Big game hunting application deadline was this past Sunday


The deadline to apply on-line for all big game hunting tags – not available over the counter – was this past Sunday, June 2. Hunters who wanted to take part in the drawings for special deer, elk, pronghorn, and bighorn sheep hunts in the state must have completed the process before midnight.

There were three significant changes for 2019 for big game hunters.

First, a new bighorn sheep hunting zone in the Newberry, Rodman, and Ord Mountain ranges (roughly between Barstow and Lucerne Valley) will open in 2019 with six ram tags. This brings the total number of sheep tags to be issued in the drawing to 26, well above the 17 tags issued last season. While the Old Dad zone still closed due to a disease dieoff a couple of years ago, and the San Gorgonio zone closed this year, also because of disease losses, it is clear the state’s sheep herds are growing in most areas.

There have been increases in tags available to hunters in the Clark-Kingston zone (from two to four tags), the White Mountains (from three to six tags), in the South Bristols (going from one to two tags). The Cady Mountains saw a reduction from four to two tags.

Last year, over 11,000 hunters applied for 17 sheep tags available, and another 5,500-plus simply purchased a sheep preference point valid in future drawings. The cost to apply or purchase a preference point was $8.13 this year. The 26 hunters drawn for a tag will pay $433.75 for the tag.

The second change was that junior hunters drawn for an elk, pronghorn, and sheep tag or purchasing a bear tag, will have lower fees this year. In the past, juniors paid the same as adults if they were drawn for one of these tags or purchased a bear tag. This year, the junior tags are $21.60 for pronghorn or elk tags and $20.60 for a sheep tag should they get drawn. In the past, they would have paid $159.33 for pronghorn, $473.95 for an elk tag, or the full $433.75 for a sheep tag.

The third major change is that all hunters will be required to use non-lead ammunition for all big game hunting (for all hunting, period).

For a big game hunter to purchase a basic hunting license (which is required for all hunting in the state), then add a one-deer tag/application, and then apply for sheep, pronghorn, and elk, the total cost is $97.30. This total includes the 49.94 for the basic license, 32.97 for the first deer tag, and $8.13 for each of the three other big game applications.

Hunters can add a bear tag for $48.34, a second deer tag for $41.04, and a wild pig tag for $23.76. Add in bird hunting, and the price just keeps going up. To add upland bird hunting (dove, quail, chukar, etc), you have to pay for an upland bird validation at $9.98. If you hunt ducks, the state duck validation (formerly duck stamp) is $21.86, but you also have to have the $25 federal duck stamp. State-operated hunting areas (where most duck hunting takes place in the state), have passes that range from $22.42 for a single day to $169.30 for a season pass (plus there’s a $1.34 fee for each pass application.

Basically, it is a quagmire. There is a fee and application process for everything. It is not uncommon for avid resident hunters to spend $400 just on licenses and fees for hunting in California and spend hours on the computer reading the regulations and applying for licenses, tags, and permits.

When I first started hunting here in the 1960s, the basic hunting license – which covered everything including upland birds and waterfowl, was $4, the deer tag was $2 and valid statewide instead of just in a single zone, and a bear tag was $1. You could pick them up at any sporting goods store in the amount of time it took you to put your name and address on a form. Yet, the total amount of money that came into the Department of Fish and Game back then was $3.5 million a year, and we peaked at 850,000 annual resident hunters. Last year, with just 260,000 hunters, the hunting fees revenue was nearly its highest ever at over $26 million. The fees have far outpaced the rate of inflation. The $6 a deer hunter spent in 1968, my first year big game hunting, for license and tags in California, should cost just $45 in today’s dollars. I spent $117.28 on Friday for some of what I got for $6 back in 1968, and will probably at least another $100-plus before the year is over on additional tags and fees.

Incredibly, the $3.5 million the hunting program raised in 1968 is equivalent to $26 million in today’s dollars – the same amount the DFW takes in from less than a third as many hunters as today. Yet, the DFG, now Department of Fish and Wildlife, wonders why the number of participants in both hunting and fishing have declined dramatically while the state’s populating has doubled over the same time frame.

It is mind-boggling.

To anyone who has watched the decline of the Department, there are no surprises why license sales have declined so dramatically – and exorbitant costs and confusing regulations are just one issue. The game management and services hunters received for their license dollar those decades ago were magnitudes better than today. A new hunter wanting to learn where to go had reams of DFG publications and information available on all types of game. Today, a new hunter is on his own. Game management on public lands is almost non-existent. Habitat improvements are done by volunteers instead of the agency charged with the task.

The DFW’s management of big game, especially those a lot of us have applied for in this year’s drawing process, are still managed by some of the old guard biologists and staff who remember the DFW’s mission. When they are gone (and most are at or nearing retirement age), there is no telling what will happen. It is safe to say, what happens at some point in the future will not be good for big game or hunters.


Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 909-887-3444.

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