California archery laws make a sharp distinction between crossbows and other types of bow-and-arrow hunting. Crossbow hunting in California isn't allowed in archery season unless you're disabled. Anywhere you can legally hunt with a gun, however, you can also hunt with a crossbow.


If you're crossbow hunting in California, you're bound by many of the same laws and hunting seasons as gun hunters. If you have a disability that makes it hard or impossible to draw and hold a regular bow, you can apply for a permit to use a crossbow during archery-only seasons.

Bows and Crossbows

Under California archery laws, bow-hunting requires a device of "flexible material having a string connecting its two ends and used to propel an arrow." When you draw the bow and hold the arrow in firing position, you hold it there with nothing but hand power; longbows, recurve bows and compound bows all qualify.

The same laws define crossbow as a bow where the flexible material is fixed to a stock, or that uses some sort of mechanical device to hold the crossbow bolt in the firing position. The law imposes several restrictions on crossbow hunting in California.

  • For big game, the head of the bolt must be larger than 7/8 inches.

  • You can't use bolts with explosive heads, or heads coated with or containing tranquilizers or poisons.

  • Only bolts with the right kind of fletching can be used to hunt pheasants or migratory birds.

  • You can't fire a crossbow across a highway, road or anywhere open to vehicular traffic. It's also illegal to keep your bow drawn and in firing position if you're in a moving vehicle. 

  • You can find general, non-hunting regulations on the crossbow in the California penal code.

Crossbow Hunting In California

Crossbow hunting in California is covered by the same regulations and licensing as all hunting in the state. For example, you have to apply for a license from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

  • All licenses except lifetime licenses run July 1 to June 30.

  • The license fee varies depending on whether you're a resident or non-resident, hunting deer, pigs or birds and so on. 

  • To qualify for a license you must complete a hunter education course, have a previous year's hunting license or a hunter's license from another state that's less than two years old. California accepts hunter education certificates from other states.

  • There's no minimum age requirement for hunters, but some specific types of big game hunting have a minimum age.

  • California doesn't require bow, crossbow or gun hunters wear hunter's orange, but it is strongly recommended. 

Where and When to Hunt

You can't simply walk into the California wilderness with your crossbow and start shooting. Like many states, California hunting law is a crazy quilt of rules on where and when you can shoot and how many animals you're allowed to take. The state divides hunting districts into multiple zones, each with its own set hunting season.

For instance, if you're hunting in Zone A, it's archery-only hunting, which excludes crossbows, during July and early August. Then it's general season from August through September until 65,000 deer have been reported taken.

If you're hunting bear with a crossbow, the season in Zone A starts at the same time as general deer-hunting. It runs until the end of December, or until 1,700 bears have been taken. Different hunts in different zones will have different times and quotas.

Disabled Crossbow Hunting

There's one exception to the California archery laws that keep your crossbow out of archery-only seasons: if you have a disabled archer's permit. It's one of several special permits that allow individuals with various disabilities, even visual ones, to hunt in California.

  • You qualify for the disabled archer's permit if your arms have "permanent loss, significant limitation or diagnosed disease or disorder" that makes it difficult or impossible to draw and hold a bow.

  • Your physician has to certify the disability is valid. 

  • Normally you have to provide a fresh certification every year that you apply for a disabled archer's permit. If your doctor certifies the condition is permanent, you can renew with just a copy of your previous year's permit.

The permit allows you to go crossbow hunting in California during archery-only hunting season. There's no fee for the permit.