Make sure you either purchase or borrow a firearm or archery equipment that is legal and ethical for your hunt. In some cases, there are area-specific or game-specific requirements. For example, you can’t use rifles at most California wildlife areas. With archery equipment, you need to make sure you have the proper equipment that can deliver a lethal shot for the game you are hunting – not all archery equipment is made for hunting.
Firearms require a background check and 10-day waiting period. Once you are in California’s background check system, you can purchase ammunition with a $1 instant background check, but if you have not yet purchased a gun here, you will have to pay $19 for a background check and wait several days to pick up your ammunition. Learn more about ammo background checks.
Lead-free ammunition is required for all hunting in California with rifles and shotguns, but not with air rifles. As of this writing, there is a severe national ammunition shortage, so we advise you to purchase needed ammunition as early as possible. While it is possible to buy ammo online, it must be shipped to a licensed vendor who can process your background check – check ahead with your chosen vendor to make sure they are set up to do this!
With rifles, you need to sight in your gun with the ammunition you will hunt with to ensure the bullet will go where the crosshairs are pointing. All brands of bullets do not fly the same! This involves a trip to a shooting range. Search online for tips on sighting in – it is a precise process.
With shotguns, it is helpful to pattern your gun to see how big the spread of pellets is at the distances at which you’ll shoot. But because the shotgun is not a precision firearm, this is less critical than it is for rifles. However, it is extremely important to know the effective range of your shotgun, which depends on the shotshells and choke that you’re using. Patterning gives you that information precisely; however, you may find general information about the range provided by your chokes online or in an instruction manual.
Click here to read an article (PDF) about patterning shotguns.
Firearm safety is covered in many places, including your hunter education course and the manual that comes with your firearm. There is also a bowhunter education program that addresses archery safety. Always refresh your memory about safety when preparing for a hunt.
It is never a good idea to shoot a new or new-to-you firearm or bow for the first time while on a hunt. Make sure you give yourself time to practice before hunting. In many cases, new firearms need to be cleaned and lubricated prior to use. (Many are shipped with a coating of heavy oil to protect them during shipping; that oil needs to be removed and replaced with proper gun oil.)
With rifle hunting, you should be able to put bullets in an 8-inch-diameter circle at the distance at which you intend to shoot. For beginners, 100 yards is a good maximum distance.