No need for license to kill

State program aimed at would-be hunters

With a new revised California law implemented this year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is designating two “free hunting days” to give opportunities for Californians to acquaint themselves with the hunting experience. Free Hunting Days are Nov. 25 of this year, and April 13, 2024. On these days, eligible California residents may hunt without purchasing a hunting license if they have proof of completion of a hunter education course, possession of a valid Free Hunt Days Registrations, and any required tags, federal entitlements, and entry permits. All participants must be accompanied by a mentor of at least 21 years of age who holds a valid California hunting license.

“The dates were chosen carefully and intentionally to provide the widest variety of hunting opportunities and options for anyone interested in hunting a try,” said Taylor Williams, the Recruit, Retain, Reactivate (R3) Manager at CDFW. “On Nov. 25, waterfowl seasons and many upland game seasons, from rabbit and squirrel to dove, pheasant, quail and fall wild turkey, will be open in various zones throughout the state. It’s also a holiday weekend when friends and family get together so it can be a great time to take out a friend or relative who has been interested in giving hunting a try. We encourage California residents to try Free Hunting Days and discover their own connection to nature and wild food in our state. Free Hunting Days provide opportunities for people interested in hunting to finally give it a try at little cost, and experienced hunters the chance to mentor someone new.”

Working in northern California for the past two years, CDFW’s Office of Communications, Education and Outreach Assistant Deputy Director Jen Benedet hails from Oceanside and learned to hunt in San Diego County. Benedet said Free Hunting Days is a great event for would-be hunters. She said she started hunting later in life and had no resources to help introduce her to hunting activities in the region.

Benedet said for November’s free hunting day, participants can hunt for waterfowl (ducks, geese), pheasant, quail, chukar, wild turkey, wild pigs, and dove.

“In San Diego County, near Julian, there are parcels of public land that people can find by looking at a public land map,” she said. “Near Julian, you can find wild turkeys. You can also find turkeys on Palomar Mountain, the Cleveland National Forest, even in the hills of Escondido. Wild turkeys are all over San Deigo County. The problem is not so much finding wild turkeys, it is finding public land to hunt them. At the top of Laguna Mountain is a bow hunting area only. That is my primary place to hunt in San Diego. There are turkeys up there, small game, rabbits, squirrels, quail.”

Benedet said it is different hunting in San Diego County compared to other places, but there is plenty of hunting areas around the county and a bit beyond for people to hunt and learn to hunt.
“I learned to hunt in San Diego County,” she said. “I learned to hunt as an adult. I did not come from a hunting family. I am female. I had no idea what I was doing. The entry barriers that I experienced were vast. Especially in San Diego County where finding a mentor is also difficult. When you think San Diego, you really do not think hunting. Also, I am an archer, which added another complexity. Bow hunters are less common than people who hunt with firearms. If we would have had a free hunting day, I would have volunteered my time to mentor someone, and hopefully get mentored by somebody when I first started.”

Benedet said barriers for introductory hunting, is where to go, costs, and finding social support.

“Finding social support is probably the biggest barrier,” she said. “Trying to find a mentor to bring you out on free hunting day is probably the biggest challenge in San Diego County. Where does someone go to get social support? You have taken hunter ed. You have your hunting day registration permit. You know where to go. There are multiple chapters in San Diego County of various wildlife conservation organizations. National Wild Turkey Federation, San Diego Wildlife Federation, Ducks Unlimited, San Diego Archers. Do a search and explore opportunities of mentorship by joining or attending one of the events by any of the conservation organizations that are active,” adding that finding archery and shooting ranges is another venue for connecting with hunters.

Benedet said the important thing to remember is finding public land to hunt on.

“There is a lot of public land in east San Diego County, what I call ‘postal stamp’ land,” she said. “There is a parcel here bordered by private land, a parcel there bordered by private land. When you look at these postal stamp parcels, you must get permission to cross private land to get to these properties sometimes. But there are many postal stamp lands that have one side free so you can get to it from a road. As long as it is public land, and you follow the laws around discharging a firearm or archery equipment within 250 yards of the road or an outbuilding, you can hunt those. You must follow your local ordinances and laws. I have always hunted a ton of postal stamp land.”

Benedet said the Cleveland National Forest is broken up, but all the public land is huntable, and they all hold animals. She said there is also hunting at the SanDiego National Wildlife Refuge, and going to its website, you can see what parts of the refuge is open land.

Benedet said for some hunting, it is better to go a little further from San Diego County.

“For dove hunting, the best is in Imperial County at the Imperial Valley Dove Hunt Fields,” she said. “Wister is the most popular place for duck hunting, also outside San Diego County, and the San Jacinto Wildlife Area. Most duck hunters ii the county, if they are in the southern part of the county they go to Wister. If they are in the northern part of the county, they may go to San Jacinto. So, they either go to Riverside or Imperial counties. Barrett Reservoir, owned by the city of San Diego, also has duck hunting,” adding that the way to navigate where to go is to look at maps.

With the possession of a valid Free Hunt Day Registration, residents wishing to hunt on the two designated days are not required to possess a California Hunting License, a California Duck Validation or a California Upland Validation. All hunting regulations, including bag limits, gear restrictions and shooting times remain in effect for Free Hunting Days. Participants must also possess any additional requirements, including passes for state-operated wildlife areas, tags and federal entitlements such as a Federal Duck Stamp for those hunting waterfowl who are 16 and older. Those choosing to hunt wild pigs will need to purchase and possess a Wild Pig Tag.

Places to Hunt for San Diegans:
• Upland Game Bird Management Account Projects | Imperial Valley Dove Hunt Fields (
• Hunting at San Diego National Wildlife Refuge is OPEN for the 2023-2024 season | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (
• Imperial Wildlife Area (
• San Jacinto Wildlife Area (
• Palo Verde Ecological Reserve
• Camp Cady Wildlife Area
• Cleavland National Forest/Mount Laguna Recreation Area (bowhunting only)

“There are also hunting opportunities on distributed public land parcels throughout East County,” she said. “People should consult a map for land boundaries between public/private and restricted non-hunting areas (e.g., state parks). Maps can be viewed online at various government webpages including CDFW, Bureau of Land Management, and Forest Service sites. People may be able to purchase paper maps from BLM or ranger stations directly. There are also smart phone applications that can be purchased that are made for hunters to ensure they are hunting in the correct zone and on allowable lands.”