Elk and Antelope and Bighorn Sheep Hunting in California
The biggest hurdle you will have hunting antelope in California is drawing a tag. Once you draw its deciding what you want to take, a trophy buck or any buck.
I can't think of a single California Antelope Tag that isn’t a trophy tag. There may not be a lot of tags for the zone you wish to hunt, but chances are good in any zone that if drawn for the tag, you stand a chance of killing a trophy antelope or at a minimum a personal best.
California has several good Pronghorn tags. Likely Tables 730 Period 1 and 732 Period 2 are very good tags and so are the Lassen Zone Tags 740 and 742. The Big Valley General Tag 750 is also a very good tag but there is limited public land in this zone that actually holds antelope. The area is large and, on a map, there is plenty of public land, and although it looks good on the kitchen table boots on the ground research is different and most of the public land in the zone is either land locked, full of pine trees (not antelope country) or mountainous. In this entire zone there is only about 4 areas of public land that hold antelope, so you better do some scouting if you draw the tag but any tag that boast a success rate of 80% can't be that bad. The good news is there are land owners in that zone that will allow you to hunt for a trespass fee.
If I was to select a zone for Antelope in California I think I would select Likely Tables Period 1 or 2. I also like Lassen Zone because both zones have a significant amount of tags, and a significant amount of antelope. Likely has 80 tags total and Lassen has 35 tags total. Big Valley only has 20 tags and limited public land where Lassen and Likely both have endless public land and way more antelope than Big Valley.
In these zones it is nothing unusual to see 30 to 60 antelope in a day. Once the shooting starts they head into the trees and hide just like the deer. This is something to keep in mind when your hunting them after opening weekend.
Antelope from a distance appear to be content to just mill around in an alfalfa field all day and sleep right out in the sun and occasionally wander over to the sprinklers and take a little spritz. When they aren’t in the agricultural fields they are usually out in the open flats or on bench or mesa in the lower portion of the mountains surrounding the agricultural fields. In both areas they may appear content and easy to walk up on, but this is just not true. They are watching their areas very closely for anything that looks even remotely close to a predator. Not only are they scanning their areas, but they are looking across the distance to other antelope and watching them. The antelope you’re watching and stalking up to from behind may be watching an antelope 800 yards away, and that antelope may be looking at your antelope, so they are watching each other’s back. You may be sneaking up on your antelope and have the wind in your face and everything is perfect and then for some unknown reason Mr. Antelope jumps up and runs away, that’s because his buddy spotted you, stood up and fluffed up the patch of white hair on his rump and suddenly the jig is up. Before you sneak up on an antelope look where he’s looking for a spotter, this could be a buck or a doe, both will rat you out in a heartbeat.
During the rut the antelope bucks will run over and check out anything that looks like another antelope. They also become protective of their little herd of gals and are aggressive to other bucks, coyotes, dogs and anything they think they can run off. I have seen antelope bucks chase after coyotes regularly during all times of the year but during the rut the are more territorial.
One trick to hunting these bucks is a simple white T-shirt. After you spot a buck that is out of range that you are having trouble approaching sit down and hide yourself in the rocks or terrain and when he looks your way occasionally hold the T-shirt up and shake it like a rag doll and then bring it back down and hide it out of his view. Bucks think this is a female shaking her money maker at him and he just can’t resist the urge to see what she’s all about. Some times they walk over in there own sweet time and other times they come running over like a 17 year old boy on prom night.
Another was to bring the bucks in is with a decoy dog. Yes, a dog, if you have a bright colored dog like a lab or something that sticks out let it run around and play near your position. Antelope are accustomed to seeing coyotes running around but a dog just playing around seems to attract them. They are easily distracted and curious critters and even though they have unbelievable eye sight they just have to come check you out. Using a dog as a decoy in some states is illegal and you should check all your regulations first, additionally you may want to do this on private property where there is less chance of some hunter mistaking your dog for a coyote or a stray and taking a shot at it.
Elk Hunting in California
There are a few questions you must ask yourself before deciding to put in for an Elk Tag in California. The first question is “do I really want to try and hunt an elk?” if the answer is yes, then why are you putting in for a tag in California? You have a very small chance of drawing a tag and if you do draw a tag you will only have one attempt to bag a bull because there is very little chance that you will draw that tag again.
If you are after a specific type of elk like a Tule Elk, that is a different story. There is only one state that offers tags for Tule Elk and that is California. Personally, I am holding out for a Tule because if you ever burn your California points on a Roosevelt Elk Tag or a Rocky Mountain Elk Tag the chances of getting a Tule Tag a few years later are few and far between. Unless you have an unlimited amount of money are willing to pay upwards of $12,000 to $35,000 or more for a PLM tag and a Guided hunt.
I think selecting an elk tag in California boils down to the species of elk you wish to hunt and then the location you wish to hunt and the primary factor is Points. Do you have enough to draw a tag.
DFW really over estimates their Success Rate Data when estimating the deer kill in California but not so much when it comes to the Elk and Pronghorn tag, so you can actually trust their Success Rates but not their actual tag data due to the fact that they leave out of the issuance of PLM tags.
If for example DFW has estimated that 100 Pronghorns Bucks can be taken from Zone Blue (fictitious zone) they advertise that there are 100 tags available in the drawing of which 75 tags (75%) go to Preference Points and 25 tags (25%) go to random draw. When you apply for the hunt you would expect that 100 Pronghorn Tags were available in the drawing. This is for the most part not true and is factually misleading. What they fail to mention is PLM tags. If 10 ranchers in Zone Blue request 10 PLM tags for Pronghorn and DFW issues all 10 tags they (DFW) takes those tags right off the top before the drawing even takes place. Now instead of having 100 tags available there is only 90 tags. That might not matter in large zones with high tag allotments but in small zones with only 20 tags, you could lose half the tags to PLM tags and then wonder why you can’t draw the tag with max points. DFW issues PLM tags for Deer, Elk and Pronghorn so keep this little tidbit of information in mind when applying for the drawing.
If your applying for a Tule Elk tag and have Max points the top unit is Grizzly Island. This unit is all public and very accessible. Lake Pillsbury is a good draw and there are big bulls there and they are on public land, but some do move to private. With only two tags here there should not be a problem finding a good bull on public land.
There are several good Tule Elk hunts around Bishop California. They vary from private land owned by the local water company that is open to the public and huntable to private alfalfa fields that you must pay a steep trespass fee to hunt. Check the zone for available public land before committing your points, but these are some good tags if you can draw them.
Roosevelt Elk Tags are in Northern California on the Coast and slightly inland. You will burn up all your points should you draw a tag. Rocky Mountain Elk Tags are in the Northeast corner of California and around the Interstate 5 corridor. If you draw one of these tags you will be able to hunt this zone once. That’s it. One time unless you draw the tag again (not likely). To apply for a California Elk Tag or Pronghorn Tag as a resident it will cost you your hunting license fee of $48.34, plus $8.13 application fee for Elk and a separate fee for Pronghorn. If you draw an Elk Tag you will pay $459.25 for the tag and if you draw a Pronghorn Tag it will cost, you $159.18 for the tag.
For a Pronghorn tag in your own state $159.18 is a good price, I have been applying for 40 some years without being drawn until finally in 2018 I drew a Big Valley Tag.
For an Elk Tag I just don’t know if its money well spent. If you are putting in for a Tule Elk tag it is, but if you are putting in for a Roosevelt or Rocky tag I am not so sure and here is why and it’s just my humble opinion. In California that adds up to $515.72 if you draw a tag. When for the cost of a non-resident hunting license in Oregon of $167.00 and the cost of an Elk Tag of $571.00 for a total of $738.00 you can hunt Oregon and plan the hunt in advance knowing you will draw a tag every year and you can hunt the same area or a new area and develop your elk hunting skills year after year. I pick Oregon because they have an awesome Bow Season for deer and elk. On an Elk Bow tag you can hunt almost the entire state, most of the Units are Any-Elk (bull cow or calf) and the general archery season is almost 30 days long. Rifle season varies by the unit you draw or the general season you draw but you can draw a tag every single year.
Granted I live 2 hours from Oregon so it’s easy for me to say, but when you can draw a tag every year and not have to deal with the lopsided DFW draw system it makes the logistics and other hunt planning much easier.
Now if you’re a veteran and have a VA Disability rating of 10% or more you can hunt Washington state for Deer Bear and Elk for $100.00 and if you have a VA Disability Rating of 40% or more you can hunt Idaho for Deer, Bear and Elk for less than $100.00 (these figures include the cost of non-resident licenses and tag) Check out my Disabled Veteran Blog if you think it’s too good to be true.
California Bighorn Sheep in California
For Bighorn sheep in California “good luck!” I don’t know of anyone who has ever drawn a tag and to tell the truth I don’t even put in for it. I know somebody must draw the tags every year so why not give it a try. Truthfully speaking a non-resident can draw a tag in Idaho much easier. Nevada also has a bunch of tags, but they are expensive if you draw them around $1200.00 each.
In my Tips and Tactics section I will address a tag plan that will show you how to draw a good or even excellent deer or elk tag almost every year. It’s cheaper than you may think, and you will be supervised at just how easy it is to draw a quality deer or elk tag. But in California there is no actual tag strategy for Big Horn Sheep its all luck of the draw.