Firearms in Forests and Parks

"Can I possess/carry my handgun/rifle/shotgun openly/loaded/concealed when I am hiking/camping/hunting/fishing in the forest/campground/wilderness in California?" 

The answer is not a simple "Yes" or "No". It's more of a "in some cases yes, in some cases no". To clearly understand this, we have to look at Local, State and Federal laws that apply. I have also attached a printable guide to these laws. 

Public Land Types:

  • National Parks, Federal, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior
  • National Forests, Federal, US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture
  • BLM Land, Federal, Bureau of Land Management, US Department of the Interior
  • State Parks, State, California Department of Parks and Recreation
  • Regional Parks, some are county owned (example), some are city owned

Areas relevant to the Cucamonga Wilderness would be covered under National Parks and National Forests:

  • Wilderness Areas, Federal, within or part of a National Park - see #1 Below
  • Wilderness Areas, Federal, within or part of a National Forest  - see #2 below

Abbreviations Used:

  • "UOC" - Unloaded Open Carry
  • "LOC" - Loaded Open Carry
  • "UCC" - Unloaded Concealed Carry
  • "LCC" - Loaded Conceaceld Carry
  • "PC" - Penal Code
  • "LTC" - License to Carry

#1 - National Parks Details: 

  • The firearms prohibition in NPs and NWRs was lifted on 2/22/10.
  • UOC of handguns is not legal in NPs effective 1/1/12 as a result of AB144 (PC 26350)
  • LOC, UOC, UCC, and LCC are all legal in one's campsite. (PC 26055, 26383, & 25605)
  • Since NPs can be near/within urban areas, school zones can be an issue. Unlocked/operable firearms are not allowed within 1000 feet of a K-12 school.
  • CA CCW/LTC permit holders may LCC anywhere in National Park areas except in federal facilities (buildings with federal employees and no-firearms signs posted).

#2 - National Forest Details:

  • LOC and UOC are legal everywhere except "prohibited areas" (areas where shooting is prohibited)
  • LOC, UOC, UCC, and LCC are all legal in one's campsite. (PC 26055, 26383, & 25605)
  • Shooting is prohibited within 150 yards of any residence, building, campsite, or developed site ("prohibited areas")
  • Shooting is prohibited on or across roads or bodies of water ("prohibited areas")
  • Forest administrators have the authority to prohibit shooting in other areas of the NF but must clearly post this information ("prohibited areas")
  • LCC is legal for licensed hunters/fishermen, while hunting/fishing, but only where shooting is not prohibited (PC 25640)
  • UCC is legal for licensed hunters/fishermen while hunting/fishing and while traveling to/from hunting/fishing expeditions (PC 25640)
  • UOC is legal for licensed hunters while hunting and while traveling to/from hunting expeditions (PC 26366)
  • CA CCW/LTC permit holders may LCC in anywhere in National Forest areas except in federal facilities (buildings with federal employees and no-firearms signs posted).

Since there are many "campsites" in the Wilderness and firearms are allowed in one's campsite, the definition is important. There is no legal definition of "campsite" in CA but there is case law that defines it:

Anderson v. City of Portland, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67519 (D. Or. July 30, 2009) 

Campsite is defined as "any place where any bedding, sleeping bag, or other sleeping matter, or any stove or fire is placed, established, or maintained, whether or not such place incorporates the use of any tent, lean-to, shack, or any other structure." 

Also, according Alaskan National Park Service, 36 CFR 13.104 [Title 36-Parks, Forests, and Public Property -Chapter 1-National Park Service, Department of the Interior-Part 13-National Park System Units in Aalaska-Subpart C-Cabins-Administrative Provisions] temporary campsite means “a natural, undeveloped area suitable for the purpose of overnight occupancy without modification.”

It is important to note that since laws, especially in CA, overlap each other it is possible to inadvertently violate one law while complying with another. Here is a good example:

Scenario 1: A licensed fisherman is fishing a stream in the National Forest, within 150 yards of a developed campsite. He is carrying a loaded concealed handgun.
Status: illegal - while not violating PC12025 (concealed) because of PC12027(g), he is violating 12031 (loaded) because the nearby campsite triggers the "prohibited area" language. If he moves 150 yards away from the campsite, he is in compliance and now legal.

Scenario 2: You are in a National Forest, or a National Park, or on BLM land, in your campsite, carrying a loaded handgun openly or concealed. 
Status: legal - PC12031(l) exempts you from PC12031 and PC12026(a) exempts you from PC12025

Here is the statement from the US Forest Service regarding firearms:

"The only regulations specific to use of weapons imposed by the Forest Service is that you cannot discharge a weapon within 150 yards of any structure/development or occupied area, within or into a cave, across or on a road or body of water, or in any manner that endangers a person.   You also cannot use any tracer or incendiary ammunition.  Forest Service regulations require that you also comply with all State laws regarding the use of firearms while hunting.  

If you are planning on visiting a designated  Wilderness Area, the  Regional Forester or Forest Supervisor has the option to implement a special local order which additionally prohibits the mere possession of a firearm within that Wilderness Area.   Although this prohibition is not common, you should contact the Forest Supervisor's office to find out whether such a restriction has been imposed.  

We encourage you to use designated shooting areas or ranges.  However, if you choose to shoot in an undesignated area,  please ensure that your shooting does not damage any facilities or natural resources, disrupt other uses, or endanger public safety, and ensure you remove any targets, wads, shells, brass and other refuse with you when you leave.  Be sure your shooting target area is free of rocks, as wildfires have resulting from sparks from ricochets.  Be responsible for your action and follow outdoor ethics, in other words always,  Leave No Trace  and  Tread Lightly! on federal lands.  

It is also a good idea regardless, just to contact the local  Forest Service District or Forest Offices in advance of your visit to ask the same question, as they are more aware of local ranges and other opportunities, local orders or restrictions, issues and special conditions that may affect you."

Jamie Schwartz, Shooting Sports Liaison, USDA Forest Service

(Source: http://www.fs.fed.us/recreation/programs/trails/welcome.shtml)

Laws relevant to this topic:

CA PENAL CODE 25400

(a) A person is guilty of carrying a concealed firearm when the person does any of the following:

(1) Carries concealed within any vehicle that is under the person's control or direction any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.

(2) Carries concealed upon the person any pistol, revolver, or other firearm capable of being concealed upon the person.

(b) A firearm carried openly in a belt holster is not concealed within the meaning of this section.

PC25605. (a) Section 25400 ... shall not apply to or affect any citizen of the United States or legal resident over the age of 18 years who resides or is temporarily within this state ... who carries, either openly or concealed, anywhere within the citizen's or legal resident's place of residence, place of business, or on private property owned or lawfully possessed by the citizen or legal resident... 

*Note: PC 25610 and 25505-25595 (formerly 12026.1 and 12026.2) provide exemptions to 25400 for transporting handguns unloaded in a locked case or vehicle trunk.


*Note: PC 25400 only applies to hand guns, not rifles or shotguns, which may be concealed.

CA PENAL CODE 25640

Section 25400 (above) does not apply to, or affect, licensed hunters or fishermen carrying pistols, revolvers, or other firearms capable of being concealed upon the person while engaged in hunting or fishing, or transporting those firearms unloaded when going to or returning from the hunting or fishing expedition. 

CA PENAL CODE 25850

(a) A person is guilty of carrying a loaded firearm when the person carries a loaded firearm on the person or in a vehicle while in any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city or in any public place or on any public street in a prohibited area of unincorporated territory.

PC26055. Nothing in Section 25850 shall prevent any person from having a loaded weapon, if it is otherwise lawful, at the person's place of residence, including any temporary residence or campsite.

PC17030. As used in this part, "prohibited area" means any place where it is unlawful to discharge a weapon.

PC16840. (b) (1) A firearm shall be deemed to be "loaded" when there is an unexpended cartridge or shell, consisting of a case that holds a charge of powder and a bullet or shot, in, or attached in any manner to, the firearm, including, but not limited to, in the firing chamber, magazine, or clip thereof attached to the firearm. 

*Note: In People v. Clark (1996), the California Court of Appeal clarified that in order to be "loaded" a firearm must have ammunition "placed into a position from which it can be fired". It even went so far as to point out as an example of what is not loaded to include shells attached to a shotgun inside a buttstock shell carrier. And loaded detachable magazines are not loaded firearms.

CA PENAL CODE 26350

(a) (1) A person is guilty of openly carrying an unloaded handgun when that person carries upon his or her person an exposed and unloaded handgun...

PC26366. Section 26350 does not apply to, or affect, the open carrying of an unloaded handgun by a licensed hunter while engaged in hunting or while transporting that handgun when going to or returning from that hunting expedition.

PC26383. Paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 26350 does not apply to, or affect, the open carrying of an unloaded handgun by a person when done within a place of business, a place of residence, or on private property...

PC26388. Section 26350 does not apply to, or affect, the open carrying of an unloaded handgun on publicly owned land, if the possession and use of a handgun is specifically permitted by the managing agency of the land and the person carrying that handgun is in lawful possession of that handgun. 

CA PENAL CODE 26400

(a) A person is guilty of carrying an unloaded firearm that is not a handgun in an incorporated city or city and county when that person carries upon his or her person an unloaded firearm that is not a handgun outside a vehicle while in the incorporated city or city and county.

Federal 36 CFR 261.10 (d) (National Forests)

The following are prohibited:
(d) Discharging a firearm or any other implement capable of taking human life, causing injury, or damaging property as follows:
(1) In or within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site or occupied area, or
(2) Across or on a National Forest System road or a body of water adjacent thereto, or in any manner or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injury or damage as a result in such discharge.
(3) Into or within any cave. 

Federal 36 CFR 261.58 (National Forests)

When provided by an order (per 36 CFR 261.50), the following are prohibited:

(m) Discharging a firearm, air rifle, or gas gun. 

Federal 36 CFR 261.57 (Wilderness Areas only in NFs)

When provided by an order (per 36 CFR 261.50), the following are prohibited:

(c) Possessing a firearm or firework.

*NOTES: On May 22, 2009, President Obama signed HR 627 into law. This overrides 36 CFR 2.4 (a) and 50 CFR 27.42 effective February 22, 2010, and firearms are now permitted in NPs and NWRs subject to state laws. In California, the Park Service believes that 36 CFR 2.4 (a) (iii) (prohibits the use of firearms, i.e. shooting) still applies, and that this triggers the "prohibited area" language of 12031/25850 and therefore loading is not legal. In addition to this, the passage of AB144 has similarly banned UOC (of handguns) in the NPs effective Jan 1, 2012. UOC of long guns is legal everywhere except in federal facilities (18 USC 930, buildings with federal employees and no-firearms signs posted). LOC, UOC, UCC, and LCC (of handguns or long guns) is legal in one's campsite (PC 26055, 26383, & 25605). And LCC is legal everywhere except federal facilities with a CA CCW permit.

State Fish and Game Code s 2006

It is unlawful to possess a loaded rifle or shotgun in any vehicle or conveyance or its attachments which is standing on or along or is being driven on or along any public highway or other way open to the public.

A rifle or shotgun shall be deemed to be loaded for the purposes of this section when there is an unexpended cartridge or shell in the firing chamber but not when the only cartridges or shells are in the magazine.  

State Fish and Game Code s 3004

(a) It is unlawful for any person, other than the owner, person in possession of the premises, or a person having the express permission of the owner or person in possession of the premises, to hunt or to discharge while hunting, any firearm or other deadly weapon within 150 yards of any occupied dwelling house, residence, or other building or any barn or other outbuilding used in connection therewith. The 150-yard area is a "safety zone." 

(b) It is unlawful for any person to intentionally discharge any firearm or release any arrow or crossbow bolt over or across any public road or way open to the public, in an unsafe manner.