How Do I Apply for a Waterfowl Hunting Reservation?

waterfowl flock in Central Valley
Waterfowl in California’s Central Valley. CDFW photo by Debra Hamilton.

Question: I am 18 years old and just passed the Hunter Education course and got my hunting license. I want to go duck hunting and it seems the best place to go is one of the state wildlife areas. How does the reservation system work? (John, Chico)

Answer: Congratulations on passing your hunter education class! You are right. There are many excellent waterfowl hunting opportunities in California’s central valley wildlife areas. You can try waiting in line at some of these areas, but to answer your specific question about reservations, here’s what you need to know.

Assuming you want to hunt the wildlife areas of the state nearest your home in Chico, you need to move quickly! Waterfowl season closes for this portion of the state on Jan. 28, 2018. Reservations are available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) website at the waterfowl hunting Reservations and Passes page, but you must apply for each date at least 17 days in advance, so there are only a few dates left that you are able to apply for hunt in January. You can apply for waterfowl reservation drawings through the Online License Service, at any CDFW License Agent or CDFW License Sales Office. The fee is $1.34 per hunt choice. Don’t forget to purchase your California duck validation and federal duck stamp. Log in to the Online License Service, using your date of birth, last name and GO ID (from your hunting license). Select “Purchase Licenses” and proceed to 2017 – Hunting. Waterfowl Multi-Choice Reservation Applications are available under the Drawings section.

Check station employee checking hunter paperwork
Gray Lodge Wildlife Area hunter check station. CDFW file photo.

The Waterfowl Multi-Choice Reservation Application allows a hunter to select hunt areas and choose any combination of hunt dates from a calendar of hunts. Each area has different rules about the people who may accompany the hunter, so pay attention to that for planning purposes.

You may submit as many hunt choices as you like as long as you do not submit more than one hunt choice for the same area on the same day. Duplicate hunt choices will be disqualified. We recommend keeping a record of requested areas and shoot dates to avoid duplication and rejection from the drawing.

If you are drawn, your reservation may allow you to bring one or more other hunters. One of the enjoyable rewards of a successful draw is calling your best hunting buddy and inviting him or her along! It’s important to remember that hunters must purchase any needed passes and validations in advance, through a CDFW license sales office, a license agent or online. Check stations do not sell any license items, permits or passes.

Before going to a wildlife area to hunt waterfowl, verify that the members of your hunting party have the items below:

  • California Hunting License
  • Harvest Information Program (HIP) Validation
  • California Duck Validation (not required for junior hunters)
  • Federal Duck Stamp (required for all hunters age 16 or older)
  • Prepaid Wildlife Area Pass (not required for junior hunters)  
    – Either a Type A One-Day, Two-Day or Season Pass for Type A Area, or
    – Type A or B Season Pass for Northeastern Zone Type B Areas

Passes purchased online will be mailed to the customer. Allow 15 days for delivery of your pass. If you need a pass for use sooner than 15 days, please purchase a pass from a license agent or CDFW license sales office. Good luck!

Is it “Fishing” if I’m Not Using a Hook?

Question: Is it legal to practice my fishing techniques using an artificial lure or fly without a hook? It is not really fishing as I would not be trying to actually catch fish. If I’m not fishing then do I need a fishing license? (Allen H.)

Answer: Yes, it is legal and no, you don’t need a license. Without a hook attached to your artificial lure or fly, you have no method of take, and so a fishing license is not required. This practice is more common than you think. Flyfishing instructors frequently have their students practice this way before trying the real thing. Practicing flycasting without a fly or a hook makes it easier to untangle the flyfishing line from the tree branch you’ll inevitably snag while you are learning, and makes it safer for those standing around you.

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If you have a question for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, please feel free to ask us via email at While we cannot answer every question, we will pick a few to answer each week in this column.