Friday, August 12, 2011

CA Bear Hunting Regulations = Confusion!
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of hunting in California, you are missing out. It's a great place to hunt, it really is. Even though it's a great place to hunt, the laws and regulations here are the most confusing documents you'll ever read. I am not kidding. It's like trying to read a topo map, upside-down, through wax paper, while hornets sting your eyeballs. I am exaggerating, but you catch my drift. So, with bear season down here about to open in a week, I decided to revisit the regulations and make a few calls to verify everything was correct. Please keep in mind, I am not trying to 'call-out' anyone in this post. My goals are to point out that there is major miscommunication in the system that can truly hurt the hunters and that we as hunters need to be arduous in keeping up with the regulations and law.

My first question was regarding the use of scents and lures. Subsection 257.5 of the CA DFG regulations say you cannot use bait...

 §257.5. Prohibition Against Taking Resident Game Birds and Mammals by the Aid of Bait.

Except as otherwise provided in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, resident game birds and mammals may not be taken within 400 yards of any baited area.
(a) Definition of Baited Area. As used in this regulation, "baited area" shall mean any area where shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grains, salt, or other feed whatsoever capable of luring, attracting, or enticing such birds or mammals is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed, or scattered, and such area shall remain a baited area for ten days following complete removal
(b) Exceptions:
(1) The taking of domestically reared and released game birds on licensed pheasant clubs and other licensed game bird clubs;
(2) The taking of resident game birds and mammals on or over standing crops, flooded standing crops (including aquatics), flooded harvested croplands, grain crops properly shocked on the field where grown, or grains found scattered solely as the result of normal agricultural planting or harvesting;
(3) The taking of resident game birds and mammals on or over any lands where shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grain, salt, or other feed have been distributed or scattered as the result of bona fide agricultural operations or procedures, or as a result of manipulation of a crop or other feed on the land where grown for wildlife management purposes: provided that manipulation for wildlife management purposes does not include the distributing or scattering of grain or other feed once it has been removed from or stored on the field where grown. 
When I hear bait I think food. Most people think food. Right? That's understood and I am OK with that, but the regulation says nothing of scents and attractants... it says feed. I did some research and someone else asked the same question to CA DFG Q&A back in Nov. 2010. Carrie Wilson answered this question:

Can Scent Attractants Be Considered Bait?

Question: I understand the baiting issue, but I would like clarification on deer and elk attractant scents, like “Tink’s” or “BuckBombs”. There are also scents for bears, hogs and predators and I want to be in full compliance for whatever I’m hunting for. (Michael J., Mojave)

Answer: California Fish and Game Commission regulations do not specifically prohibit using the products you mention. However, the regulations do prohibit taking resident game birds and mammals within 400 yards of any baited area.

The definition of baited area is, “. . . any area where shelled, shucked or unshucked corn, wheat or other grains, salt or other feed whatsoever capable of luring, attracting, or enticing such birds or mammals is directly or indirectly placed, exposed, deposited, distributed or scattered, and such area shall remain a baited area for ten days following complete removal of all such corn, wheat or other grains, salt or other feed.”

According to retired Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Captain Phil Nelms, scents sprayed into the air and allowed to disperse over a wide area in the wind generally do not fall within the definition of bait. Scent products that have to be applied directly to a surface such as a rock, tree or bush generally cause the game to come to that specific place, and if they feed on it, it is bait.

So, if the product you use causes the game to chew on, nibble at, lick, etc. the surface it is applied to, it is “feed” and as such falls within the definition of bait. In that case, you are prohibited from taking (e.g., hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill or attempt any of those actions) game within 400 yards of that area.

So, I wrote to Marc from DFG about using scents and he responded with this:

Scented lures are legal for black bear. The caveat is that there cannot be any type of food reward associated with it. Typically, scented lures are paper strips that have some sort of chemical applied to them either with a spray or dropper. A vanilla scented candle is made of wax and is edible, therefore may be classified as bait. Your best bet would be to discuss this with the warden who patrols the area you hunt, as he or she would have the last say.
Ok, so he says you CAN use an attractant. I wanted to follow up with the local warden and when I called to ask the question I found out that things have changed in the F&G office out there. I spoke with Josie in the office and she explained that the wardens are no longer working out of that office. For those who don't know, when you kill a bear, you are required by law to contact to closest DFG employee/officer (a.k.a. Warden) to come validate your tags.
Only DFG employees may validate bear tags. Bear tags must be validated before the bear can be transported except for the purpose of taking it directly to the nearest person authorized to validate the tag.
Knowing that the wardens are no longer in the office, I asked Josie whom I should be contacting then. After a brief silence she said she didn't know and that she'd contact the warden and get back to me. Immediately, I posed the scent/attractant/lure question to her. She said she would ask the warden that, as well, and call me right back.

Ten minutes later, Josie called back and we discussed what the warden said (didn't get his name). SoCal bear hunters - Pay Attention to this! He said that now, if you kill a bear, you are required to call the State Parks Southern Dispatch Center at (951) 443-2969 or 1 888 DFG-CALTIP(888 334-2258) and explain that you killed a bear and need to have a warden come out to validate the tag. It's a 24-hour line, so you should be fine. They will then relay the message to the warden. Here's where I am confused. Does the warden call you back and explain what you now need to do? Does the Dispatch Center have you wait on the line? Who knows! Long story short, you cannot transport the bear without having the tag validated, unless the warden tells you to meet him/her someplace.

On to the second question of scents and lures. I received a phone call from CA DFG warden Rick Fisher, who said that the use of scents/attractants/lures are considered bait and they cannot be used whatsoever.
It is illegal to feed or bait bears for the purpose of hunting them. It is illegal to hunt bear over bait, or within a 400-yard radius of a garbage dump or bait.
While I will follow the law and abide by what Warden Fisher has stated, I have to question the law as they are written. I mean really, how can a scent be considered bait? It's not something they are going to eat, it's an aroma. So if a scent is considered bait, then how come the local hunting stores and the big name ones in CA sell deer, bear and other scents and attractants? What about a sow in heat or doe in estrous? It's a scent, not a food, but it's considered bait? I have been told it is ok to use scents for deer, but not bear. How can that make any sense? If we follow that line of thinking would women using perfume be considered 'baiting us men'? One has to wonder.


  1. haha! And here I thought we had some confusing game laws. That's a tad aggravating. I hate it when you get two or more different answers, too. Or an answer that leaves you more confused than before.

    Good luck with your bear hunt! Hope you tag out!

  2. That's California for you. The communication between the offices & wardens gets blurred. And the interpretations of the laws in question is a problem. It makes it really hard to feel confidant in going out hunting. Glad you asked the questions, I guess we the hunters have to take the gamble on what we pack in the woods.

  3. what if i just so happen to have a lunchbox full of people food? its food i intend on eating, is that considered bait??

  4. @heyBJK - Thanks, Brian. I hope so, too. I can't make it opening day, which is a bummer, but I will try for the following weekend.

    @ReverendSkulls - Indeed! The communication problem continues and I don't see a happy medium. Makes it VERY tough to feel confident. Still, I rely on the wardens.

    @Anonymous - I guess it depends on what you are eating. I wouldn't be leaving it at the bottom of my tree, that's for sure. If you plan on eating it, and then do eat it I don't see a problem. I think if you want into the woods with a 5-gallon pail of donuts and said you were eating it, well, then you'd be SOL.

  5. Another question would be the use of cover sent? I'm sure dead leaves sent isn't an issue, but what if you use something else? I've known people to use coyote urine on there boots to cover tracks & movement, I just wonder where they would draw the line. And if the line varies from warden to warden, zone to zone, it makes it that much harder for the hunter. Just sayin.

  6. You can use a cover scent all you want. The one reason I won't use a cover scent, like coon urine or yote urine is that it's a great lion attractant. Not interested in having a big cat lurking around my stand looking for lunch or dinner. The line is about what would lure the animal in, not about a cover scent.

  7. Good point. So spraying your self down with "dounut" scent may be ill advised. I just get frustrated with the dance we in California have to do. I think your blog is the best, & give you props on the post & points you make here. Keep up the good work brother & happy hunting.

  8. Yeah, smelling like a donut might be a tad on the iffy side. Thanks for the kudos. I appreciate it. Let me know if there is anything you are interested in hearing about, too.

  9. Pretty aggravating, but a real good example of the sad fact that, no matter what the book says, you're at the mercy of the local warden's interpretation.

    Inedible scent lures and attractants are, by letter of the law, legal... however, if your local warden thinks they're not, you're pushing your luck by going ahead and using them anyway.

    Might be time that concerned hunters start a grassroots push for clarification of the hunting regulations. Maybe the new Citizens' Committee is the place to start?

  10. Great post thanks for the effort on it ! Ok so if you cant transport the bear without getting your tag verified first , how does it suppose to work ? do I have to hike out x number of miles to get cell phone service then make my dispatch call get some kind of instruction from some person maybe, then go back, get my bear and pack it out and then go meet the warden ?! or do I pack it out the first time and technically break the law ? Hhhmmmm ? decisions decisions !

  11. @LeeWa - From what I understand, if you are in X miles, you can bring it out as you don't want the meat to spoil, but as soon as you are in cell range you have to call and inform the warden that you are doing so. You can't just show up at a DFG office and say you got a bear. You have to make every effort to contact them.

    Best thing to do, is before you go hunting, call the DFG office and ask that very question. If you know you are going to be in questionable cell range, you had better be prepared for it.

  12. thanks for the input, I spoke with the game wardens at Bass Pro a couple weeks ago and they understood that it is difficult to locate one of them to get a sign off sometimes and they are working towards a more user friendly version of how to get ahold of them etc. We as hunters need to keep in mind that there is only one or two wardens for hundreeds of square miles in some cases and it takes time to get to a location, it sounded like to me after my conversations with the wardens was to make the effort to locate one of them and dont fail the attitude test so to speak if they cant meet you in 10 minutes at the nearest Starbucks ! :) Happy Hunting !!

  13. Perfumed hunting lures are legal for black bear. The caveat is the fact that there can't be any kind of food reward connected by using it. Typically, perfumed fishing lures are paper strips which have some kind of chemical put on them either having a spray or dropper. A vanilla perfumed candle consists of wax and it is edible, therefore might be considered bait. Your best choice is always to discuss this using the warden who patrols the region you search, as she or he might have the final say.

    1. Can't use anything that has ANY food associated with food, so fishing attractants would not be legal. The wardens have all told me that scent attractants are not legal. I was told that even a 'Sow in Heat' scent is considered baiting. I disagree, but that's what I have been told.