San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

USFWSFor this Refuge and its Units, you’ll find:

  1. General information about the Refuge and its Units
  2. Authorized activities (e.g. waterfowl hunting)
  3. Summaries of general and Refuge-specific rules and regulations
  4. Links to Unit-specific rules and regulations
  5. Maps of the blinds, closed zones, driving directions, parking lots, the Refuge, etc.
  6. Links to other useful summaries (e.g. regulations for archery, hunting with dogs, “Type A” areas, as well as definitions, seasons, daily bag limits, possession limits, and shoot times
  7. Links to government webpages (USFWS, CDFW, the San Luis NWR Complex, and the Refuge)

General Info:

  • Administrator:  Cal. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (“CDFW“)
  • CDFW Region: Region 4 (Central California)
  • Complex:  San Luis NWR Complex
  • County: Merced County
  • Directions: link to our Google map

  • Owner: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (“USFWS“)
  • Phone Number:  209-826-3508 (USFWS) or  209-826-0463 ( CDFW)
  • Recreational Use: Type A
  • Waterfowl ZoneBalance of State WF Zone (determines season and limits, which are summarized by CDFW)
  • Website: San Luis NWR

I. Regulatory Summary

A. General Regulations

California rules and regulations for hunting ducks, geese, scaup, brant, Canada geese, dark geese, snow geese, white-fronted geese, specklebellies, white geese, and migratory game birds on national wildlife refuges, California wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves

Waterfowl hunting

The San Luis NWR is one of ten National Wildlife Refuges operated by the CDFW.  There are both federal and State rules and regulations that apply generally to this Refuge and its Units, which are summarized in a separate page:

[Top]

B. Refuge- and Unit-Specific Regulations

California rules and regulations for the use of boats while on national wildlife refuges, California state wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves while hunting for ducks and geese (scaup, brant, Canada geese, dark geese, snow geese, white-fronted geese, specklebellies, white geese); migratory game birds (doves, pigeon, snipe, waterfowl) resident small game birds (grouse, pheasant, ptarmigan, quail, turkey), resident small game (jackrabbit, rabbit, squirrel), big game (antelope, bear, deer, elk, pig, sheep), non-game (coyotes, crow, fox, raccoon) and fishing (bullfrogging, commercial fishing, crayfishing, crawfishing and sport fishing)

CA. Hunting Rules & Regulations

Beginning with Par. II below, you’ll find an alphabetical summary of legal topics that combine Refuge-specific rules and regulations from the following sources:

 Warning shot!!! There are Unit-specific rules located on the Unit Hunt Maps (link from our Menu or Par. III, “Units).  There may be additional rules at Refuge and/or Units (e.g. check station, maps, signs).


II. Authorized Activities

Duck hunting in California

Duck Hunting

Goose hunting in California

Goose Hunting

American Coot hunting in California

Coot Hunting

Moorhen hunting in California

Moorhen Hunting

California rules and regulations for hunting snipe on national wildlife refuge, California wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves

Snipe Hunting

Pheasant hunting in California

Pheasant hunting

Sport fishing in California

Sport Fishing

California rules and regulations for hunting tule elk on national wildlife refuges, California wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves

Tule Elk Tour Route


 III.  Waterfowl Regulations

California rules and regulations of boats while hunting and/or fishing

Use of Boats

Access: access is by foot, bicycle or boat except the following units are only accessible by boat–

      1. Freitas North Unit
      2. Freitas South Unit

Alcohol: use or possession is NOT allowed in the field

Bicycles: (a) allowed except at the Freitas Units and (b) shotguns must remain unloaded while riding, both the chamber and magazine

Blinds: Warning Shot!!! See Blue Goose Unit and Kesterson Unit for unit-specific regulations

      1. Free roam areas–hunt ONLY from (a) portable blinds, (b) existing concrete blinds, (c) temporary blinds constructed of natural materials, or (d) existing concrete barrel blinds
      2. Permanent blinds–construction is NOT allowed
      3. Portable blinds–remove before leaving the refuge
      4. Spaced blinds: (a) shotguns to remain unloaded while traveling between parking areas and (b) stay in assigned blind except when shooting to retrieve downed/crippled birds
      5. Temporary blinds–dismantle before leaving the refuge
      6. Vegetation–do NOT cut or break woody vegetation

Boats: motorboats are NOT allowed in Free Roam areas. Warning shot!!! See Freitas North and Freitas South Units for further restrictions.

Image of campers, trailers and tents.

Use of Campers, trailers and tents

Camping & trailers: allowed in the parking area of the Salt Slough Unit of the North Grasslands Wildlife Area. Warning shot!!! Trailers are prohibited within hunt areas, and may not be left unattended anywhere on the Refuge.  Neither camping nor trailers are allowed at the following Units:

      1. Blue Goose Unit
      2. San Luis Unit
      3. West Bear Creek Unit

Decoys: must be removed each hunt day

Dogs: hunting dogs must remain under control at all times (link to summary of dog-specific regulations)

Enter/Exit: only at designated locations

Free roam: see “Boats” above

Hunt Areas: hunt ONLY within designated areas, and any assigned blinds, pond or zone.  Warning shot!!!  Follow links below to individual units for unit-specific hunt areas.

Hunt Days: Saturdays, Sundays & Wednesdays except the Freitas North and Freitas South Units, which are open daily. Warning shot!!!  A permits is still required to hunt at the Freitas Units on Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays.

Duck StampLicense, stamps & permits: must be possessed while in the field

Opening day: concurrent with the “Balance of State” waterfowl zone except the West Bear Creek Unit, which opens on the 3rd Saturday in November

Permits: must be returned to the appropriate check station (a) immediately following the hunt and (b) prior to using any tour route or leaving the refuge.  Warning Shot!!!  See “Pheasant Hunting” below.

Personal Property: must be removed prior to leaving the Refuge (e.g. portable blinds, decoys, personal equipment and trash)

California rules and regulations for public use while fishing and/or hunting ducks and geese (scaup, brant, Canada geese, dark geese, snow geese, white-fronted geese, specklebellies, white geese); migratory game birds (dove and snipe); resident small game (pheasant, rabbit, jackrabbit); and non-game (raccoon) on State wildlife areas (Volta, North Grasslands (Salt Slough, Gadwall and China Island Units), and Los Banos, and on the San Luis national wildlife refuge (Blue Goose, Bear Creek, Kesterson, San Luis and Freitas Units)

Lottery (non-reservation)

Reservations: applications for advance reservations may be purchased.  Follow the link to each individual Unit for additional info, e.g. how many persons may enter with each reservation.  Warning shot!!! Application may are not sold at the refuge, but may be purchased from CDFW’s Sales Office, License Agent or Internet Sales webpage.

Shells: 25 max, subject to Unit restrictions (also see “Shotguns”):

      1. San Luis NWR Units: 25 max in possession after leaving assigned parking lot or boat launch
      2. Merced NWR Units: 25 max per day
Shotgun restrictions

Use of shotguns

Shot: ONLY steel or other non-toxic shot approved by the USFWS

Shotguns: chamber and magazine are to remain unloaded while traveling:

      1. By foot or bicycle between parking areas in the spaced blind units and
      2. In a boat under power

Trailers: see “Camping and trailers”

Units: link to our summary of unit-specific rules, regulations, and procedures–

      1. Blue Goose Unit
      1. East Bear Creek Unit
      2. Freitas North Unit
      3. Freitas South Unit
      4. Kesterson Unit
      5. San Luis Unit
      6. West Bear Creek Unit

Vehicles:

      1. NO shotgun shells in the chamber or magazine while under power
      2. NO stopping between designated parking areas
      3. NO dropping off passengers between parking areas
      4. NO dropping off equipment or gear between parking areas
      5. Park ONLY in designated parking areas
      6. NO trailers within hunt areas
      7. NO unattended trailers anywhere on the refuge

Pheasant hunting in California

Pheasant hunting

IV. Pheasant Hunting

Units: allowed ONLY within designated zones and areas at the Kesterson Unit and San Luis Unit


California rules and regulations for hunting snipe on national wildlife refuge, California wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves

Snipe Hunting

V. Snipe Hunting

Unit: allowed ONLY within designated areas with the San Luis Unit


Sport fishing in California

Sport Fishing

VI. Sport Fishing

Boats: boats, float tubes, and all other floating aids or devices are prohibited

Fishing Area: only within designated areas. Warning shot!!! See West Bear Creek Unit for further restrictions

Fishing Hours: sunrise to sunset except at the West Bear Creek Unit, which is open 24 hours

Methods of take: (a) only by pole and line or rod and reel, which (b) must be attended at all times


 VII. Refuge-Specific Regulations

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

A. Migratory Game Bird Hunting. We allow hunting of goose, duck, coot, moorhen, and snipe on designated areas of the refuge in accordance with State regulations subject to the following conditions:

1. You may only use portable blinds, temporary blinds constructed of natural materials, or existing concrete blinds. We prohibit cutting or breaking woody vegetation (see §27.51 of this chapter).

2. You must remove all portable blinds, decoys, and other personal equipment from the refuge following each day’s hunt.

3. You must dismantle any temporary blinds constructed of natural materials at the end of each day.

4. You may only hunt snipe within the free-roaming portion of the San Luis Unit waterfowl hunting area.

5. You may only possess approved non-toxic shotshells (see §32.2(k)) in quantities of 25 or less after leaving your assigned parking lot or boat launch.

6. We prohibit dropping of passengers or equipment or stopping between designated parking areas. You must return your permits to the check stations immediately upon completion of your hunt and prior to using any tour routes or leaving the refuge vicinity.

7. You may not transport loaded firearms while walking or bicycling between parking areas in spaced blind units, or while traveling in a boat under power.

8. We restrict hunters in the spaced blind area to their assigned blind except when they are placing decoys, traveling to and from the parking area, retrieving downed birds, or when shooting to retrieve cripples.

9. We restrict hunters in the spaced zone area of the East Bear Creek Unit to their assigned zone except when they are traveling to and from the parking area, retrieving downed birds, or when shooting to retrieve crippled birds.

10. Access to the Freitas Unit free-roam hunting area is by boat only with a maximum of 5 mph. Prohibited boats include air-thrust and/or inboard water-thrust types.

11. We prohibit the use of motorized boats in the free-roam units with the exception of the Freitas Unit.

12. We do not allow vehicle trailers of any type or size to be in the refuge hunt areas at any time or to be left unattended at any location on the refuge.

13. Dogs must remain under the immediate control of their owners at all times (see §26.21(b) of this chapter).

B. Upland Game Hunting. We allow hunting of pheasants on designated areas of the refuge in accordance with State regulations subject to the following conditions:

1. You may only possess approved non-toxic shotshells (see §32.2(k)) in quantities of 25 or less while in the field.

2. Dogs must remain under the immediate control of their owners at all times (see §26.21(b) of this chapter).

C. Big Game Hunting. [Reserved]

D. Sport Fishing. We allow fishing on designated areas of the refuge in accordance with State regulations subject to the following conditions:

1. We only allow fishing from legal sunrise to legal sunset, except on that portion of the San Joaquin River’s south (left descending) bank within the West Bear Creek Unit designated as open for fishing 24 hours per day.

2. We only allow the use of pole and line or rod and reel to take gamefish, and anglers must attend their equipment at all times.

3. We prohibit the use of any boat, float tube, or other floating aid/device.


Regulations for National Wildlife Refuges Where Hunting Programs are Administered by the Department of Fish and Game.

(a) The power to control entry on the federally owned areas listed in subsection 551(a)(2) is at the discretion of the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The following lands owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are open to hunting by the public under control of the California Department of Fish and Game.

***

(6) San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.

(A) Area Firearms Restrictions: Shotguns and steel or other nontoxic shot approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only. A hunter shall not possess more than 25 shot shells while in the field.

(B) Hunt Days: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays during waterfowl season. Waterfowl hunting is prohibited on the West Bear Creek Unit prior to the third Saturday in November.

(C) Authorized Species: Waterfowl, coots, and moorhens. Hunting for pheasants will be allowed by permit only on designated days and areas at the Kesterson Unit on the first two days of pheasant season only, and at the San Luis Unit free roam area. Pheasant hunting is also allowed within the Kesterson Unit spaced blind area on the first Monday of the pheasant season only. Snipe hunting is allowed only within the San Luis Unit free roam area, and only on waterfowl shoot days when the area is open to hunting by adult license holders.

(D) Camping and Trailers: Not allowed on the San Luis, Blue Goose, and the west Bear Units of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.

(E) Bicycles: Allowed.

(F) Reservations: For the Kesterson and Blue Goose units, each reservation assures entry of no more than three persons if three-person blinds are available, or no more than two persons if two-person blinds are available. For the Freitas units (north and south), each reservation assures entry of one boat with up to four persons. All person’s entering on the same reservation will receive the same hunt assignment.

(G) Special Restrictions: Hunters in the Kesterson and Blue Goose units must hunt from assigned blinds, except to retrieve downed birds. Hunters in free roam areas are not restricted to blinds. Freitas units are by boat only. Maximum boat speed may not exceed 5 mph. Inboard water thrust and air-thrust boats are prohibited. Construction of permanent blinds is prohibited. Cutting or breaking of woody vegetation is prohibited. All blinds and equipment must be removed following each day’s hunt

(H) Hunters may enter or exit only at designated locations. Stopping vehicles between designated parking areas to drop off passengers or hunting equipment is prohibited.


  • California rules and regulations for the use of boats while on national wildlife refuges, California state wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves while hunting for ducks and geese (scaup, brant, Canada geese, dark geese, snow geese, white-fronted geese, specklebellies, white geese); migratory game birds (doves, pigeon, snipe, waterfowl) resident small game birds (grouse, pheasant, ptarmigan, quail, turkey), resident small game (jackrabbit, rabbit, squirrel), big game (antelope, bear, deer, elk, pig, sheep), non-game (coyotes, crow, fox, raccoon) and fishing (bullfrogging, commercial fishing, crayfishing, crawfishing and sport fishing)

    CA. Hunting Rules & Regulations

    CDFW’s Hunting Regulations Booklet

2013-2014 Waterfowl and Upland Game Hunting & Department Lands Public Use Regulations

§552. REGULATIONS FOR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGES WHERE HUNTING PROGRAMS ARE ADMINISTERED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME.

Note: In addition to the following State regulations, Federal regulations prohibit littering and the possession of alcohol while hunting on national wildlife refuges. The consumption or possession of an open container of alcohol, within public areas of the refuges, is prohibited. Medical marijuana cards are not valid on National Wildlife Refuges.

(a) The power to control entry on the federally owned areas listed in subsection 551(a)(2) is at the discretion of the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The following lands owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are open to hunting by the public under control of the California Department of Fish and Game.

***

(6) San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.

Type A Area.

***

(A) Area Firearms Restrictions: Shotguns and steel or other nontoxic shot approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service only. A hunter shall not possess more than 25 shot shells while in the field.

(B) Hunt Days: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays during waterfowl season. Waterfowl hunting is prohibited on the West Bear Creek Unit prior to the third Saturday in November.

(C) Authorized Species: Waterfowl, coots, and moorhens. Hunting for pheasants will be allowed by permit only on designated days and areas at the Kesterson Unit on the first two days of pheasant season only, and at the San Luis Unit free roam area. Pheasant hunting is also allowed within the Kesterson Unit spaced blind area on the first Monday of the pheasant season only. Snipe hunting is allowed only within the San Luis Unit free roam area, and only on waterfowl shoot days when the area is open to hunting by adult license holders.

(D) Camping and Trailers: Not allowed on the San Luis, Blue Goose, and the west Bear Units of the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge.

(E) Bicycles: Allowed.

(F) Reservations: For the Kesterson and Blue Goose units, each reservation assures entry of no more than three persons if three-person blinds are available, or no more than two persons if two-person blinds are available. For the Freitas units (north and south), each reservation assures entry of one boat with up to four persons. All person’s entering on the same reservation will receive the same hunt assignment.

(G) Special Restrictions: Hunters in the Kesterson and Blue Goose units must hunt from assigned blinds, except to retrieve downed birds. Hunters in free roam areas are not restricted to blinds. Freitas units are by boat only. Maximum boat speed may not exceed 5 mph. Inboard water thrust and air-thrust boats are prohibited. Construction of permanent blinds is prohibited. Cutting or breaking of woody vegetation is prohibited. All blinds and equipment must be removed following each day’s hunt.

(H) Hunters may enter or exit only at designated locations. Stopping vehicles between designated parking areas to drop off passengers or hunting equipment is prohibited.


Goose, duck, coot, and moorhen hunting is permitted on designated areas of the Refuge Complex subject to the following conditions or as may otherwise be posted. In addition, pheasant and snipe hunting is allowed on designated portions of the San Luis NWR.

Hunters may possess not more than 25 federally approved nontoxic shotgun shells after leaving parking lot (the Merced NWR is 25 shells per day).

Vehicles may stop only at designated, assigned parking areas. The dropping of passengers or equipment or stopping between designated parking areas is prohibited. All permits must be returned to the check-stations immediately upon completion of your hunt, before using any tour routes or leaving the refuge vicinity.

Use or possession of alcoholic beverages while in the field is prohibited.

Hunters must possess valid hunting licenses, stamps, and area permits while in the field.

Access to individual blinds and zones may be limited to those holding location-specific permits. This includes Kesterson and Freitas pheasant zones, pond assignments within West Bear Creek, East Bear Creek, Lonetree, the San Luis River Unit, and within the spaced blind areas of Merced, Blue Goose, and Kesterson Units. Hunters are restricted to their assigned blind or zone, except to retrieve downed birds, place decoys, or to travel between the blind and the assigned hunter parking area.

Loaded weapons are prohibited outside of assigned blinds within the spaced blind areas. At all times on the refuge, weapons must be unloaded (no ammunition in the magazine or chamber) when in a boat under power, in a vehicle, or on a bicycle.

Within the free roam area, hunters may use only portable blinds, temporary blinds constructed of natural materials, or existing concrete barrel blinds. The construction of permanent blinds is prohibited. The cutting/breaking of woody vegetation is prohibited.

All portable blinds, decoys, and other personal equipment must be removed from the refuge each day.

NOTICE: THE SOUTH FREITAS UNIT WILL BE OPEN BEGINNING NOVEMBER 2.
These additional regulations are specific to individual units:

For Kesterson blinds 28 – 31 accessed via a one-way road: No new permits will be issued after start of shoot time. No refills will be issued for these blinds.

At the North and South Freitas unit, hunting is allowed 7 days per week. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays permits are required and the California Department of Fish and Game check station regulations and procedures are in effect. The area is closed (no access allowed) from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Access to the Freitas Unit is via boat only, with a maximum speed of 5 mph. Inboard water thrust and air-thrust boats are prohibited (jet skis, air boats, inboard jet boats). All State and Coast Guard boating regulations apply.

At the South Freitas Unit boat launch parking lot on Highway 165, vehicles must park in marked stalls, and on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, vehicles must display a parking pass obtained at the check station.

For additional information, contact:
Jack Sparks, Outdoor Recreation Planner: jack_sparks@fws.gov
Karl Stromayer, San Luis NWR Assistant Refuge Manager: karl_stromayer@fws.gov


The San Luis NWR is open daily from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except federal holidays.

  • Respect other refuge visitors’ viewing opportunities
  • Minimize disturbance to wildlife
  • No collecting of plants, plant parts, or mushrooms
  • No feeding wildlife
  • Remain in vehicles on auto tour routes for optimal viewing
  • No bicycling allowed on the Refuge
  • No horseback riding
  • Pets must be on leash at all times when outside of vehicles
  • No camping, campfires, or cooking grills
  • Park vehicles only in designated parking areas
  • Keeping noise levels to a minimum will enhance wildlife viewing
  • Please remove all trash
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