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Outdoors Q&A: Using Cattle Cutouts As Duck-Hunting Decoys

Fish & Game answers questions about that issue and others — including increases in license fees.

Question: I am in a duck club and we get geese in the field between our blinds. It is impossible to sneak up on the geese without being seen. We made a life-size cow silhouette and painted it black and white just like the cows in the field. We are planning to hide behind it to sneak up within shooting range of the geese. Is this a legal decoy? (Scott L.)

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Carrie Wilson
Answer: No, it is not legal to use any mammal (except a dog) or an imitation of a mammal as a blind in approaching or taking game birds (FGC Section 3502.) According to retired Capt. Phil Nelms, hunters have long known the benefits of using cattle as duck blinds. In fact, in the early days, market hunters were known to train large steers to act as live decoys for them to hide behind while they “walked their shot” to approach the unsuspecting birds for a closer and better shot.

One of the most famous live decoys was a hunting steer by the name of “Old Tom.” When his owner bought him in 1914, Old Tom weighed 1,850 pounds and stood 5 feet 8 inches high. During the days of market hunting, he was utilized in practically every inland county in the state and made an excellent blind because of his training, size and build. Because of the high success of this method, market hunters were banned from this practice nearly a century ago, and sportsmen have been banned from this practice since 1957.

Click here for more on that story.

Question: I don’t get to go fishing that often. If I’m fortunate enough to get a limit of fish in the morning and I put those fish on ice in the truck, can I then go back out in the afternoon to catch more? I often travel nearly 100 miles to go fishing, and with the economy as bad as it is, I can’t go often. Is this legal? (Ron F.)

Answer: I can understand you wanting to maximize your fishing experience and harvest because of the troubled economy; however, a “bag limit” means the total you can take in one day. And “possession limit” is usually the same as your bag limit (at least in ocean waters), so you’re allowed to possess only one bag limit at any one time. To collect more, you would need to either consume or give away what you have and then fish on another day for more, up to the bag limit allowed.

Question: Why do fishing and hunting license fees and various cards and tags increase in price every year? It concerns my friends and me as we’re of the older population of California and are on fixed incomes. Hunting and fishing are some of the only pleasures we have to enjoy in our old age, but they are becoming so costly that we won’t be able to afford them if you keep raising prices. (Bill D.)

Answer: California law establishes fishing and hunting license fees each year, not the Department of Fish & Game. The base fee for sport fishing licenses is established in Fish and Game Code Section 7149, and the fees for stamps and most report cards are established in other sections of the Fish and Game Code or CCR, Title 14 Regulations.

According to license program analyst Glenn Underwood, the Fish & Game code requires license fees to be adjusted in response to increases (or decreases) in costs of goods and services using an index called the Implicit Price Deflator (Fish & Game Code Section 713). This index is a gauge of the change in the cost of goods and services from year to year.

For example, as hatchery, law enforcement and wildlife management costs have increased, license fees needed to increase to keep pace with these rising costs. Essentially, license fees are adjusted to compensate for inflation. If license fees weren’t adjusted for inflation, then funding for fish and wildlife management and protection actually would decrease because the “buying power” of a dollar has declined over the years.

License fee increases in the past five years have ranged from 1.5 percent in 2005 to 6.5 percent in 2007. The average in the past five years has been 4.7 percent.

Generally, the cost of goods and services increases at a fairly steady, slow rate, with 2 percent to 3 percent per year common. In recent years, some costs have increased dramatically, particularly the cost of fuel. Because of this, the cost of goods and services jumped about 6.19 percent, and 2009 license fees increased accordingly. If the cost of goods and services were to decrease, then license fees would decrease the same percentage. However, when is the last time the cost of living decreased?

Although fishing and hunting license fees have increased throughout the years, the increase ensures that the DFG has adequate funding to manage California’s diverse fish and wildlife resources and provide the public with enjoyable fishing and hunting experiences.

Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish & Game. Her DFG-related question-and-answer column appears weekly at She can be reached at [email protected]

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