dice and see what happens. Drawing one of these tags especially as a nonresident is hard. This draw is considered one of the hardest tags to draw in the country, but if you love the application game as much as you like any other part of it, then this one is an absolute unicorn tag as they only allow one a year in the entire state.

California’s antelope options

Public land %Harvest success
Zone 1 - Mount Dome75''+51%50% - rifle
Zone 2 - Clear Lake75''+82%100% - archery
45% - rifle
Zone 3 - Likely Tables75''+65%25% - archery
58% - rifle (Aug.)
67% - rifle (Sep.)
60% - rifle (youth)
Zone 4 - Lassen80''+59%60% - archery
74% - rifle
87% - rifle
80% - rifle (youth)
Zone 5 - Big Valley75''+54%0% - archery
63% - rifle
100% - rifle (youth)
Zone 6 - Surprise Valley75''+58%0% - archery
75% - rifle
100% - rifle (youth)


There really aren’t any hidden gems when it comes to trying to get an antelope tag in California. There are only six units to choose from and the success rates in all of them are relatively high for rifle hunters. Archery hunting antelope is always hard so don’t take the low success rates as a sign of weakness. 

Managing points and expectations 


2022 maximum bonus points for antelope: 20

As previously mentioned, there is only one tag up for grabs a year for nonresidents. However, you may as well apply for what you believe to be the best hunt in the state and cross your fingers. Because you are up against every other nonresident who has applied, your odds are the same no matter what you apply for so it may as well be the best if it actually happens. 

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 around the 17 point level. 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 and Zone 3 have a chance at 18 points. 

California's 2022 desert bighorn sheep breakdown

In 2022, there will be a total of 27 bighorn sheep permits up for grabs. This means there is the potential for up to two nonresident permits to be drawn. There are 8 different hunting zones in the state and all of them offer a random tag. Aside from the expensive hunting license that you must purchase prior to applying, the random chance makes this a semi-attractive bighorn sheep application.

There won’t be any permits offered for Zone 5 or Zone 6 for 2022

Top desert bighorn sheep hunts in California

(not in order of quality)

Tag quotaPreference
point quota
Random quotaTotal applicants (2021)% public land
Zone 1 - Marble/Clipper Mountains160''+5412,51895%
Zone 2 - Kelso Peak/Old Dad Mountains155''+1011,39698%
Zone 3 - Clark/Kingston Mountain Ranges165''+4311,59196%
Zone 4 - Orocopia Mountains170''+1011,25554%
Zone 7 - White Mountains165''+6512,68696%
Zone 8 - South Bristol Mountains160''+21151596%
Zone 9 - Cady Mountains160''+21199877%
Zone 10 - Newberry, Rodman and Ord Mountains160''+6512,03470%


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. 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.

Managing points and expectations for Desert bighorn sheep


2022 maximum preference points for Desert bighorn sheep: 20

See your draw odds here


If you happen to be old enough or lucky enough to have started this process when it all began, you have been in a good spot for a long time and the number of applicants with the same number of points as you do are dwindling each year. Hopefully time is on your side and you may just find yourself not needing any luck to draw your permit as it will just be your turn. In the meantime, apply for the hunt you have been dreaming of and cross your fingers. If you don’t have a high point total, your odds are rough, they are likely to stay rough and your odds of reaching a maximum point situation are unlikely. However, not applying for bighorn sheep in your home state is just plain wrong. For the low cost to apply, a random chance is better than no chance. 


This isn’t about the odds that you will actually draw, it's that you simply can’t help not being in a bucket of raffle tickets when a bighorn sheep tag is up for grabs. If you can stomach the cost of the hunting license, swing for the fence. Your odds are going to be less than 1% no matter where you apply so whether you chase the odds based on the number of applicants submitting applications or you apply for the top units in the state, it’s all the same when your odds are that low.


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