Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

USFWS On this page, you’ll find:

  1. General information about the Refuge
  2. Authorized activities (e.g. waterfowl hunting and sport fishing)
  3. Summary of Refuge-specific rules and regulations
  4. Maps of boat access, check station, driving directions, hunting areas, etc.
  5. Links to related summaries (e.g. regulations for Type A areas, waterfowl zones, seasons and limits for duck and goose hunting)
  6. Links to government webpages (the CDFW, Complex, USFWS, and Refuge)

General Info:

  • Administrator: Cal. Dept. of Fish & Wildlife (“CDFW“)
  • CDFW Region: Region 6 (Inland Deserts)
  • Complex:  Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge (“NWR”) Complex [map]
  • County: Imperial County
  • Directions: Google map and directions

  • Operator: Imperial WLA
  • Owner: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“USFWS“)
  • Phone Numbers:  760-359-0577  and 760-348-5278
  • Recreational Use: Type A
  • Waterfowl zone: Southern California WF Zone (determines season and limits, which are summarized by CDFW)
  • Websites: Sonny Bono Salton Sea 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 Sonny Bonno Salton Sea NWR is one of ten National Wildlife Refuges operated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.  There are both federal and State rules and regulations that apply generally to this Refuge, which are summarized in a separate page:

[Top]

B. Refuge-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 may be additional rules located at the Refuge (e.g. check station, hunting leaflet, reservations, and 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

Sport fishing in California

Sport Fishing


 III. Waterfowl Hunting

Warning shot!!! This Refuge is operated by the Imperial Wildlife Area, which is administrated by the CDFW.

Blinds:

      1. Capacity: maximum of four (4) hunters per blind
      2. Hazard Tract: hunt ONLY from within 100 feet of blind sites or stakes, except to retrieve downed birds
      3. Union Tract: hunt ONLY from within assigned blinds, except to retrieve downed birds (also see “Decoys” below)

Boats: ONLY hand-portable boats and electric boat motors may be used

Image of campers, trailers and tents.

Use of Campers, trailers and tents

Camping & trailers: NOT allowed at Sonny Bono, but there is limited camping in the area designated at the Imperial Wildlife Area. Warning shot!!! Campers must obtain a use permit daily and unattached trailers or tents are NOT allowed on the check station parking lot

Check station:

      1. Directions and location: from Niland, go five miles northwest on Hwy 111, turn west on  Wister-Davis Road and it’s the single building immediately to your left
      2. Location: Wister Unit of the Imperial WLA (Google map)
      3. Opens: see “Lottery” and “Reservations” below
California rules and regulations for the use of decoys on national wildlife refuges, California wildlife areas, and California ecological reserves

Use of Decoys

Decoys: hunters in the Union Tract must use goose decoys

Dogs: must remain under control at all times

Hunt area: Hazard Tract and Union Tract (see “Hunt Map” below)

Hunt Days: Saturday, Sunday & Wednesday from November through January

Hunt Maps:

Sonny Bono Salton Sea national wildlife refuge hunt map

Hunt Map


Hunter capacity: a maximum of 100 parties combined for the NWR and Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area.

Hunting leaflet: send written request to the Refuge, as stated on the “Hunt Map”

Lottery: determines the order of entry if there are any vacancies after reservations are called

      1. Check station: register between 7:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on the evening before each hunt day
      2. Drawing: held at 10:30 p.m. and posted shortly thereafter
      3. Waiting list: if you don’t have a “rezzy” and miss the lottery, sign up for the waiting list (See “Waiting list” below)

Passes: not required for hunting or fishing, a day use pass or valid annual wildlife pass is required for general use except users that–

      1. Possess a valid California license for sport fishing, hunting, or trapping
      2. Are under 16 years of age or
      3. Are part of an organized youth or school group and having free permits issued by the appropriate regional office

Permits:

      1. Camping & trailers: permit required (see “Camping & trailers” above)
      2. Check station: A daily entry permit is required from the check station
      3. Kill Card: Complete and return prior to leaving the refuge

Reservations: with a reservation from the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area, the holder may opt to hunt at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea NWR

      1. Application: purchase an application for the Wister Unit of the Imperial Wildlife Area
      2. Check station: present “rezzy” to check station, which begins calling them at 3:00 a.m. in numerical order
      3. Expiration: one and one-half (1 1/2) hour before shoot time
      4. Parties: may not exceed 6 individuals nor 4 adults
      5. Units: you may opt to hunt at Wister or a Sonny Bono unit
Shotgun restrictions

Use of shotguns

Shells: 25 max while in the field

Shoot time: general waterfowl shoot times

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

Shotguns: to remain unloaded until reaching blind sites (see “Blinds” above)

Waiting list: determines the order of entry to fill any vacancies after “rezzies” and lottery cards are called

      1. Sign-in: register the check station
      2. Permits: issued on a first-come, first served basis as hunting sites become available

IV. Sport Fishing

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

Use of boats

Access: only by boat–NO bank fishing

Boats: only boat fishing is allowed

Fishing Area: designated areas of the NWR inundated by the Salton Sea, except area that are posted as “Closed” (see “Hunt Map,” Par. III above)

Fishing days: daily from April 1 – September 30


V. Rules and Regulations

(Follow link above to current regulation.)

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

A. Migratory Game Bird Hunting. Hunting of geese, ducks, coots, and moorhens is permitted on designated areas of the refuge subject to the following conditions:

1. Hunters using the Union Tract must use goose decoys.

2. You must hunt from assigned blinds on the Union Tract and within 100 feet (30 m) of blind sites on the Hazard Tract, except when shooting to retrieve crippled birds.

3. Firearms must be unloaded while being transported between parking areas and blind sites.

4. Hunters may not possess more than 25 shells while in the field.

B. Upland Game Hunting. [Reserved]

C. Big Game Hunting. [Reserved]

D. Sport Fishing. Fishing is permitted only on designated areas of the refuge inundated by the Salton Sea subject to the following conditions:

1. Fishing is permitted from April 1 through September 30.

2. Only boat fishing is permitted.


(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.

***

(7) Sonny Bono Salton Sea 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. Firearms must be unloaded when being transported between parking areas and blind sites.

(B) Hunt days: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays during open seasons.

(C) Authorized Species: Waterfowl, coots, and moorhens.

(D) Camping and Trailers: Not allowed.

(E) Special Restrictions: Hunters in the Hazard Unit shall hunt only from within 100 feet of their assigned blind sites or stakes, except to retrieve downed birds. Hunters in the Union Tract shall hunt only from within their blinds, except to retrieve downed birds.

(F) Blind Limitation: Not more than four individuals may occupy a blind site.


  • CDFW’s Hunting Regulations Booklet

    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

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

551. GENERAL PUBLIC, HUNTING, FIREARMS AND ARCHERY EQUIPMENT USE AND PERMIT REQUIREMENTS ON STATE AND FEDERAL AREAS.

(a) The following regulations apply to areas listed below:

***

(2) Areas operated in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (for additional regulations for Federal areas, see Section 552):

***

(H) Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, Type A (Imperial County) (operated with the Imperial Wildlife Area);

***

§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.

***

(7) Sonny Bono Salton Sea 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. Firearms must be unloaded when being transported between parking areas and blind sites.

(B) Hunt days: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesdays during open seasons.

(C) Authorized Species: Waterfowl, coots, and moorhens.

(D) Camping and Trailers: Not allowed.

(E) Special Restrictions: Hunters in the Hazard Unit shall hunt only from within 100 feet of their assigned blind sites or stakes, except to retrieve downed birds. Hunters in the Union Tract shall hunt only from within their blinds, except to retrieve downed birds.

(F) Blind Limitation: Not more than four individuals may occupy a blind site.


  • Refuge Website Rules and Regulations

Designated Trails:  Walking and hiking are enjoyed on designated trails.  The Rock Hill Trail located at the visitor center is about 2 miles.  The Micheal Hardenberger Trail is located at our Unit 1 area and is 1/2 mile.  Most refuge roads and all trails are closed to vehicles.

Waterfowl hunting:  During designated seasons (November-January) waterfowl hunting on the refuge is permitted on certain areas.  These areas are managed by state and federal regulations.  For more information, please contact California Department of Fish & Game at 1-760-359-0577.

Fishing:  Boat fishing only is permitted, except where posted as closed.  From April 1 to Setpember 30, areas of the Salton Sea within the refuge are open to boat fishing.  These areas are closed to all entry at other times of the year.  Bank fishing is not permitted at any time.

Pets:  Pets must be on a leash at all times.  Hunting dogs on the public hunting areas must be under effective control.

Camping:  No camping is allowed on the refuge.

Signs:  Some areas of the wildlife refuge are closed to the public in order to protect resting wildlife and endangered species.  Please respect the designated areas that posted signs alert you to.  Thank you.

 If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at 1-760-348-5278.

 

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