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Nonlead Ammunition in California

Effective July 1, 2008, the California Fish and Game Commission modified the methods of take to prohibit the use of projectiles containing lead when hunting big game and nongame species in an area designated as the California condor range.

In October 2013, Assembly Bill 711 was signed into law requiring the use of nonlead ammunition when taking any wildlife with a firearm in California. This law requires the Commission to adopt by July 1, 2015, regulations that phase-in the statute’s requirements, but it must be fully implemented by July 1, 2019.

CDFW conducted extensive public outreach during 2014 and proposed regulations that phase-in the nonlead requirement. This outreach effort included question and answer sessions at sportsmen’s shows, meetings with hunting organizations and a series of eight public workshops throughout the state. CDFW then presented draft regulations, as modified by public input from these workshops, to the Fish and Game Commission.

In April 2015, the Fish and Game Commission adopted CDFW’s proposed regulations, which will implement the nonlead requirement in the following three phases:

Illustration showing implementation phase dates 

Phase 1 – Effective July 1, 2015, nonlead ammunition will be required when taking Nelson bighorn sheep and all wildlife on CDFW wildlife areas and ecological reserves.

Phase 2 – Effective July 1, 2016, nonlead shot will be required when taking upland game birds with a shotgun, except for dove, quail, snipe, and any game birds taken on licensed game bird clubs. In addition, nonlead shot will be required when using a shotgun to take resident small game mammals, furbearing mammals, nongame mammals, nongame birds, and any wildlife for depredation purposes.

Phase 3 – Effective July 1, 2019, nonlead ammunition will be required when taking any wildlife with a firearm anywhere in California.

Existing restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in the California condor range remain in effect while implementation proceeds.


Frequently Asked Questions

When does the nonlead ammunition regulation take effect?

The regulation phases-in the requirement to use certified nonlead ammunition depending on where and what you are hunting. The first phase begins July 1, 2015, and requires use of nonlead ammunition when hunting on all CDFW properties and for all 2015 bighorn sheep hunts. Effective July 1, 2016, hunters using shotguns will be required to use certified nonlead ammunition to take upland game species (except for dove, quail, snipe, and any species taken on licensed game bird clubs), fur-bearing and nongame species, and any species taken under the authority of a depredation permit. Shotgun ammunition containing pellets composed of materials approved as nontoxic by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as identified in Title 14 Section 507.1, is considered certified. Effective July 1, 2019, the use of certified nonlead ammunition will be required statewide when taking any wildlife. The new regulation does not modify the existing requirements to use certified nonlead ammunition when taking big game and nongame within the California condor range.

Where can I find a list of areas where nonlead ammunition is required?

A list of CDFW wildlife areas and ecological reserves along with specific regulations for each can be found in the booklet, Hunting Regulations for Waterfowl, Upland Game and Department Lands Public Use. Maps can also be accessed using the CDFW Land Viewer Tool or viewed at the CDFW website.

Where can I find a list of nonlead ammunition legal for hunting?

What are the regulations for possessing lead ammunition?

Current regulations prohibit the possession of lead projectiles with a firearm capable of firing such projectiles when hunting for big game or nongame species within the California condor range. Beginning July 1, 2015, certified nonlead ammunition will be required while hunting any CDFW property and for all 2015 bighorn sheep hunts. Possession of lead ammunition for a firearm used to hunt on a CDFW property or for bighorn sheep on or after that date is a violation that may result in citation.

How will wildlife officers check for compliance?

All ammunition in a hunter’s possession may be inspected by wildlife officers. In some cases, if a wildlife officer suspects a hunter is in possession of lead ammunition and cannot prove otherwise in the field, he or she may seize a cartridge or bullet for further analysis. Hunters are encouraged to assist in confirming compliance by retaining ammunition boxes or other packaging.

What are the regulations and options for hunting with .22 caliber or smaller rimfire firearms?

Rimfire firearms are not legal in California for hunting or depredation take of big game animals or wild turkeys. Rimfire firearms are legal for take of nongame species and small game mammals. Beginning on July 1, 2015, certified nonlead rimfire ammunition will be required to take any wildlife species (game and nongame) on CDFW properties. The statewide requirement for use of nonlead rimfire when taking wildlife will go into effect on July 1, 2019.

What about target shooting or firearms for personal protection?

The regulations do not require use of nonlead ammunition when target shooting. Use of lead projectiles for target shooting is legal unless CDFW or another government entity has determined otherwise for lands they administer. The regulations do not prohibit the possession of concealable firearms containing lead ammunition, provided the firearm is possessed for personal protection and is not used to take or assist in the take of wildlife. With the exception of ammunition for concealable firearms possessed for personal protection, hunters may not possess lead ammunition along with a firearm capable of firing that ammunition in locations where nonlead ammunition is required.

Are pellet rifles included in the nonlead ammunition ban?

Since pellet rifles are not firearms, the use of lead projectiles in pellet rifles is not prohibited.

How does this affect private lands and landowners?

These regulations apply both to public and private lands. Private landowners or anyone authorized to hunt on private land must also comply with these regulations. Current regulations prohibit the use of lead ammunition while hunting big game or nongame species within the California condor range regardless of land ownership.

How does this affect depredation permits?

CDFW issues depredation permits for a variety of species to reduce damage to property. Depredation permit holders within the condor protection range are required to use certified nonlead ammunition to take any and all species identified on the permit. The use of certified nonlead ammunition will be required while using a shotgun for depredation purposes on a statewide basis beginning July 1, 2016 and with any firearm starting July 1, 2019.

A friend frequently asks me to shoot ground squirrels on his property to reduce crop damage and minimize injuries to his livestock. Will the new ammunition requirements apply to this activity?

Yes. It’s currently a requirement in the condor protection range and will be a requirement on a statewide basis beginning on July 1, 2019.

What happened with the nonlead ammunition coupon program described in AB 711?

AB 711 authorizes the California Fish and Game Commission to implement a coupon program. However, it prohibits the use of any state funds to pay for the program. At the commission’s June 2016 meeting, they adopted a process to implement a nonlead ammunition coupon program using federal Pittman-Robertson grant funds. The final details of the program are still being worked out. CDFW hopes to have the program in place for the 2017-18 hunting season.



Wildlife Branch - Game Management
1812 9th Street, Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 445-0411