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California deer hunting tag classifications and changes

Photo credit: Brady Miller

It may come as a surprise to many, given the current condition of California’s deer herd and the way the herd has trended over the last 20 years, but California allows hunters two deer tags each hunting season. And, because tags are not specific to species but to the region, it affords hunters the opportunity to hunt both species each year if you choose to do so. It also allows hunters the ability to chase premium hunts on the first tag application with the security of having a solid backup plan, which means that you can hunt each year.

Furthermore, you can take two bucks in the same hunt zone on tags available as second choice hunts while building points for premium hunts. This is typically my strategy. I have put in a lot of time and effort to find hidden pockets within a general unit where I can draw two tags each year without burning my preference points. These tags are valid during archery and rifle seasons, which maximizes time afield as well as an opportunity to fill the freezer. In 2017, B Zone tags sold out prior to the season opener for the second year in a row, which means that it changed from an unrestricted tag to a restricted tag. Unsure of what this actually means, I scoured the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website looking for answers. Here is what I found:

California deer tags are broken down into three classifications: Premium, Restricted and Unrestricted. Within these classifications are sub-classes such as “X-Zone,” “general,” and area or weapon specific. A detailed breakdown of classifications by the tag can be found here.


Applications for premium deer hunt tags that are awarded through the big game drawing must be submitted to any CDFW license sales office, license agent, online or via telephone sales before midnight on June 2, 2018. You must use your first deer tag drawing application to apply for a premium deer hunt tag. Exception: junior hunters may use a second deer tag drawing application to apply for apprentice deer hunts, but only one application may be used to apply for apprentice deer hunts.


The restricted deer hunt tag is issued upon request to hunters applying on a first deer tag. Hunters may apply for a restricted deer hunt tag as their second deer tag if they do not have a pending first deer tag drawing application or do not have a premium or restricted deer tag issued as their first deer tag. Hunters who have a premium or restricted first deer tag will have to wait until Aug. 2, 2018 at 8 a.m. to apply for a restricted deer hunt tag as second deer tag. The restricted deer hunt tag will be available at CDFW license sales offices, license agents, online and via telephone sales until tag quotas fill.


Unrestricted deer hunt tags are issued upon request until tag quotas fill. You may use your first deer tag and/or second deer tag to apply for unrestricted deer hunt tags.

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What this means

If you’re like me and, typically, focus on only my first tag application, first choice as an opportunity at a premium hunt—or even a preference point—you would not be able to purchase a B (or any restricted) tag until Aug. 2, 2018 at 8 a.m.. It is possible that these tags will sell out before this date—both in the draw and as over-the-counter (OTC) tags for those who choose not to enter the draw.

Based upon these findings, I decided to make some minor changes in my application strategy for 2018. I have my eye on a premium hunt and have decent odds at drawing this year, but, because it is not guaranteed and because I have a hunt in Colorado scheduled for the same week, I elected to take a preference point on my first choice. My second choice is typically where I gamble on a hunt that may or may not fill in the first choice (I drew it once in the last four years on a second choice) but, this year, I selected B Zone to increase my odds. This may be overkill, but I anticipate a hike in the demand for B tags with the recent changes. I used to fill out my second tag application at the same time as the draw to ensure I got my second tag before they had a chance of selling out, but that is no longer an option. You can bet that I’ll be logged into the CDFW site before 8 a.m. on Aug. 2, 2018.

Backup plan

Suppose these tags sell out prior to the deadline or the website crashes and I’m unable to get my second tag of choice? That leaves the unrestricted tags: A, D3-5, D7, D8, D10, D11, D13, D15, and D19. Oh, and don't forget the archery only tag! The California archery only tag is valid during the archery and general seasons in the A, B and D Zones and Hunt G-10 (archery methods only). It is not valid during any C or X Zone season or hunt and there is no tag quota. I prefer to hunt the B Zone because it is in my backyard and because I am familiar with it. That is not to say it has more or bigger bucks than the rest of the general tags available throughout the state. Perhaps I am crazy for giving up this much information on a specific unit that I personally hunt, thus decreasing my odds to obtain a second tag, but this is the kind of information afforded to goHUNT INSIDERs. Good luck to all of you in the California draw. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.

As always, you can do more research for California deer hunts on Filtering 2.0, Draw Odds and their 2018 Deer Application strategy article.

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