California has a wide variety of big game species, including elk, antelope, pronghorn, wild pig, and bear. To be eligible to hunt in the state, hunters need to apply for the California Big Game Draw to be selected and awarded for species-specific tags.

The dates of the California hunting drawing are different each year. To increase your chance of success, our guide provides comprehensive advice on preparing for the drawing, understanding regulatory requirements, and getting ready for the upcoming hunting season.

What Is California Big Game Draw?

The California Big Game Draw is your golden ticket to the state's premier hunting opportunities. In California. It is a process where hunters can apply for tags to hunt big game species.

If you want to go hunting for certain big animals like deer, elk, antelope, mountain sheep, or bears, there's a special system called the "California hunting drawing" that helps decide who gets to do it.

It works by giving everyone a randomly generated number, and then based on those numbers, some people get picked to go hunting.

When Is California Big Game Draw?

The dates for the California hunting drawing change every year. The state government, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), decides when these drawings will take place.

In general, applications for the big game drawing usually happen from April 15th to June 2nd.

After the application deadline passes, the CDFW conducts the drawing within 10 working days. It takes around 10 more working days to announce the drawing results.

How Does California Big Game Draw Work?

Every year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife holds a lottery to allocate hunting tags for various species. Hunters must apply for the big game drawing by submitting their applications online through the Automated License Data System (ALDS) or at any California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) License Office.

During this process, the system reserves some tags for people who have been applying but haven't won any tags yet, while it randomly chooses others from all eligible applicants.

There are different rules for different types of tags, such as deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, and bighorn sheep. For example, for premium deer tags, 90% of the available spots are given to people based on their preference points, and 10% are randomly chosen.

However, for apprentice deer tags, it's the opposite - 50% of the spots go to those with preference points, and the other half are randomly chosen. After the initial allocation, if there are still tags left over, they are distributed among unsuccessful applicants based on their hunt choices and random numbers.

Once the drawing has taken place, the CDFW will notify successful applicants within 10 business days after the deadline. You can check your results online or visit a CDFW office for more information.

Tips For Applying For California Big Game Draw

Submit Application Early

To avoid missing out on the big game drawing, don't delay when it comes to submitting your application! If you do, you might end up losing your chance because late applications won't be accepted.

Double Checking

After buying your application, double-check that everything is correct before leaving the licensing agency or CDFW office. Also, remember that if you recently turned 18, you need to update your identity information with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife through their website or by visiting a licensing agent.

Confirm Submission

Finally, when applying online, make sure to follow all instructions carefully and print out your receipt as proof of submission.

How Much Does it Cost to Hunt in California?

Hunting costs in California can vary based on things like your location and age, and animal species you want to hunt for.

The prices for hunting licenses, tags, and other stuff needed for hunting in California for the upcoming 2023-2024 hunting season are listed below.

California Hunting License Fees

Resident Hunting License $58.58
Nonresident Hunting License $204.69
Junior Hunting License $15.38
One-Day Nonresident Hunting License $28.08
Two-Day Nonresident Hunting License $58.58
Disabled Veteran Reduced Fee Hunting License $9.01
Duplicate Hunting License $12.96

Big Game Draw Applications

Resident First-Deer Tag or First-Deer Tag Drawing Application $38.62
Resident Second-Deer Tag or Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application $48.09
Nonresident First-Deer Tag or First-Deer Tag Drawing Application $343.25
Nonresident Second-Deer Tag or Second-Deer Tag Drawing Application $343.25
Elk, Pronghorn Antelope, and Bighorn Sheep Tag Drawing Applications $8.13

Big Game Tags Fees

Bear Tag $30.81 (Resident Junior)
$56.98 (Resident)
$361.90 (Nonresident)
Elk Tag $25.41 (Resident Junior)
$554.80 (Resident)
$1,700.35 (Nonresident)
Pronghorn Antelope Tag $25.41 (Resident Junior)
186.84 (Resident)
$571.60 (Nonresident)
Bighorn Sheep Tag $532.75 (Resident)
$1,977.05 (Nonresident)
Wild Pig Tag $28.08 (Resident)
$94.22 (Nonresident)

How to Get a California Hunting License?

Getting your hunting license is the first step towards chasing your hunting dreams in California. To get a California hunting license, here are the easy steps to follow:

1. Firstly, if you're under 18 years old, you might need to complete a hunter education program before buying a hunting license in California.

2. Next, when applying for either an annual or two-day non-resident hunting license, make sure to show proof that you completed California's hunter education courses. Acceptable proofs include past California hunting licenses, certificates from other states or provinces, or international licenses.

3. Last, you can purchase a license on online, at any CDFW office, or at a designated agent location. Easy peasy!

Bonus Points System for California Hunting Drawing

In California, the big game drawing uses a bonus points system to distribute tags among successful applicants. Here's how it works:

Applicants who don't get selected for a tag receive one bonus point for each species they applied for but didn't win. Each species has its own set of bonus points.

These bonus points are unique to each hunter and cannot be transferred between individuals.

Having more bonus points increases your odds of getting drawn for a tag during subsequent drawings. If two or more applicants have the same number of preference points (points earned through previous drawings), the hunter with the most bonus points for that particular species gets priority.

It's worth noting that just because you have more bonus points doesn't mean you'll automatically get picked; the drawing process is still random.

Lastly, there's a distinction between "preference points" and "bonus points." Preference points are awarded after successfully drawing a tag, while bonus points are given when you don't get selected for a tag.

Applicants are chosen based on their preference points, which gives those with more points a higher likelihood of being selected. Bonus points serve as a tiebreaker if multiple applicants have the same number of preference points.

Consistency is key. To increase your chances of being selected, apply for the drawing each time even if you don’t get selected. In this way, you can earn more bonus points, which can add up quickly.


So, you've learned about everything about the California Big Game Draw, and are eager to go out for thrilling hunting adventures. Here are some valuable tips to not only boost your chances but also ensure you're well-prepared for the journey ahead.

Stay Updated

Regulations can change, and staying informed is key. Regularly check the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website for updates and any amendments to hunting regulations.

Prepare for the Hunting Season

Prepare your body for the challenges by staying fit and active throughout the year. Ensure all your hunting gear is in top-notch condition. From hunting boots to optics, a well-maintained kit can make a significant difference during the season.

Seek Advice From Experts

Connect with experienced hunters and seek advice from them. You can join online hunting forums and communities to connect with fellow hunters. Share experiences, ask questions, and gather insights to enhance your chances in the draw.

With these tips in your arsenal, you're better equipped to handle the California Big Game Draw and enjoy the hunting adventure with confidence. Remember. Happy hunting!

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