Merced NWR Hunt Program

Procedures for Waterfowl Hunting at the San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Refuges

Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage. Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciate of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs.

As practiced on refuges, hunting does not pose a threat to wildlife populations, and in some instances is necessary for sound wildlife management. Hunting programs can promote understanding and appreciation of natural resources and their management on lands and waters in the Refuge System.

Units of the San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Refuges are open to waterfowl hunting during California’s season for the Balance of the State Zone. The dates fluctuate slightly each year, but the season generally begins in mid-October and ends in late January or early February. Our refuge hunting program is cooperatively administered by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Please visit the CDFW website to view complete state hunting regulations, including seasons, bag limits, and methods of take (www.wildlife.ca.gov). All of our refuge hunt units are open for ducks, geese, coots, and common gallinules (moorhen). Certain areas of our refuges are also open for ring-necked pheasant and snipe hunting.

You may also wish to view these hunt resources:

HUNT UNIT MAPS

FLOOD-UP & QUOTA INFORMATION FOR CURRENT SEASON

Each hunter will need to obtain the following items in advance of their visit:

  1. Current California hunting license or junior hunting license if the hunter is less than 18 years of age.
  2. California Duck Stamp validation. Required for any person hunting waterfowl, excluding juniors hunting under the authority of a junior hunting license.
  3. Federal Duck Stamp. Hunters under the age of 16 are exempt from the Federal Duck Stamp requirement.  Juniors 16 and older and all adult hunters must have a Federal Duck Stamp.
  4. Harvest Information Program (HIP) validation.
  5. Type A pass for hunting at a California state-operated hunt area. This can be a Type A one-day, two-day, or season pass. These are sold at license agents, such as sporting goods stores, as well as online on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website (wildlife.ca.gov).  They are not sold at check stations.
  6. If hunting pheasant or snipe, you will also need an Upland Game Bird validation.


Reservations
Reservations are not required, but having a reservation will guarantee getting a hunting spot during the busiest periods of the season. Reservation applications are available for a fee through California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s online reservation system (wildlife.ca.gov/Licensing/Hunting).

Hunters are able to apply for reservations for specific hunt areas (for example, San Luis, Kesterson, Bear Creek, N. Freitas, S. Freitas, Merced). The reservation does not guarantee a specific blind number or pond; rather, the reservation determines the order that hunters check in first thing in the morning to select their hunt assignments. Reservation holders are called to the check station in numerical order to select their hunt assignments.

The morning of your hunt
Check stations start calling reservation holders either 2 or 2.5 hours before shoot time, depending on the hunt unit. The check station attendant will call reservation holders in order of their reservation number. At that time, reservation holders will present their hunt credentials (hunting license, stamps, pre-purchased daily pass) and select their hunt assignment, for example, a particular blind or zone. The following lists which check station to report to for each specific hunt area:

WHERE AND WHAT TIME TO CHECK IN?

After all reservations holders are called and checked in, the check station will fill remaining hunt slots with individuals on the lottery list, followed by individuals on the first-come, first-served list (sweat line).

What if you don’t have a reservation?
There are always vacant hunt slots remaining after all the reservation holders check in (with the possible exception of the Freitas units). The next group called by the check station to select their hunt assignment includes the lottery participants. After lottery participants check through, remaining hunt slots are issued to the first-come, first-served list (sweat line).

How do you sign up for the lottery?
Hunters without reservations can sign up for the lottery draw the evening before the shoot day between 6pm and 9pm. Shortly after 9pm, the check station will run the computerized random lottery and post the results. Hunters that arrive after the 9pm deadline to sign up for the lottery can get on the first-come, first-served list for a chance at any hunt assignments remaining after lottery participants check through. Hunters may sign up for multiple lotteries, but may enter a single lottery only once per hunt day. The following lists the lottery sign-up location for each hunt area:

LOTTERY SIGN-UP LOCATIONS

The Hunt Units of the San Luis and Merced National Wildlife Refuges
One of the appealing characteristics of hunting at the San Luis and Merced Refuges is the diversity of hunting formats provided. The different hunt units provide opportunities to hunt from assigned blinds, free roam areas, exclusive zones, assigned ponds, and boat access only areas. Following is a brief description of each hunt unit.

San Luis Unit (San Luis NWR)
The San Luis Unit consists of free roam within a large contiguous area consisting of seasonal mixed marshes and a river zone. There are three parking lots from which to choose, and each parking lot has a capacity. Vehicles must be parked in the assigned parking lot, but hunters can move by foot or bicycle anywhere within the free roam hunt boundary. There are pit blinds in the free roam area as depicted on the hunt map; however, these blinds are not assigned and not necessarily maintained annually. Hunters are not required to hunt from these blinds. The capacity in the free roam area is 90 hunters at a time. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules, snipe, and pheasant. Hunters check in at the Salt Slough check station. A reservation for the San Luis Unit also applies to the Blue Goose Unit. Up to six people can enter the San Luis Unit on a reservation, but only two of the six may be adult hunters.

Blue Goose Unit (San Luis NWR)
The Blue Goose unit consists of nine assigned blinds (8 three-person and 1 two-person) in seasonal mixed marshes. Hunters may only hunt from their assigned blind. The Blue Goose Unit does not have its own reservation system. A reservation for the San Luis Unit also applies to the Blue Goose Unit. A reservation grants entry for up to the capacity of the blind (two or three people). Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Salt Slough check station.

Kesterson Unit (San Luis NWR)
The Kesterson Unit consists of 34 assigned blinds (16 three-person, 16 two-person, and 2 three-person disabled accessible) in seasonal mixed marshes. Hunters may only hunt from their assigned blind. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Kesterson check station. Hunters may apply for a Kesterson reservation in the statewide system. A reservation grants entry for up to the capacity of the blind (two or three people). A special pheasant hunt is offered in the spaced blind portion of the Kesterson Unit only on the first Monday of pheasant season.

West Bear Creek Unit (San Luis NWR)
The West Bear Creek Unit consists of six assigned ponds (5 mixed marsh wetlands and 1 river zone) with capacities of 4-6 hunters each. Hunters may only hunt from their assigned pond. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Salt Slough check station. The West Bear Creek Unit traditionally opens the third Saturday in November. Hunters may apply for a Bear Creek reservation, which allows access to the West Bear Creek or East Bear Creek units. Up to six people can enter the West Bear Creek Unit on a reservation, but only two of the six may be adult hunters.

East Bear Creek Unit (San Luis NWR)
The East Bear Creek Unit consists of two exclusive zones (1 party of 3 hunters per zone). The hunt zones are large and encompass a mosaic of flooded swales, uplands, and trees. Hunters may only hunt from within their assigned zone. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Salt Slough check station. The East Bear Creek Unit traditionally opens the third Saturday in November. Hunters may apply for a Bear Creek reservation, which allows access to the West Bear Creek or East Bear Creek units. Up to three people can enter the East Bear Creek Unit on a reservation. The end of shoot time on the East Bear Creek unit is 12:00 noon.

North Freitas Unit (San Luis NWR)
The North Freitas Unit is a boat-access hunt unit on the San Joaquin River. Hunters access the unit by launching their boat in the San Joaquin River at Great Valley Grasslands State Park Fremont Ford boat launch facility on CA-140.  Access to this hunt unit is via boat only, with a maximum speed of 5 mph. Inboard water thrust and air-thrust boats are prohibited (for example, jet skis, air boats, inboard jet boats are not allowed). All California and U.S. Coast Guard boating regulations apply. The hunt unit begins approximately 2 miles upstream of the boat launch. The habitat is riverine, dense riparian woodland, and flooded timber. Once inside the hunt unit, hunters may leave their boat and hunt anywhere within the sign-posted hunt boundary. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Kesterson check station. Hunters with a North Freitas reservation may check-in to obtain their hunt permit anytime between 6pm the evening prior and 3am, but may not enter the boat launch parking lot until 2am (the parking lot and hunt area are closed between 8pm and 2am – no access allowed during this time). Hunters are required to possess a Type A hunt pass and obtain an area permit at the check station on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The daily capacity is 15 boats with four hunters per boat on these days. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, no check in or permit is required, and there is no capacity regarding the number of boats. 

South Freitas Unit (San Luis NWR)
The South Freitas Unit is a boat-access hunt unit on Salt Slough. Hunters access the unit by using the San Luis NWR’s Salt Slough boat launch on CA-165. Access to this hunt unit is via boat only, with a maximum speed of 5 mph. Inboard water thrust and air-thrust boats are prohibited (for example, jet skis, air boats, inboard jet boats are not allowed). All California and U.S. Coast Guard boating regulations apply. Once inside the hunt unit, hunters may leave their boat and hunt anywhere within the sign-posted hunt boundary. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters check in at the Salt Slough check station. Hunters with a South Freitas reservation may check-in to obtain their hunt permit anytime between 6pm the evening prior and 3am, but may not enter the boat launch parking lot until 2am (the parking lot and hunt area are closed between 8pm and 2am – no access allowed during this time). Hunters are required to possess a Type A hunt pass and obtain an area permit at the check station on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The daily capacity is 15 boats with four hunters per boat on these days. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, no check in or permit is required, and there is no capacity regarding the number of boats.

Merced NWR – West Marsh and Mariposa Creek Units (Merced NWR)
The West Marsh and Mariposa Creek hunt units of Merced NWR consists of 19 assigned blinds (17 two-person, 1 three-person, and 1 three-person disabled accessible) in seasonal mixed marshes, and two dry field goose pits. The goose pits traditionally open on the third Saturday in November. Hunters may only hunt from their assigned blind. Hunters check in at the Merced check station. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters may apply for a Merced NWR reservation in the statewide system, which applies to the Merced or Lonetree units. A reservation grants entry at the Merced Unit for up to the capacity of the blind (two or three people). The Merced NWR has the following special regulations: Shoot days are Wednesdays and Saturdays only, shoot time ends at 12:00 noon, and hunters are limited to 25 shot shells per day.

Lonetree Unit (Merced NWR)
The Lonetree Unit consists of five exclusive zones (1 party of 3 hunters per zone). The hunt zones encompass a mosaic of habitats including uplands, mixed marshes, swales, and the Mariposa Creek bypass channel. Hunters may only hunt within their assigned zone. Hunters check in at the Merced check station. Legal species include ducks, geese, coots, common gallinules. Hunters may apply for a Merced NWR reservation in the statewide system, which applies to the Merced or Lonetree units. Up to three people can enter the Lonetree Unit on a Merced reservation. The Merced NWR has the following special regulations: Shoot days are Wednesdays and Saturdays only, shoot time ends at 12:00 noon, and hunters are limited to 25 shot shells per day.


Additional Rules and Information:
Hunters may possess not more than 25 federally approved nontoxic shotgun shells after leaving the parking lot.  At Merced NWR the limit is 25 shells total per day -- Merced NWR hunters are not allowed to return to their vehicle to get additional shells.

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 auto 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.

The North Freitas and South Freitas hunt units are accessed via boat only from the Fremont Ford Boat Launch (North Freitas) and South Freitas Salt Slough Boat Launch. The northern and southern hunt boundaries of these units are sign-posted on the ground. To further assist hunters in locating these boundaries, below are the latitude-longitude coordinates, which can be entered into GPS units or smartphone mapping applications.

North Freitas Hunt Zone northern boundary: 37°17.65920' N, 120°55.06560' W 
North Freitas Hunt Zone southern boundary: 37°15.055' N, 120°51.504' W 
South Freitas Hunt Zone northern boundary: 37°14.571' N, 120°50.643' W 
South Freitas Hunt Zone southern boundary: 37°13.140' N, 120°50.057' W

For additional information, contact:
Jack Sparks, Outdoor Recreation Planner: jack_sparks@fws.gov

Sean Brophy, Assistant Refuge Manager: sean_brophy@fws.gov

or phone our office at (209) 826-3508