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Crossbows are complex and powerful devices often used for hunting or target practice. However, just like regular bows, crossbows are subject to tight regulations. These rules and restrictions can vary in each state, so always check your local state laws for more information.
So are crossbows legal in California? It is legal to own a crossbow in California if you’re older than 18, but there are several restrictions governing how they can be used. For hunting, crossbows are classed as firearms in California rather than archery weapons. This subjects them to different laws than bows.
So as you can see; it gets a little complex here.
You’re going to need more information.
Not to worry – if you keep on reading you should find all you need to know.
Do You Need A License To Own A Crossbow In California?
If you’re over the age of 18, you legally buy a crossbow in California without a license. Because crossbows are labeled as firearms in California, you can hunt with crossbows during the gun hunting season, but not in the archery hunting season unless you are classed as disabled.
State regulations for crossbows in the United States can vary enormously, from being completely legal without a license to being heavily restricted.
California is somewhere in the middle.
Crossbows are classed as firearms in California in terms of hunting, which means that they’re subject to gun season restrictions and cannot be used during archery season.
Outside of hunting, crossbows are subject to standard California archery regulations relating to storage and public possession.
But you can legally purchase and possess a crossbow in California as long as you are over the age of 18.
However, California does enforce some restrictions on the types of crossbows that can be owned.
Your crossbow needs to have a draw weight of at least 125 lbs.
It must also have a draw length of at least 14 inches, and the stock of the crossbow must be at least 18 inches long.
Because crossbows count as firearms, you cannot carry a crossbow in any area that doesn’t allow guns, such as state parks and public buildings.
You can, of course, use your crossbow for target archery if you can find a range that allows this.
Crossbows can only be fired if you are at least 150 yards away from the nearest public building.
When driving somewhere with your crossbow, you’re prohibited from having a bolt or arrow loaded on the rail in case the crossbow fires accidentally and causes an incident.
This applies to boats, cars, motorcycles, and any other vehicles.
You are also prohibited from taking your crossbow into areas under the jurisdiction of the Parks and Recreation Department if the weapon is not stored securely in a vehicle.
It has to be stored somewhere where you cannot access it easily and quickly.
Can You Hunt With A Crossbow In California?
You can use a crossbow for hunting during the gun season in California. This is because, as far as hunting is concerned, crossbows count as firearms under California law. You cannot hunt with a crossbow during California’s archery season unless you have a valid disabled hunting permit.
California’s gun hunting seasons vary depending on the animals that you’re hunting.
Because crossbows are classed as firearms in California for all intents and purposes related to hunting, you’re only allowed to hunt within the official gun or general hunting seasons rather than the archery hunting seasons.
Deer season for gun and crossbow hunting runs from the 10th of August to the 10th of November, while the archery deer hunting season spans July (11th) to September (27th).
Elk season usually runs from August to November.
The relevant seasons for smaller game vary, so check California hunting regulations for more information.
Just like if you were hunting with a gun, you’d need a hunting license issued by California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to hunt with your crossbow.
California hunting regulations class crossbows as firearms instead of archery weapons.
This means that you can only hunt with a crossbow during the gun hunting season, not the archery season.
The only exception is that disabled hunters with a legitimate disabled hunting license can hunt with crossbows during archery season if they face physical difficulties when trying to draw a standard bow.
There may also be equipment restrictions in different zones, so check advice from the authorities.
When using crossbows for hunting in California, there are some restrictions governing the type of ammo that you can use for different game.
If you’re hunting animals that are classed as big game, like boar, deer, or elk, you must use broadhead bolts or arrows with a diameter of at least 7/8th of an inch.
For most birds and other small game, any size of arrows and bolts can be used.
But if you’re after pheasants or birds that migrate, you can only use short-range bolts or arrows that have flu-flu fletching.
Explosive, poisoned, or tranquilized bolts are also illegal in California.
In terms of hunting gear, it is not a legal requirement to wear hunter’s orange clothing in California.
However, it is strongly recommended by California’s hunting and wildlife authorities.
This will make you more visible to other hunters in the area, helping to avoid mistaken shots and potentially fatal accidents.
Is Crossbow Fishing Legal In California?
It is legal to use a crossbow when fishing in California, but there are a number of regulations in place regarding where you can fish and which species you can catch. There are also rules governing the equipment that you use when crossbow fishing in California. You’ll also need a fishing license.
There are only a few lakes and reservoirs in California where you can fish using bows or crossbows.
To find out if your local reservoir allows bow fishing, you’ll need to consult whoever owns or manages the waterway.
A few examples are the El Capitan and San Vincente reservoirs. There are also wildlife restrictions in place, so check with the CDFW.
For instance, bow fishing isn’t allowed if there are nesting waterbirds in the area.
There are also a limited number of species that can be targeted while bow fishing in California.
Carp are the main species that you can fish for with your crossbow, but you can also hunt goldfish, hardheads, and lamprey, among others.
Again, it’s best to check the CDFW regulations. Before hunting any fish, you’ll need to obtain a fishing license and a daily permit.
When it comes to your equipment, you’ll need to abide by a few restrictions.
Your crossbow will, of course, be subject to the legal requirements outlined earlier.
For bow fishing, the tackle that you use must be securely attached to your crossbow via the arrowhead or the arrow shaft, if not both.
In California, you can only practice bow fishing if you’re using a boat. You can’t do it from the shoreline.
You must make sure that your vessel is at least 100 feet (30 meters) away from anyone else on the lake before you start bow fishing.
This restriction is in place to prevent anybody from being injured by wayward arrows or bolts.
How To Remain Lawful When Using A Crossbow In California
Although it is legal for anyone older than 18 to purchase and possess a crossbow in California, there are several restrictions in place to make sure that you’re safe and legal. These laws govern where you can take your crossbow and how to safely transport it.
In California, crossbows are subject to some minimum size requirements to be considered lawful.
The draw weight for a legal crossbow must be 125 lbs or higher. The stock must measure at least 18 inches long, while the draw length needs to be at least 14 inches.
Crossbows are classed as firearms in California and are governed by the same possession laws as guns.
Crossbows are prohibited from being carried in any public area where guns aren’t allowed.
This includes hospitals, state parks, schools, and colleges and universities.
You cannot fire a crossbow when under 150 yards away from a building occupied by other civilians unless you have the permission of the owner.
With regards to carrying your crossbow in California, you can carry the device openly out in public, but it must not be cocked or loaded.
It’s always best to not do this, though, as it can put people on edge.
If you’re transporting your crossbow in a vehicle, it must not be loaded with a bolt or arrow.
This applies whether you’re on a boat or a motorcycle or if you’re driving a car.
So there you have it.
Crossbows are legal in California, with some caveats.
Nevertheless, it’s always best to do your own due diligence, monitor the laws, and, if in doubt, check with the relevant authorities.
I live in Alberta, Canada where I enjoy indoor and 3D archery with traditional bows and compound bows. On this site, I share everything I’ve learned about archery along the way.