2008 Spring Turkey Outlook

Guides, hunters and biologists weigh in on the prospects for a successful 2008 spring season. (March 2008).

Photo by John Higley

Last March, the first gobble on opening day of the spring turkey season caught us by surprise. My hunting buddy and I were still standing by our pickup truck, loading our hunting vests and sipping the last of our black coffee. Then a throaty tom sounded off from a nearby ridge.

"Gad!" I said. "He's right above us, and he's awake early. We've got to get closer while he's still on the roost!"

We scooted up the slope below the tom. Coming to a flat, grassy opening in the blue oaks, we decided to go no farther. We figured that when the tom flew down from his pine tree roost near the crest of the ridge, he might come directly downhill to us.

All we needed to do was let him know he had company in the form of a comely -- if bogus -- hen.

I stroked the paddle on my box call a few times to produce a string of soft yelps. Then I put the call down and waited. A booming, double gobble told us the tom was interested.

I had to grin behind my face mask.

"This might work," I said in hushed tones to Robert Feamster, my son-in-law.

But then again, it might not.

As we sat there, contemplating the turkey's exact fly-down time, I realized we weren't alone. No, it wasn't another hunter, a deer or even a bear, for that matter.

It was hen turkeys -- one of the worst interruptions you can have on a turkey hunt! They were sounding off between the tom and us.

There was nothing we could do but listen as two or three feathered beauties hiked up the slope in the tom's direction. Presently, a string of excited of gobbles told us Mr. Big had flown down from his perch and was with the ladies.

A few minutes later, he followed them out of hearing, effectively disappearing for the rest of the day.

I felt like kicking myself. By not attending to details, we'd blown a perfectly good opportunity. Had we bothered to roost the tom the evening before, we'd have known exactly where to set up in the morning.

Of course there are no guarantees, but that would have given us a much better shot at success.

Despite our lack of foresight, however, the spring season was full of promise. The weather was exceptionally mild, and the turkeys were talking. And there were several weeks left to hunt.

By season's end, I had the legal limit of three nice toms in the freezer. With work, and family commitments to attend to, Robert hunted just long enough to acquire a fine, big longbeard. After that, he wisely called it quits for the season.

From where I sit in Northern California's Shasta County, I'd say that turkey hunting here doesn't get much better than it was in 2007. And there were glowing reports from several other areas as well.

But how are things shaping for the 2008 spring season? The carryover from 2005 and 2006 means there will be a good number of two- and three-year-old adult toms around.

Add in the one-year-old jake toms left over from last spring, and you should hear plenty of gobbling in the woods this year. At least that's the gist of what the biologists, turkey guides and outdoor writers interviewed for this forecast had to say.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Randy Botta, associate wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game in the South Coast Region, had this to say about his territory in San Diego County:

"Last year, the average number of poults with individual hens was around four or five, which is slightly fewer than 2006. Still, that's not bad, and it appears that a high percentage of the poults were recruited into the population."

Botta noted that familiar hunting areas on the Cleveland National Forest, primarily the Palomar and Descanso Ranger Districts, are still producing birds, though the turkeys may not be quite as numerous this year.

While abundance and distribution do vary from year to year, Botta said the turkeys are actually continuing to expand their range in the region. For example, they've spread into portions of Riverside County and western San Diego County. Also, some turkeys are now found on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in southern and eastern San Diego County.

Botta said that as usual, private land supports higher densities of turkeys. Hunters who gain access to such areas have greater chances for success. However, those who do their pre-hunt footwork should enjoy at least fair success on public land.

For further information on Botta's area, call the DFG branch at (760) 751-4023.

Meanwhile, in Kern County, Don Geivet, resources manager for the huge Tejon Ranch just south of Bakersfield, said he's seen several groups of turkeys around, including hens with a fair number of poults.

"A lot of places in Southern California suffered from dry conditions last spring," said Geivet. "But we had some timely rainfall here in the mountains. There was plenty of water, feed and cover for the turkeys, so I expect spring hunting to be pretty darn good around here."

The Tejon offers guided turkey hunts, as well as DFG sponsored junior hunts. Contact the Tejon Ranch Company at (661) 663-4208, or visit www.hunttejon.com

COAST RANGE TO

THE SIERRA NEVADA

It was drier than usual in the central part of the state, just like it was just about everywhere else last spring. But turkeys remain abundant throughout the region. However, there are some minor ups and downs to take note of.

For example, Doug Roth of Camp 5 Outfitters in Paso Robles believes that last year's production was off a bit from the previous two years'.

"A dry spring is one thing," Roth said. "But a drought all winter and spring, like we had, is another."

They had very little rainfall, he said, and that caused the turkey hatch to be off by about a third.

"Production was better in San Luis Obispo County -- where we hunt turkeys the most -- than it was in Monterey County, where we also hunt them occasionally," he said.

All the jakes that survived in 2006 will be adults this year. And a lot of the big toms from 2005 will still be around, Roth said. "I expect a good spring season this year and plenty of big toms for our hunters."

For information on Camp 5 Outfitters, call (805) 238-3634.

Meanwhile, longtime guide Eldon Bergman, who also hunts in San Luis Obispo County, agrees that the hatch was slightly off. But he too expects a productive spring season this year.

"Nearly all my clients connected with big toms last spring," he said.

"And I expect more of the same this time around. We might have to work a little harder, but there's no shortage of gobblers where I hunt." Weather conditions, he said, are what will make the difference in the end. Contact him at (805) 238-5504.

Moving north a bit, outdoor writer Terry Knight of Lakeport, in Lake County, had nothing but good things to say about the prospects in his area. In fact, he thinks production was exceptional throughout the region.

Knight has been hunting wild turkeys for a long time, and he observes them all year long. When he talks, I listen.

"This area may be unique, but because of our location, I think a little less spring rainfall around here is actually good for the turkeys," Knight said. "Last year, I saw lots of hens with six or eight half-grown poults, and that's even better than usual.

"I think the turkeys are expanding all the time, even on public ground," he said. "I've hunted them successfully on the Mendocino National Forest, and folks I've talked to say that there are lots of birds on the Knoxville Wildlife Area in Napa County."

He said the Cache Creek Natural Area in Lake and Colusa counties, a mixture of state and federal land overseen by the DFG and the BLM, produces turkeys every year.

"The only catch is that you've got to walk in to get to the birds," Knight said.

For Cache Creek area info, go to blm.gov/ca/ukiah/cachecreek.html

You can also call the BLM office in Ukiah at (707) 468-4000, or the DFG at (707) 944-5500. To get a handle on the Knoxville Wildlife Area, contact the DFG at the number above. For information on other areas with turkeys, such as the Spenceville Wildlife Area in Yuba and Nevada counties, the Daugherty Hill Wildlife Area in Yuba County and the Oroville Wildlife Area, contact the DFG at (916) 358-2839.

"I've been in the woods a lot

this year," said Tehama County guide Bobby Hassel, "and I've seen turkeys all over the place. Last fall, we harvested a couple of dozen birds, and this spring

we expect to do the same."

Meanwhile, Aaron Brooks, who represents Mad Calls and hunts

turkeys with a passion, raved about the situation in El Dorado, Sacramento, Placer and Amador counties.

"Last year, I was in on 12 hunts when friends got longbeards, and I got three myself," he said. "There are lots of birds around this year, too. Last summer, I saw three hens with a total of 21 poults. That's incredible, and most of the other hens I saw had at least five or six young apiece.

"I'm sure you've heard this before, but there were scads of jakes in 2006, and they'll all be adults this coming spring. It should be a heck of a spring for turkey hunting in 2008!"

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

Living in this region and being an avid turkey hunter, I naturally keep one eye open for turkeys wherever I go. Last spring, I kept tabs on hens in three different places and noted that all of them successfully raised several poults. Since then, I've seen turkeys occasionally here and there, including 10 jakes in one group last fall.

From what I've observed, there's no lack of turkeys in Shasta County and reports I've gotten from Trinity and Tehama counties are also upbeat.

For example, Jim Schaafsma, of Arrow Five Outfitters in southern Trinity County, said the mild spring really helped the birds on the ranch where he lives.

"I've seen more birds than ever on the place," Schaafsma said. "And I think the weather had a lot to do with it. Here in the mountains, the spring can be awfully wet and cold. But last year, it was mostly sunny and dry."

Arrow Five Outfitters can be reached at (707) 923-9633, or online at www.arrowfiveoutfitters.com

Let's move south a bit to Tehama County's Red Bank Ranch, where chief turkey guide Bobby Hassel noted that production was off a little last spring. But it was by no means poor.

"I've been in the woods a lot this year," he said, "and I've seen turkeys all over the place. Last fall, we harvested a couple of dozen birds, and this spring we expect to do the same.

"Thanks to carryover from 2006, we have scads of feisty two-year-old longbeards on the ranch, and a bunch of older-class toms as well.

"I'm looking forward to another great year around here."

In addition to turkey hunts, the Red Bank Ranch offers turkey-hog combination hunts. For information, call (530) 529-9435, or check out their site at www.redbankhunting.com

For an overview of the turkey situation throughout northern California, Game & Fish Magazine contacted Ryan Mathis, regional biologist for the National Wild Turkey Federation.

"There are pluses and minuses in both wet and dry springs and different affects, depending on where you happen to be," Mathis said.

"In the places I visited last summer and fall, there seems to be plenty of turkeys, including a lot of nearly grown jakes, which indicates a good early hatch."

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