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Clarifying a pair of DFW regulations: trespass and hunting near guzzlers


Short answer: No, you don’t always need permission to hunt private land, and yes, you can hunt around a guzzler. Both require explanation, however.

This story starts a little over a week before the dove hunting season opener when the Department of Fish and Wildlife put out a news release on the event. Dove opener is likely the largest, single participatory outdoor event in the nation each year with nearly a million hunters in the field on Sept. 1 – 50,000 or so of those just here in California.

So I was thrilled the DFW actually did a press release on the dove opener. They didn’t the year before and I gave them incredible grief over it. I sent them press releases from other states, gave the DFW staff links to the Arizona website (which would make you think the dove opener was a state-wide holiday) and probably was annoying in more ways than necessary. But they didn’t forget it this year.

The story was generally a good story that was used in a lot of local newspapers and led to other positive media coverage of hunting. It also had a link to the Imperial County dove field map, cool stuff on banded doves, and information on where non-lead ammunition was required (link to story here: But it also had a couple of mistakes.

First, it said that you had to have written permission to hunt private land in all situations. While it is true that that you need permission to trespass in most situations, it is not true all the time -- especially on remote rural lands where hunters are likely to be in the field.

Second, it said you can’t ever hunt within 200 yards of a guzzler or other wildlife watering source. That is also wrong.

So I shot a quick e-mail to the PR staff in Sacramento pointing out the errors and how they should have explained the regulations better and should correct the errors. One of the main staff members, who should know better, told me I was flat wrong on both counts, so an immediate correction wasn’t made. Days passed. I persisted. As it became clear I was right in both cases, my note was given to the DFW’s Carrie Wilson, who does the excellent question and answer column for the agency. She researched both issues and did a column (link here: The column helped clarify the trespass issue, but the guzzler issue was still confusing.

I posted a link to her column on my Facebook pages asking if hunters thought they could legally hunt within 200 yards of a guzzler or other wildlife water. Most said they still didn’t think so. So I called Patrick Foy, a DFW warden captain in Sacramento, and asked him to help me clarify these two codes for hunters. Here’s a summary of our conversation:

Trespass: The trespass law in California has a lot of sections, but there is one simple paragraph in Fish and Game Code (link here: The summary of the laws is pretty simple: You need permission to hunt agricultural lands, especially row crops. You need permission to hunt on fenced and/or posted private property. Dispersed private lands, especially those amid public lands, need to be posted no less than three postings to the mile. You cannot be cited for hunting unposted private land without fences or agriculture. If the owner or law enforcement ask you to leave the private land, you must leave (and if they catch you on the property again, you will be cited).

The codes are written so that hunters in remote country won’t get a citation for inadvertently hunting on private ground. It is NOT written so you can purposely enter private land to hunt. If you purposely enter private property in a remote area where it is not posted, especially if you know that the ground is posted along the roads that border or go through the property, you are violating the intent of the law and will likely get a citation.

A lot of the remote desert lands where Southern California bird hunters chase birds have sections of private ground that are not fenced or posted anywhere along their perimeter. Those grounds are effectively open to public access, and you do not need permission to trespass.

Most hunters have -- or should have -- maps that show land ownership for the area they are hunting. All U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management maps are color coded to show the land ownership. I have had law enforcement try to run me off public, legal hunting ground because they didn’t know the public land boundaries. The maps can help you steer clear of posted private ground, but also confirm when you are on public land.

Hunting Near Guzzlers: The statute is a little confusing for folks not accustomed to reading the code. Here’s how section Section 730 reads:

“730. Camping Near or Occupying Wildlife Watering Places.

“(a) 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.

“(b) Wildlife Watering Places Defined. For purposes of this Section, wildlife watering places are defined 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.

“(c) Prohibitions.

“(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.’ ”


Let me try to clarify this for you: Section (a) says “camping/occupying” includes hunting. So it effectively says “anyone hunting for a period of more than 30 minutes….” Section (c) (1) effectively says hunting “is prohibited within 200 yards….” And Section (c) (1) (A) says of “any guzzler” or other wildlife watering place. So in plain English, it would read:

“Hunting for more than 30 minutes within 200 yards of a guzzler is prohibited.”

This is what the statute means. If the state didn't want you ever hunt within 200 yards, the time specification of 30 minutes would not have been included in defining what is later banned.

Foy explained that the law was written to protect the hunter who didn’t know there was a watering source nearby, but that hunters ethically shouldn’t set up a lawn chair near a water source and wait for thirsty game to show up. This makes sense from a legal, sporting, and resource standpoint.

Those water sources are critical to wildlife, especially in our deserts, and unethical hunters who perch themselves on that water keep wildlife from getting needed drinks. Legal hunters who see these lazy game hogs sitting on isolated water sources in hopes of ambushing game (or people ignorantly parking or camping too close to guzzlers) should politely tell them about the law and how important it is for wildlife to be able to access the water. This is a pet peeve of mine. For those slobs who don’t get the message, I’m thankful we now have cell telephone service just about everywhere, and I put a call to the DFW’s CalTip violation number at 1-888-334-2258. I have it in my phone contacts list.

These laws address two of hunting’s biggest black eyes: illegal trespass and unethical hunting behavior. Hunters should know and understand them.


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