Getting Smelly for Deer Hunting

California mule deer are sensitive to scents and movement. (Photo: ©Carrie Wilson)
California mule deer are sensitive to scents and movement. (Photo: ©Carrie Wilson)
Hunter's Specialties
Hunter's Specialties

Question: I am looking for clarification on the use of scents while deer hunting here in California. Is it legal for me to use products that are applied to my clothing to mask human odors? Is it legal to use scents that spray into the air such as doe urine scents or other scents that might lead a buck to the area I’m hunting? I understand I cannot use any type of bait such as edible products but would like clarification before the season opener for rifle hunting. Thank you. (Mike K.)

Answer: Yes, you can use all of these scent attractants. Baiting is the offering of feed attractants that will lure, entice or attract animals to a certain location or cause them to alter their behavior, thus giving hunters the advantage over the animal. Scent attractants do not fall into this category.

Saltwater Bowfishing
Question: I want to try some ocean bowfishing but cannot find the regulations applicable to the sport. What do I need to know? Thanks. (B. Carter, San Clemente)

Answer: Spears, harpoons and bow and arrow fishing tackle may be used for taking all varieties of skates, rays and sharks, except white sharks. Such gear may not be possessed or used within 100 yards of the mouth of any stream in any ocean waters north of Ventura County, nor aboard any vessel on any day or on any trip when broadbill swordfish or marlin have been taken. Bow and arrow fishing tackle may be used to take finfish other than giant (black) sea bass, garibaldi, gulf grouper, broomtail grouper, trout, salmon, striped bass, broadbill swordfish and white shark (Fish and Game Code Section 28.95).

Although many different fish species can be legally taken with this method, you’ll need to first contact the local police or sheriff’s department before heading out with your bowfishing gear. While the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) authorizes bowfishing, the local law enforcement agencies may object, especially if you are inside city limits. Many areas consider bow and arrow fishing gear to be “dangerous and lethal weapons” that  they don’t want to see used in public and/or populated areas where someone could accidentally get hurt.

For many years, bowfishing off of the public pier was a well-known and long-standing tradition in Imperial Beach (San Diego County). It was banned there a few years ago – not by DFG regulations,  but by a local ordinance stemming from the aforementioned public safety concerns.

Any Knife Restrictions?
Question: I hunt alone most of the time on both public and private lands. I always carry at least one knife for field dressing and another rather large Bowie-style knife for chores and whatever. My thinking is that if my gun or bow fails (God forbid), then I will at least have a knife for self defense. Are there any criteria or regulations regarding limiting the size or numbers of knives that can be carried while hunting? Thank you kindly.  (Peter M.)

Answer: DFG laws do not restrict or govern knives. California Penal Code Section 12020, however, does address some types of knives that are prohibited as unlawful weapons. You can find the specific restrictions at Check the “Penal Code” box and then type in 12020 in the search box at the bottom.

Owls as art?
Question: Is it legal to use an owl wing as “educational art”? (Eric)

Answer: In most cases, no. Owls are protected by both state and federal laws.  Permits may be issued by either DFG or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to possess owls for limited purposes including scientific research, falconry, predation or disease prevention. And in some regions, wildlife rehabbers may use some parts for educational purposes.

There could be a situation where your project would fall into one of these categories; for example, if the owl parts were taken from a great horned owl legally possessed under a falconry license, you could then legally use them in Native Americans ceremonies that might include a non-commercial art component. But there are no permits that specifically authorize the use of owls for art. Your best bet is to start with the permits office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or your regional DFG office to explain what you want to do before you embark on your project.

Fishing While Crayfish Trapping?
If I want to fish with my rod and reel on one end of my boat while soaking my crayfish trap (non-commercial) at the same time on the other end, would this be legal or would my trap line count as a second line in the water? I have not been able to get a clear answer and would like to avoid an unnecessary ticket. (Ryan L.)

Answer: Crayfish traps are not considered to be a “second line in the water”.  The law restricting the use of multiple lines is limited to angling methods only, and traps are not angling equipment.

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Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. She cannot personally answer everyone’s questions but  will select a few to answer in this column each week. Please contact her at

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