Spring turkey hunting season opens statewide this coming weekend
By JIM MATTHEWS
The spring hunting season for wild turkeys opens statewide this coming Saturday, March 28. According to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there will be around 36,000 hunters who will take to the field during the six-week season. Statewide, about 28,000 turkeys are taken each year.
Some of us remember when there were no wild turkeys in Southern California, and the hunting season was met with a huge yawn. But during the 1990s, the Department of Fish and Wildlife – mostly thanks to the efforts of DFW biologist John Massie – live-trapped wild birds were released in Kern, San Bernardino, and San Diego counties. The populations of these birds all flourished for a time, but the big birds have all but disappeared in the San Bernardino Mountains in recent years.
Because of political-correctness, those birds could not be reintroduced into Southern California today because the enviro-nannies think turkeys are a non-native bird to this region and the whole state. It doesn’t matter to these people that turkeys (virtually identical to those again roaming our local foothills) are one of the most common birds in the La Brea tar pits and fossil records of turkeys less than 10,000 years old exist from northern California and southern Idaho, also an area where turkeys there today are considered non-native. Wild turkeys evolved in this habitat and they are back here. Some of us are good with that.
This year’s hunting season runs through May 3 with the archery season running another couple of weeks until May 17. The bag limit is one bearded bird (male) per day with a maximum of three for the whole season. Shooting hours are one half-hour before sunrise to 4 p.m. daily, and hunters must have an upland bird hunting stamp (except junior hunters).
While wild turkeys are found in most counties in California and the DFW estimates the statewide population has grown to nearly quarter million. The top 10 counties for spring harvest are in the northern part of the state – Shasta, Butte, Placer, El Dorado, Tehama, Sonoma, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, and Lake counties. In the southern part of the state, most of the birds are thriving on private property in Santa Barbara, Kern, and San Diego counties where there is little or no hunting pressure, or remote areas of public lands where access is difficult.
The phone on my desk rings a lot this time of year with hunters calling wanting to know where they can go on public lands to find wild turkeys. Here’s what I tell everyone: My long-time friend Erwin Ward of Big Game Hunting Maps (www.biggamehuntingmaps.com) in Goleta has compiled data on the best places to hunt on public land for decades. He has turkey hunting map packages specific to San Diego County (Cleveland National Forest) and the southern Central Coast counties (Los Padres National Forest) that show the best turkey hunting areas in these two regions. They are incredibly well-researched and a bargain, especially for beginning hunters looking for a hand in finding legal places to hunt.
For general turkey hunting information, the DFW has a good publication called the “Guide to Hunting Wild Turkeys in California” on DFW's upland game hunting webpage at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/hunting/uplandgame/. The DFW also has a whole series of special hunts (in the northern part of the state) on wildlife areas that are drawing-only hunts with a deadline this coming Wednesday or April 8, depending on the hunting location. You can get more information on these hunts at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/DFGSpecialHunts/Default.aspx.
For those of you who don’t care about hunting turkeys, April is a great month for viewing the birds. The males are strutting and often fighting each other to try to gain favor with the ladies, so they are frequently in open areas during the morning and evenings. One of the best places to see birds is at Rancho Cuyamaca State Park in San Diego County, but birds on private property are often visible from main roads throughout the Julian region. On the Central Coast, rural roads from Arroyo Grande to King City go through private land where you can also see birds from the roadway.
[For an interesting argument about why the wild turkey should be considered a “native” species in California, there’s an interesting piece by Don Roberson at this direct link: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/turkey-in-CA.html]